Laser hair removal is a cosmetic procedure that is very safe. Yet, it still has a few potential side effects and risks. Although they usually are minor inconveniences and tend to fade away after a few hours, patients must still be aware of them. Such side effects and risks are easily avoidable but could develop if the treatment is not done right or if the patient is not following the proper pre and aftercare guidelines.
What is laser hair removal?
Laser hair removal is a hair growth reduction method. A laser treatment of at least six sessions will reduce hair growth by up to 90%. Although not classified as a permanent hair removal method by the FDA, a lot of patients experience permanent hair removal.
Laser hair removal uses a concept called selective photothermolysis. It is an optical technique used to ablate tissue in targeted regions. The major goal of the technique is to heat targeted tissue with a laser and destroy it without damaging surrounding tissue. The target is the pigment in the hair that leads to the hair follicle.
During a session, the laser targets the pigment in the hair. Once the light is absorbed by the melanin, it travels to the hair follicle. There, it turns into thermal energy and anchors itself to the follicle. The heat will damage the hair follicle and prevent it from producing any new hair.
Laser hair removal only works when the hair is in the anagen phase of growth as it is the only time the hair and follicle connect. During other phases of growth, the energy cannot get to the follicle. Unfortunately, only 20% of all body hair is in the right stage of growth at any point in time. Thus, one session can target up to 20% of unwanted body hair.
This explains why patients need to get a comprehensive laser package of at least six sessions. Multiple successive sessions will allow to target the leftover hair. Spacing out the sessions by six weeks will give time to the hair to be in the right stage of growth.
Is the procedure safe?
Laser hair removal is a very safe procedure with very few contraindications. The key to a successful and safe treatment is communication and consistency. There are a few things to do prior to a session to ensure it is gonna be as safe as possible. For example, patients should avoid sunlight exposure in the ten days prior to their session.
Indeed, tanning puts the skin in an excited state that can interfere with the treatment. Laser hair removal is not painful. Even though pain is a subjective concept, it is nothing to the sensation felt during a wax. It may be described as unpleasant and uncomfortable. Laser hair removal feels like rubber bands snapping at the skin.
However, some medication may increase photosensitivity and therefore pain. Such is the case for antibiotics and Accutane. Thus, patients should wait at least fifteen days after they stop taking their medication before coming in for a laser session.
Laser hair removal is a very safe procedure but it is not advised on pregnant women. Indeed, the lack of research on the effects of laser hair removal on the fetus means that laser professionals actually do not know what could happen. In that case, prevention is better than cure. If you are a patient at Infinity Laser Spa who just became pregnant, we can freeze your package.
Finally, laser hair removal has no downtime. Indeed, patients may get back to their usual routine straight after their session. However, there will be a few precautions to take, especially in the twenty-four hours after a session. But more on that later.
What are the most common laser hair removal side effects?
Although laser hair removal is a safe procedure, it remains a medical treatment with potential side effects and risks.
Redness and irritation
The core concept behind laser hair removal is to damage the hair follicle of the target hair. The skin is exposed to a lot of energy at once and the body will therefore react to this. That is why people may experience redness and irritation in the treated areas.
Indeed, the skin may tingle or feel tender. It is possible that it also swells slightly. However, those symptoms are very often short-lived. Redness will go away within a couple of hours. Prior to that, the skin may look like it has just been waxed with little red bumps.
Certified laser technicians will apply an aloe vera gel to soothe the area and help the skin recover. Irritation should ease after the initial reaction, usually within a few hours. Swelling and redness respond well to ice packs or a cool bath.
Another potential side effect is skin crusting in the affected area. It is however a minor issue even though it can be inconvenient. Crusting may sometimes lead to scabbing and scarring, especially if the patient touches and scratches the skin.
An easy way to soothe the skin and heal crusting is to take care of the treated area. Using a moisturizer for example will help prevent any lasting issues from a laser treatment.
Although rare, skin discoloration may happen after a laser treatment. Indeed, some patients may notice minor color changes to the treated area of the skin. It may either become slightly darker or lighter. People with lighter skin are more likely to experience darker pigmentation changes.
On the other hand, people with darker skin tones may be prone to lighter pigmentation changes. However, these changes fade away over time and the skin returns to its original pigmentation.
Because laser hair removal involves the use of powerful lasers, there may be a risk to the eyes, especially when the certified technician is working on a person’s face. At Infinity Laser Spa, the only areas of the face we treat are the upper lip, chin, sideburns, cheeks, jaws and beard. We do not treat the forehead nor eyebrows or ears.
However, this risk is minimal. Indeed, both the patient receiving the treatment and the technician wear protective eye equipment to help prevent injury while the procedure is carried out.
Laser hair removal is a cosmetic procedure that damages hair follicles with a laser. It can create an infection risk. The affected area should be treated as a wound while it heals. If you see any signs of infection, speak with a dermatologist.
Avoid over-the-counter antibiotics and medicines, especially in larger areas. Skin infections are indeed a risk, especially if the patient touches the areas a lot, does not wash their hands and does not follow aftercare recommendations as laid out in the last part of this blog post.
Are there other risks?
Overall, laser hair removal side effects are minor and usually avoidable. They tend to fade within a few hours of the treatment. However, other risks remain, especially if the treatment is not done right. Hence why it is so important to find the best laser specialist near you.
Burns and blisters
If laser hair removal is not done correctly, there is a risk of burns and blisters. When a certified trained technician carries out the procedure however, such side effects are very rare. Some laser spa will use a cooling device in conjunction with the laser treatment to help prevent the laser from burning the skin.
Although scars are typically not a side effect of laser hair removal, there is still a risk. Indeed, should the technician make an error, scarring can occur. However, this should not be an issue with most qualified technicians.
Scars may also form if people do not follow aftercare guidelines. Patients may take care of the treated area correctly. Doing so will help decrease the likeliness of side effects. Avoiding the sun, moisturizing and checking regularly for signs of infection are key.
Excessive hair growth
Although it is incredibly rare and not scientifically proven, it has happened that patients undergoing laser hair removal experience excessive hair growth after their session. It may be mistaken with hair shedding. However it remains extremely rare.
Skin texture change
This risk is completely avoidable if patients follow pre and post-session guidelines. Staying in the sun incurs tanning which puts the skin in an exciting state. This can interfere with the procedure or make the skin more sensitive to UV rays and sun damage. Exposition to the sun before a laser hair removal session may result in skin texture change.
How to avoid side effects
There are a few ways to avoid side effects and minimize the rare risks of laser hair removal. First of all, patients may do their research and find the best laser hair removal specialist near them. A clinic with a reputation, reviews and customer feedback is good proof that the technicians can be trusted.
Second, patients must ensure to prepare for their session the right way. This includes avoiding direct sunlight in the ten days prior to their session. They must also shave the evening before or the morning of their session. The skin on the treated area must be cream, lotion or moisturizer-free. Finally, they must be careful with their current medication.
Third, it is important that patients listen to the laser technicians and follow aftercare recommendations. These include avoiding the sun for the next ten days after their session to avoid any sun damage that may result in skin discoloration. Patients should also avoid working out, taking hot showers or doing any heat or sweat inducing activities for the next 24 hours.
Indeed, sweat can create an ideal environment for bacteria development, which can lead to infection. Working out gear is also often very tight and may irritate the skin. Should a patient have laser hair removal on the face or the underarms, they must avoid wearing makeup and fragrances for at least 24 hours too.
It is advised to apply a calming aloe vera gel to help soothe and heal the skin after a laser hair removal session. Although laser hair removal side effects and risks exist, they can be easily avoided should the procedure be done well and all safety recommendations followed.