What is laser hair removal?

Laser hair removal is a minor procedure that treats unwanted or excessive hair. Laser hair removal uses an intense, pulsating beam of light that penetrates the skin and damages hair follicles. This removes hair and inhibits its regrowth. It may take multiple treatments and occasional maintenance treatments to achieve long-lasting results. 

Laser hair removal is only one method to treat unwanted hair. Discuss all the treatment choices with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.  

Why is laser hair removal performed?

Your doctor may recommend laser hair removal if you want to reduce the growth of unwanted hair. Laser hair removal also treats excessive hair due to the following medical conditions:

  • Hirsuitism, an excessive growth of hair in women in places where it normally grows on men including the face and lower abdomen
  • Hypertrichosis, an excessive growth of body hair in a normal or abnormal pattern 

Who performs laser hair removal?

Many types of medical and nonmedical providers offer laser hair removal. You should choose a licensed doctor who is trained and experienced in laser hair removal, such as a plastic surgeon or dermatologist.  

Plastic surgeons specialize in correcting physical defects that affect a person's appearance or ability to function. Dermatologists specialize in the medical and surgical care of the skin, hair and nails. Your doctor will perform your laser hair removal or supervise a board-certified laser technician. 

How is laser hair removal performed?

Your laser hair removal will be performed in a doctor’s office or outpatient medical clinic. The procedure takes a few minutes to an hour depending on the size of the treatment area. It generally includes the following steps:

  1. Your doctor will complete a medical history and physical exam to evaluate possible medical causes of excessive hair. If your doctor suspects a medical cause, you may be referred to another specialist for further evaluation and treatment. Medical causes of excessive hair include hormone problems, malnutrition, tumors, metabolic disorders, and medication side effects. 
  2. A care team member may shave your unwanted hair and fit you with special goggles to protect your eyes from the laser.
  3. Your doctor or technician may apply an anesthetic cream or gel to the treatment area to reduce discomfort.
  4. Your doctor or technician will apply a hand-held laser instrument to your skin. The laser beam will pass through your skin to damage the hair follicles, where hair growth originates. This will reduce hair growth.

Will I feel pain with laser hair removal?

Your comfort and relaxation is important to you and your care team. You may feel some skin discomfort, such as a mild, hot pinching sensation that generally goes away quickly. Most lasers have a cooling device that reduces discomfort from the laser. 

Tell your doctor if any discomfort does not pass quickly. Your doctor may recommend applying ice or an aloe gel to the area or possibly taking pain medications.

What are the risks and potential complications of laser hair removal?

Complications of laser hair removal are uncommon, but any medical procedure involves risks and potential complications. Complications may become serious in some cases. Complications can develop during the procedure or your recovery. 

Risks and potential complications of a laser hair removal include: 

  • Blistering and herpes outbreaks at the treatment site
  • Infection 
  • Severe eye injury if the treatment site includes the eyelids or skin near the eyes
  • Skin discoloration, which is more likely to affect darker skin, but is usually temporary
  • Skin irritation including mild discomfort, swelling and redness, which can last from several hours to a few days

The cooling device on most lasers protects the top layer of skin from excessive heating and potential changes in pigmentation or coloring.

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by: 

  • Avoiding other hair removal procedures including plucking, waxing and electrolysis. Shaving is generally fine as recommended by your doctor.
  • Not using lotions or creams, which can affect your results 
  • Notifying your doctor right away of any concerns, such as pain or skin redness or swelling
  • Staying out of the sun and tanning beds, and not using sunless tanning products for up to six weeks as directed by your doctor. A natural or artificial tan increases the risk of skin discoloration.