The Ultimate Guide to Laser Hair Removal—Because Summer Is (Almost) Here

Full, somewhat personal disclosure? I've been dreaming of laser hair removal for years. Or rather, I've dreamt of canceling my sugar and waxing subscriptions, bidding final goodbyes to my shower's graveyard of razors, and chucking my large collection of oils, gels, and creams all catering to some kind of hair woe. As pretty much the one and only method of permanent hair reduction and removal, laser hair removal became my own shiny beacon of hope.

Our body hair is nothing to be ashamed of (it's meant to protect us, after all!), but for me, my dreams of a bald, maintenance-free bikini area solely revolved around issues of physical discomfort and a personal effort to streamline my current beauty routine.

Even though I honestly don't mind shaving my pits and legs—I actually find it kind of meditative—nothing gets my goat like shaving my bikini area. I personally prefer to be 100% hairless, and I also happen to have insanely sensitive skin down there. Over the years, my waxing and sugaring appointments have pretty much compared to what feels like the equivalent of medieval torture, and shaving only ever leaves me with angry ingrowns, bumps, redness, stinging, and pretty much everything in between. Trust me when I say I've asked everyone under the sun what I'm doing wrong, and no resulting suggestion has ever proved to be a pragmatic solution.

Thus, earlier this week I found myself in the Beverly Hills office of Moy, Fincher, Chipps, one the best dermatology and facial plastics destinations in the greater Los Angeles area and quite possibly the country. As a reporter on all things wellness and beauty, I've worked with its amazing staff of world-class doctors before. Therefore, there was no one I trusted more with my sensitive (hopefully soon-to-be-hairless) bikini area. I received my consultation with Jennifer Herrmann, MD, FAAD—who's a dream—and after deciding to go ahead with the procedure, we started in on the treatment and all my burning questions. As you'll soon find out below, laser hair removal isn't a one-stop shop, and it requires at least five to six treatments for significant hair reduction and removal. However, I couldn't have had a better, more positive experience during my first go-round, and I'll be sharing everything I learned about laser hair removal in a user-friendly guide below. Curious to know more? Keep scrolling!

1. What Is Laser Hair Removal, and How Does It Work?

Unlike other methods of hair removal like waxing, shaving, plucking, or sugaring, laser hair removal is a specialized treatment that helps permanently remove unwanted hair. Plus, if the correct lasers, precautions, and settings are utilized, laser hair removal also involves less injury to the skin. (Whereas the four former will only strip hair temporarily and administer repeated stress to the area—not ideal.)

As Herrmann explained to me during our pre-treatment consultation (an important step that's always recommended before you undergo laser hair removal!), the technique works by using a specific type of laser that targets pigment or the dark color of the hair in order to destroy the hair follicles for good. 

"The laser targets the pigment, light energy is converted to heat, and this heat then collaterally damages the cells that grow the hair," says Herrmann. "These cells live very close to the pigment cells in hairs, causing the hair to fall out without returning. That being said, because the laser targets pigment, the best candidates for successful laser hair removal are those with dark colored hair and lighter skin so that the laser specifically targets hair color rather than a patient's native skin color, which can lead to burning."

Additionally, those with light skin and light hair won't be great candidates for laser hair removal because there won't be any or enough pigment for the laser to effectively target. Those with dark hair and skin should also proceed with caution, since the laser may run the risk of targeting native skin pigmentation as mentioned above. The good news? Herrmann shared with me that there are certain lasers and settings that can be used for those with the combination of dark hair and skin (talk to your pro!), and lasers that will eventually be able to effectively remove light-colored hair are currently being tested and developed. Sit tight! 

2. Are There Risks or Side Effects? 

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The short, somewhat surprising answer? Not really. Although Herrmann's colleague Ronald Moy shared that it is possible to get a superficial burn or pigmentation from laser hair removal, it's rare and especially unlikely if you see a reputable dermatologist. (If you're in L.A., I highly recommend Moy Fincher Chipps, as it has some of the top dermatologists currently in the industry.)

"If appropriate laser settings are used, treatments are usually very safe," Herrmann reiterated to me before we got started. "Some patients experience transient redness and swelling after the treatment or slightly pink skin or red bumps over the treatment area, but these symptoms tend to resolve on their own within one to three days." She also recommended applying cool compresses to help soothe the area if needed, which I found helpful in the immediate hours post-treatment. All in all, however, I was happily surprised with how pain-free I was following the procedure, and I was much less sore than I typically am post–bikini wax. Considering I also happened to be on my period when I went in to see Herrmann, that's saying something!

3. How Do I Prepare Before the Treatment?

Prior to my treatment, I was advised to shave my bikini area (or wherever you'll be getting lasered) about 24 hours prior to the start of the procedure. Doing so removes the bulk of the surface hair, which in turn reduces the chance of skin burning), but still allows the technician to see enough of the hair follicle to know where they need to target the laser. If you shave right before your session, it will be harder to see exactly where the follicles are growing on the skin.

Moy also noted that it's never a good idea to wax or pluck before laser hair removal, and it's best to come in with clean, newly washed skin sans products like lotions or oils.

4. What Can I Expect During the Treatment?

Unlike waxing or sugaring, which can be time-consuming and painful, laser hair removal will be a tad painful, yes, but so fast you'll hardly remember what happened. Of course, it depends on what area of the body you're getting lasered, but in general, I found the experience to be so much more time-efficient and actually less painful. I'd describe the sensation as a quick, hot rubber band snap.

I have a pretty high pain tolerance and found myself getting used to the pain relatively quickly, but it's important to realize we all have different thresholds, so experiences will vary. But again, I found it so much more tolerable than waxing—during and after my treatment.

"Typically, the length of treatment depends on the surface area treated. Someone wishing to target hair on the upper lip may have a session lasting less than one minute, but someone treating their full legs may have a 30- to 40-minute session," notes Herrmann. "Prior to treatment, we apply topical numbing cream for 15 to 30 minutes to enhance comfort, and during the procedure, cooling air and/or ice packs are used to maximize comfort."

5. What Should I Do After My Appointment, and When Will I See Results?

According to both Herrmann and Moy, post-laser care is actually incredibly minimal. If you're experiencing bothersome stinging or redness, Herrmann suggests using a hydrocortisone cream for a few days, and Moy recommends being careful to stay out of the sun for the first 24 after you've been lasered.

As far as visible results, laser hair removal requires a little bit of a commitment, as going in for simply one session probably won't yield much of a difference.

"Because hair grows in cycles, it's important to treat an area at least five to six times to target hairs in their active growing phase," Herrmann explained to me. "Sessions are typically spaced four to six weeks apart, and it will usually take six treatments to get at least 75% of the target hair growth reduced and permanently removed."

6. How Much Will It Cost?

Like many beauty treatments, you'll likely get what you pay for when it comes to laser hair removal, and prices will fluctuate depending on where you go and what area you're getting lasered. The more ground you're covering, the more you'll fork over.

"You can expect to pay anywhere from around $75 to a few hundred dollars per session," Herrmann shares. "While medical spas may offer steeper discounts than medical offices, it's safest to perform these treatments in a medical office under the direction of a physician or his/her immediate medical assistant."

Not sold on laser hair removal? Fear not. We're including all of the grooming and hair removal products that have served us well below. Keep scrolling to shop our faves!