What is laser hair removal?

Laser hair removal is a noninvasive cosmetic procedure that heats hair-producing follicles to inhibit hair growth. Using a beam of laser light, your doctor precisely targets, heats and damages the hair follicles that generate hair growth.

During laser hair removal, the laser reaches only actively growing hairs. Since hair grows in cycles, you’ll most likely need three or four treatments to get the results you’d like. Laser hair removal reduces growth, and hairs that grow back are often finer, lighter and less visible. Results vary depending on the type, thickness and location of hairs, along with other individual differences, including certain kinds of treatment-resistant hair.

Board certified plastic surgeons at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus perform laser hair removal and many other nonsurgical and surgical cosmetic procedures. If you’re considering laser hair removal, you can consult an Ohio State plastic surgeon to discuss your personal goals for treatment. You can also ask your Ohio State plastic surgeon about other procedures. Nonsurgical skin rejuvenation and therapies are available through Ohio State’s spa services to help give your skin a fresh and healthy look.

Why is laser hair removal done?

Unwanted hair can occur on any part of the body. Shaving, waxing and other ways to remove hair can be time-consuming chores. You may find yourself choosing clothes that conceal areas of hair growth. Or you may constantly need to pluck the same stubborn strands. Laser hair removal can simplify daily routines and give your skin a smoother appearance with less maintenance.

Benefits of laser hair removal include: 

  • Elimination of the “stubble stage” when hairs grow back after shaving
  • Freedom from time-consuming hair removal routines
  • Long-lasting results 
  • Precise targeting of specific hairs for removal 
  • Removal of troublesome ingrown hairs 

Ohio State plastic surgeons use laser hair removal procedures to treat hair all over the body, including:

  • Arms and legs
  • Back
  • Eyebrow
  • Face, chin and jawline
  • Pubic areas 
  • Underarm areas

How to prepare for laser hair removal

During office visits, your doctor will review and discuss areas you’d like to treat and your expectations for laser hair removal treatment. Your doctor will complete a health evaluation and make treatment recommendations. The doctor may take photographs of the treatment areas.

You’ll learn more about your laser treatment and what to expect from your Ohio State plastic surgeon. Your doctor will also provide individualized instructions about how to prepare.

For several weeks leading up to your appointment, you can shave as you normally would. However, for a month to six weeks before your procedure, it’s important not to wax or pluck hairs in the areas to be treated. In order to work, laser hair removal requires hair follicles to have actively growing, pigmented hair roots.

You’ll need to avoid shaving for a few days before your treatment. Slight stubble helps the doctor to more easily locate and target hair follicles. Hair that’s more recently shaved can burn during laser treatments causing temporary discomfort.

What to expect during a laser hair removal procedure

Your doctor will schedule your laser hair removal treatment at one of Ohio State’s outpatient clinics in Columbus or surrounding areas. Before treatment, your doctor may recommend a topically applied anesthetic, especially for sensitive areas of skin. You’ll need to use the anesthetic about 20 to 30 minutes before the procedure to numb the areas to be treated.

Treatment steps for laser hair removal typically include:

  • Your plastic surgeon customizes laser settings to your skin type and areas targeted for treatment.
  • Your skin is cleansed and prepared for treatment.
  • Depending on the type and location of your laser treatment, you may get protective eyewear during your procedure.
  • For certain procedures, surgeons use a cooling method to protect the skin from intense heat. The cooling device may be part of the laser, or your doctor may apply a cooling gel to your skin. During treatment, you might feel a cold sensation on the surface of your skin.
  • The doctor directs quick pulses of light to each hair follicle. As a result, you may feel minor discomfort for just a few seconds, similar to the snap of a rubber band.
  • The laser hair removal treatment can be finished in minutes for small areas such as the chin or up to an hour for larger areas such as legs.

After laser hair removal

After each laser hair removal session, you can expect some redness and inflammation in the areas treated. Your skin may feel warm, similar to a mild sunburn. Your doctor may give you a soothing lotion or cream or an ice pack to help keep you comfortable.

Results vary by procedure and condition. Most people don’t see results right away. It can take from five days to two weeks before damaged hair goes away in treated areas. During that time, hairs fall out naturally or come out during normal skin-cleansing routines.

It’s good to let your skin rest and breathe for a while without heavy creams or lotions. However, most people can wear makeup the next day or other skin products as directed by the doctor.

You should wear high-quality sunscreen according to your doctor’s recommendations. To protect the treated skin, avoid sun exposure for the next three to four weeks after each laser treatment.  

Results of laser hair removal

It generally takes several days or weeks to see full results as your skin continues to lose the damaged hair in treated areas. It may look like your hair is growing back as your body begins to shed the hairs. To treat each cycle of hair growth, you’ll most likely need to schedule three or four follow-up laser hair removal treatments. Results vary, depending on the thickness and density of your hair and where it is located.

Your doctor will discuss the frequency of follow-up appointments. These are usually a month or more apart. Although laser hair removal isn’t permanent, results can last for months or even years. You’ll enjoy smooth-looking skin and a reprieve from shaving, plucking or waxing for some time.

Risks of laser hair removal

The risks of laser hair removal vary depending on your hair and skin color, areas treated and other variables. Naturally darker or suntanned skin contains more pigment and can absorb more light energy from the laser treatment. If you have darker skin, your doctor may recommend other treatment options or a milder laser to avoid the possibility of skin damage or ineffective results.

The experienced, board certified plastic surgeons at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center take steps to protect your health and safety during any procedure. Your doctor will evaluate your condition, medical history and goals to see whether laser hair removal may be a good option for you.

Potential risks of laser hair removal include: 

  • Swelling and inflammation around hair follicles 
  • Changes in coloring – especially if the skin is darker  
  • Irritated skin  
  • Blisters and crusting 
  • Scarring  
  • Skin texture changes  

Your Ohio State plastic surgeon will review these and other risks before recommending laser or other skin procedures. 

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