The Laser Days of Summer

Oh, boy. Summer is swiftly approaching, and so is our sartorial shift to leg-revealing lengths. And as if worrying about spending extra days at the gym and setting aside time for a spray-tan-brandishing professional to tint pale limbs wasn’t daunting enough, Summer brings with it a season of waxing and shaving woes.

Like most women I know, I’ve been ridding myself of body hair since junior high and no matter how flat my stomach gets at the gym, or how amazing that little sundress looks, it would be an absolute waste if I paired it with... wait for it... furry legs. This year I decided to be more proactive, and at least knock one of the most time-consuming portions of my Summer hygiene out.

This year, I would say goodbye to follicular growth, shaving incidents and hot strips of wax... permanently.

Laser hair removal isn’t new to the market, but it’s permanent and involves hot lasers, so clearly it is unnerving, and if you haven’t experienced it, you’re likely to have a few questions to ask. First and foremost, does it hurt? Is it really going to leave you hair-free forever? How do you go about getting it— a doctor’s office, or an at-home device? If the goal is to be unchained from your shaving routine this summer, now’s the time to start, and this should help you decide if laser hair removal is an option you’d like to consider.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Laser hair removal is a treatment that uses heat to destroy the roots of hair underneath the skin’s surface. It takes a series of treatments to accomplish the feat and even then the FDA has pointed out that manufacturers are not allowed to claim that laser hair removal is neither painless or permanent.

What? Isn’t that the point... to rid yourself of the problem forever?
The answer is, for the most part. Of course there a variety of reasons, but it’s not an exact science. The general consensus seems to be that you’ll eliminate a significant majority of hair growth but whether it is from aging or hormone changes, years down the road, new hair can pop up, and periodic maintenance treatments may be needed.

Why then do you still see spa’s marketing the procedure as “permanent?” That would be because the FDA did give a green light to qualifying laser manufacturers to use the word “permanent”, but only in conjunction with the word “reduction.”

“...manufacturers may not claim that laser hair removal is either painless or permanent unless the FDA deter mines that there are sufficient data to demonstrate such results. Several manufacturers received FDA permission to claim, ‘permanent reduction,’ NOT ‘permanent removal’ for their lasers,” says the FDA. Further, they explain how to find out if any device that you might
be considering for purchase has been approved by the FDA.

WHAT EXACTLY LASERS DO

Laser hair removal, according to The American Society of Plastic Surgeons, is described as: “... a non-invasive technique that uses highly concentrated light to penetrate hair follicles. The intense heat of the laser damages the hair follicle to inhibit future hair growth.”2 Sounds scary, but it’s not. Hallelujah... technology has come light-years since the first hair-removing laser. New machines can effectively remove hair with minimal pain, even utilizing cooling features and the newest technology works on all skin tones.

PROFESSIONAL VS. AT-HOME

There’s a reason why they are called professionals. I have a philosophy in life—leave the specialties to the specialists. To be fair, I do know plenty of healthy people ready for the challenge of some DIY experimenting, but personally speaking, I get a little apprehensive when it comes to wielding a hot beam of light at myself. I can see it becoming like a piece of at-home gym equipment: admired from afar.

Unfortunately though, like most dermatological procedures, going to a med spa for laser hair removal has that not-so-appealing part: the Neiman Marcusesque price tag. Sessions are typically divided into areas, which in turn can cost hundreds per spot— per visit. Holy moly.

Enter: at-home laser hair removal. Bringing the results of office visits at a much cheaper price, at-home laser hair works in the same way—an ultramodern looking device emits a hot light, targeting your hair follicle, calling off new hair growth. That part is pretty black and white.

Unfortunately though, there are no real studies out there comparing the effectiveness between the two. If you chose the “do it yourself” method, make sure you take the time to research the products out there and remember—you do have to do it to your- self. Consistently.

There are a couple options to keep in mind when you start looking for your device. First of all, it goes without saying that Tria® has to be the most recognizable name. It’s a little more pricey but it’s the only FDA-cleared DIY hair removal system that uses a diode laser, which happens to be the identical laser your med spa would use.

Other options might be the Remington iLight Pro which uses IPL (Intense Pulsed Light similar effects, but not a real laser) or the Silk’n Flash&Go Freedom Hair Removal Device, which uses HPL (Home Pulsed Light), and the product’s website explains the benefits, which include a wide spectrum of wavelengths, larger spot size, and lower pain levels.

DOES IT HURT?

How do I put this? Most describe it as being snapped with a rubber band, which is pretty annoying but tolerable. From my experience I can tell you that it 100% depends on the area. The general rule of thumb is the less fatty the area, the more sensitive. The good news is patients can apply numbing cream beforehand, or like I tried, a little ice-application.

After the treatment slap on a little hydrocortisone cream or aloe, and you’re good to go. The laser may leave the area pinkish, which should go away after an hour or so. Bottom line, ladies: if you can handle waxing, this should be a piece of cake.

HOW OFTEN

Did I not mention that this is a long term commitment? Every person is different, but for in-office visits you can expect to need a package, maybe two. Packages usually are a series of between six and eight treatments to get rid of most of the hair; the more hair you have, the more treatments you’ll need.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons explains that because laser hair removal only affects actively growing hair follicles2, it may take several laser hair removal treatments to provide significant hair reduction. Most professionals recommend scheduling visits every six to eight weeks, and while it’s not going to disrupt anything if your schedule varies once in a while, it will help you get better results by hitting the hair in the growth cycles.

PREP

Of course there is prep, but thankfully, it’s easy. There are just a few rules to follow when starting this process:

Sun exposure and sunless tanners are off limits when you are using laser hair removal systems. The laser tar gets the follicle more effectively when there is a contrast between your hair and skin.

No waxing once you start the series. The hair follicle has to be intact in order for the laser to work.

Shave the day of the procedure, as close to laser time as possible. The less hair that is on the surface of the skin, t he better the laser can focus on finding the follicle.

WHAT TO EXPECT

You should start noticing a reduction of hair growth after a couple treatments. In other words, your razor is going to be entering a dry spell. Just keep in mind that even though old hair removal techniques are becoming a distant memory, if you want to see complete results, it still takes dedication. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons note that because hair grows in cycles, it typically takes three to four laser hair removal treatments to provide significant hair reduction.

IS IT WORTH IT?

Really?!? A life-changing experience freeing you from hair that we should have evolved past growing? I would trade in shaving and waxing for a few zaps any day. Can I get an amen?