“The laser light is directed at and gets absorbed by the pigment in the hair itself, which sits in the hair follicle,” said Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. “When the laser light gets absorbed, it creates heat. If enough heat is generated down the hair follicle, it will destroy the hair growth center in the follicle. If the hair growth center is destroyed, you should not create a new hair.”
Gmyrek explained that body hair goes through a resting and growth cycle, which is why a series of follow-up treatments are scheduled every 4-6 weeks.
“When the hair is in a resting portion of the cycle, it may not be able to absorb enough laser light or generate enough heat to destroy the hair growth center,” she said. “This means is that you have to laser multiple times -– usually about 6 sessions ― to remove a substantial portion of the hair from an area.”
Treatment can be costly.
Treatment costs, methods and effectiveness depends on each person’s skin type, hair thickness and the area being lasered off.
“No matter what area you are treating, usually about 6 treatments are needed to achieve approximately 80 percent clearance. This is based on the cycling of the hair,” Gmyrek said.
“Small areas like an upper lip range from $150 to $250 per session, while bikini, Brazilian bikini and the larger areas like full legs and backs can cost $500, $700, $1,200 per treatment, respectively,” she said. “Keep in mind that treatment for an upper lip is just a few pulses and takes only minutes, whereas full leg treatment might be one hour of treating and over 1,500 pulses of laser.”
It doesn’t work for everyone.
The three doctors we consulted agreed the ideal candidate for laser hair removal is a very fair person with dark, coarse hair. People with red, blond, strawberry blond, white or very fine hair have a much harder time seeing results.
“This is because there is not enough pigment to absorb the laser light in the hair. If not enough laser light is absorbed, then the heat generated is too little to destroy the follicle and treatment will be unsuccessful,” Gmyrek explained. For people who aren’t good candidates for laser, she suggested exploring electrolysis.
“Medical electrolysis devices destroy hair growth with a shortwave radio frequency after a thin probe is placed in the hair follicle,” she said. “Electrolysis is considered a permanent hair removal method, since it destroys the hair follicle. It requires a series of appointments over a period of time.”