Everything you always wanted to know
about Laser Hair Removal

By Juliana Day

It's like a bad scene in one of the old Star Trek episodes. Captain Kirk is being held down by busty aliens in tight-fitting spandex, a laser slowly inching up the table - it's just about to laser him in half. Inches before piercing him, he is beamed out by Scotty and saved from the busty aliens and their deadly laser.

Thankfully, lasers have come a long way since cheesy sci-fi TV shows. They are now touted as the fountain of youth, the end to razor burns; and the secret to fewer wrinkles, less fat and a hairless body. Laser treatment is one of the latest crazes to hit the beauty world. Do you want to wave goodbye to your razors? Are you ready to give those pesky chin hairs the zap? Here's the latest scoop on laser hair removal.

Does laser hair removal hurt?

You may have seen the laser commercial with the woman in goggles lying comfortably on her back with her head resting contentedly on her arm, looking like she's relaxing on a tropical beach. That's a somewhat unrealistic portrait. Laser treatment hurts a little less then electrolysis. (Wow - getting zapped hurts less then getting poked a hundred times with a needle; now that's comforting!)

A friend who recently had the procedure made this comparison, "It's like an elastic band snapping your skin." There are some lasers, such as the LightSheer Laser, that have a built-in cooling mechanism to decrease pain, but this is a more expensive system that is rarely used.

How many treatments will I need?

I saw an advertisement the other day offering a flat price on laser treatment for bikini, legs and armpits. It looked appealing to me because I thought, "I would spend that much in razors for the next 5 years, and this is permanent". Well, it's not that simple. You have to go for 4 to 6 treatments before you are completely free of that body hair, even more often if you are also having your face treated. (Suddenly the amount I spend on razors doesn't seem so bad).

How much does it cost?

As a cosmetic procedure, laser treatments are not covered by insurance plans. Also, treatments are done at private clinics, so prices vary from one to another. In general, laser hair treatment is much less expensive than electrolysis. However, it requires multiple treatments and you usually end up paying around $1000 by the time you're done. Of course, if you only need treatment on a small area, like your upper lip, the costs are much less. Likewise, treatment on a large area, such as your entire back, can run much higher.

How shall I prepare for my laser treatment?

The preparation required depends on your age, lifestyle and specific needs. My friend, also in her mid-twenties said, "It's great, when you don't have a tan, you're not pregnant, and you have $200 extra dollars (for one treatment)". So, for many women in their 20's and 30's, laser treatment is not always an option.

Your skin must be the absolute lightest possible to prevent discoloration; you must not wax or pluck hair for eight weeks prior to the procedure (shaving is fine); and if you are prone to cold sores, you may have to take anti-viral medication for two days prior to treatment to prevent possible scaring. On the day of the treatment you must shave your legs so the hair doesn't need to be burned, and avoid using make-up or self-tanners.

Laser treatment risks

The risks are minimal, but still important in weighing your decision. In 25% of cases, discoloration occurs. There is a higher rate of occurrence in darker skinned people. In some cases in can be avoided by simply staying out of the sun for six weeks after the procedure.

In 10% of cases, painful blisters can form. Fortunately, there is medicated ointment available to help manage the pain and reduce scarring.

Occasionally scarring can occur if the patient has a cold sore at the time of treatment, or if blisters develop.

So… Should I go for it?

If the hair scare has you up in arms, laser treatment may be the way to go. It's like an American Express commercial: "Laser treatment of pits, legs, and bikini line $1500. Never getting a wax, using a razor or having electrolysis again - PRICELESS."

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Judy Rushfeldt, Publisher


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