Does Laser Hair Removal Really Hurt? The Experts Weigh In

does laser hair removal hurt
Does Laser Hair Removal Really Hurt?Design by Yoora Kim - Getty Images

There are tons of hair-removal methods including shaving and waxing — but one of the more long-term options is laser hair removal. While you might be thinking um ouch, it’s a safe, effective procedure that means you don’t have to pick up a razor for a few weeks or even months.

During this treatment, a laser “targets the pigment in the hair follicle and destroys it,” Dr. Peterson Pierre, a board-certified dermatologist based in Thousand Oaks, California, explains. Laser hair removal does require multiple treatments, and while it doesn’t permanently remove hair, it does impede future growth.

While the treatment can be conveniently done at laser clinics and dermatologists’ offices, it can be costlier upfront compared to shaving or booking a wax sesh. You can laser hair on your legs, under your arms, face, around your bikini area, stomach, and back, but depending on the area, the pain level varies. Here, the experts, Dr. Pierre and Dr. Dhaval G. Bhanusali, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, break down laser hair removal and how painful the process can be.

Where does laser hair removal hurt the most?

Unfortunately, you cannot escape some level of discomfort with laser hair removal. Some spots are more sensitive than others, and therefore, hurt more.

“The upper lip tends to hurt the most due to the high number of nerves in that area,” Dr. Pierre says. The bikini area and underarms also tend to be painful because the skin is thinner in these spots, the experts explain.

You should avoid riskier spots as well, Dr. Bhanusali advises, such as under the eye and between the eyebrows. Yes, you wear safety glasses during laser hair removal, but it’s best to err on the side of caution and keep lasers away from your eye area.

Where does laser hair removal hurt the least?

Spots, where the skin is thickest, will cause the least amount of pain. The abdomen tends to hurt less than other areas, Dr. Pierre says, however, you still might experience some discomfort. The back likely won’t be as excruciating as well, but due to the substantial number of hair follicles here, it can be painful.

Does laser hair removal hurt less each time?

Yes! “The less target you have over time, the less pain you experience,” Dr. Pierre explains. Target is pigment in the hair follicle, so with each session, your hair is getting lighter and thinner, and eventually, the amount of hair diminishes.

“We use tricks like topical anesthetics, ice, and other cooling modalities, and even vibration to make the experience more pleasant,” Dr. Bhanusali adds.

How long does laser hair removal last?

“It depends person to person,” Dr. Bhanusali shares. Based on what part of the body is getting lasered, you might need more or fewer treatments. Generally, Dr. Pierre recommends six to 12 monthly sessions.

“Some may need a touch-up from year to year, depending on how severe the excess hair,” Dr. Bhanusali adds.

How should I prepare for a laser hair removal session?

It’s recommended that you shave the area 24 to 48 hours before your laser hair removal procedure. Doing so can minimize the amount of pain you experience, Dr. Pierre notes. But do not pluck, wax, or groom the area with any treatment that removes the hair follicle from the root.

Dr. Bhanusali also advises against Nair or other chemical hair removal methods for one to two months before your laser hair removal sesh. “I would also stop retinol and retinoids for at least four to five days,” he adds. The concentration of retinol and retinoid products varies, but even so, it leaves skin more susceptible to redness and irritation.

Finally, for a couple of weeks pre-treatment, try to limit sun exposure and be sure to lather up on the SPF when outside. Lasers on sunburned or tanned skin can lead to hyperpigmentation and burns.

What should I do after a laser hair removal session?

Post-laser hair removal, use cool compresses, aloe, coconut oil, or cortisone cream to ease any pain or discomfort. It’s also recommended that you use gentle cleansers and moisturizers around the treated area and shower only in cool or lukewarm water for at least a couple of days, to avoid any further irritation.

“I usually have my patients restart retinoids around day three or four, and no exfoliators for four to five days,” Dr. Bhanusali adds.

Do not forget your SPF, either. It’s best to avoid direct sun exposure and to keep the treated area protected from the rays for at least a couple of weeks after laser hair removal. Your skin is sensitive post-treatment and strong UV rays from the sun can cause burns, scarring, or hyperpigmentation. So, while it’s tempting, don’t schedule a laser hair removal appointment right before a vacation.

How does laser hair removal affect different skin tones and skin types?

Laser hair removal is safe for all skin tones and types, but patients with darker skin should be extra careful. “They’re more prone to experiencing a burn from the treatment, especially with providers who have little expertise with skin of color,” Dr. Pierre explains.

Dr. Bhanusali notes that generally speaking, most board-certified dermatologists are trained to treat darker skin tones. But if you want to double-check, it’s completely fine to call the office and ask before you book your laser hair removal appointment. He adds that the nd:YAG laser (also commonly known as the YAG laser) is safe, effective, and often works best for dark skin and hair, due to its longer wavelength and ability to deeply penetrate the skin.

If you do burn from a laser hair removal treatment, Dr. Pierre recommends that you treat the area with Vaseline or Aquaphor, and aloe vera gel.

Can you get laser hair removal if I have skin conditions like acne?

Yes! “Acne doesn't preclude you from experiencing the wonderful results laser hair removal has to offer,” Dr. Pierre says. However, if you’re experiencing an active breakout or if your skin is substantially inflamed, you might want to wait until your skin has cleared or calmed before booking your laser hair removal treatment, Dr. Bhanusali suggests.

You Might Also Like