No need to adjust your computer screen. This post really is about laser hair removal. Coming from a DIY home improvement blog.
If you think seeing this post is weird and don’t care to read it, I am totally fine with that. I agree that it’s weird to be coming from my blog, especially when I don’t share a great deal of these kinds of stories (I work on it though, as evidenced by this departure from the usual subject matter). Normal sawdust-related topics will commence again next week.
It all started with an Instagram post. And then the post requests came via email. They were even requested back when I did my first reader survey (and speaking of, should probably do again soon at some point). And the questions were what you might expect when inquiring about laser hair removal. What is it like? What were my results? How much does it hurt? And is it worth the cost?
Now that I’ve had some time post-treatment to truly give a results-based review, I felt today was just as good a time as any to give an account of my experience with it. So, here we go! I’ll be as PC as I can about the details, but this is a more personal post than normal. You’re forewarned.
I made the decision to get laser hair removal about three and a half years ago. My sister had been going through the process a year before and had been raving over her results, so I figured with our similar skin types, it may not hurt for me to go in for a consultation.
I wanted to get a number of areas treated. You can probably guess the top ones. Yep, both legs. And other things. And since I consider applying very powerful lasers to my skin to be akin to plastic surgery, I didn’t go with the budget choice. I didn’t go to a “spa” that says they do this and sixteen other services that don’t require knowing how to not fry skin. I did my homework and went with a company that had lots of guarantees, competent staff, and certifications saying that they knew what they were doing.
The first thing I noted about my consultation was how thorough it was. To my surprise, the treatment zones you’d normally think of are subdivided into separate sections. For instance, your legs are actually divided into upper and lower zones. Your underarms are considered one zone as well, but for more complicated regions, like your bikini area or face, you specifically pick out your problem areas (so you’re basically paying for a group of itemized services instead of one-size-fits-all package). Each of these subdivided areas have their own pricing, so you have to pick and choose what’s best (and most needed) for you. However, there is still an incentive (or rather, a few, but I’ll get to the others later) to get all of your problem areas treated together (as opposed to, say, doing your legs & finishing those off, then doing your underarms after all of your treatment on your legs is done at some other point in the future), because you get a package discount.
In other words, it wasn’t cheap. My package was going to cost me several thousand dollars (just under $4k if memory serves). And while it can be financed pretty easily (they typically offer financing deals at places like these), that may not always be the ideal option. But my advice is to treat it like any other contracted service; your deal is between you and the negotiator on the other side of the table. Don’t think of it as a set price, and that’s what you have to pay. Since my sister had already gone to the same place, I not only asked for a referral discount on top, but I (politely) asked them to pull up her history and compared her price apples to apples with mine (since a year’s time had passed, their prices had gone up, but I wasn’t having it).
Another bit of info that’s helpful if you’re looking into this: the laser (or so I was told) is only really effective for certain skin types. Apparently, the laser needs the contrast between your skin color and hair color; if the two are high contrast (such as dark hair and pale skin), the results are better because they are able to intensify the laser with each treatment. If your skin is dark and you have dark hair, to be safe, they don’t zap as strong because it wouldn’t be able to differentiate the skin versus hair follicles quite as well… which runs a risk of burning your skin instead of the intended target. So when considering this treatment, make sure you think you’ll get the results you want out of it. And the consultants will tell you upfront whether or not they think you’re a good candidate. I kind of like that the folks who might be especially embarrassed about hair issues (such as Italian descent, like me – lots of hair with fair skin, which makes hair super noticeable) are especially good candidates for it.
Once I signed on for my package, I was up for my first round of treatment a week or two later. The process itself doesn’t take very long at all; I would usually get mine done during my lunch break (it was close enough to my office to work with my schedule). You disrobe and put on gowns like a doctor visit, clean your skin (to remove any residues, like from body lotion), and the first treatment is usually a little longer than average to go over the process so you know what to expect. You wear funky glasses to protect your eyes, you’ll talk more about hair in places you’d ever expect to in your life, but overall, the staff is incredibly friendly and walks you through the whole thing.
Then, the zapping begins. If you’re doing multiple areas, they’ll recommend a starting zone or you can choose for yourself. When doing larger areas, like your legs, they’ll take a chalk pencil and mark a grid all over them so they can properly map out the areas being treated.
Yes, it hurts. The first treatment stings like a tattoo or rubber band snapping your skin (and the staff tells you the same thing to prepare you, which doesn’t sound as bad, but then you have to wrap your head around the idea of it snapping against your skin over and over again). The zap is very intense, but by the time you’re zapped again, the last spot doesn’t really hurt anymore (there’s no throbbing). Your pain tolerance will differ depending on the area being treated. You can also opt to buy ridiculously expensive numbing cream (I didn’t, but I considered it… my little sister didn’t, so I didn’t want to chicken out!). With each subsequent treatment, the laser gets turned up to eleven, so-to-speak. It hurts more and more as time goes on, but you’re more used to the pain.
I noticed that the sharp, intermittent pain caused me to sweat a lot in unexpected places that I was never quite aware of before. The backs of my knees… my scalp… between my toes… etc. It was simply strange. It also smells a lot like burning hair. You are zapping hair follicles, after all.
After your treatment is finished, you clean yourself up a little again (to remove the chalk marks and apply a soothing gel). Your treatment areas will look, appropriately, like they’ve been stung repeatedly by an angry swarm of wasps. The body simply has an almost allergic reaction to what you’ve just subjected it to. After a few hours, the welts go down (and they look way worse than they feel – there’s a mild general soreness). I experienced no scarring, but at times, I was kind of afraid I would based on the intensity of the pain during treatment and the size of the welts. Nearly every treatment resulted in a disappearance of any marks within about 12 hours.
Treatments happen in planned intervals (apparently, to accommodate your hair’s growth cycle – since your hair doesn’t all grow in and fall out at the same time, they space out treatments to get ’em all). If I remember correctly, it’s somewhere between every six to eight weeks, but I could be wrong. They also recommend planning around that time of the month… your pain sensitivity will increase and then decrease a little bit, so they want to do things when it won’t be as painful.
My treatment plan lasted for nearly two years. I’m sure that will differ depending on the facility, since my package bought a specific number of treatments for each area. During that time, I also had to stay out of the sun. The goal was to keep my skin as light as possible. That also meant no tanning salons, no spray tans, nothing that would darken the color of my skin. Since I was in grad school for most of it and unable to take extended vacations, that wasn’t nearly as much of a problem as I first thought it might be!
I started noticing results after the very first treatment. My hair fell out and didn’t grow back in quite as heavily as it did before. And then that continued the next time, and the next. Each time, fewer hairs grew back. As treatment went on, the process was less zap-all-over and more zap-in-stubborn-spots (I was encouraged to have a little bit of stubble with later treatments… seeing exactly where a stubborn hair follicle is helped).
Toward the end, since the most dramatic changes happened near the beginning, it felt more of a nuisance to go in and get the process done. But I stuck with it for several more months. Continued to say out of the sun (which in a city like Atlanta, isn’t exactly easy!). And now, I honestly can’t remember the last time I shaved. I am so used to leaving the house without it being a concern, it’s harder to remember what life was like when it was. Temperature changes and goosebumps from cold drafts are a thing of the past. So is annoying stubble-rub from things like jeans (that used to be one of the main motivators for shaving in the winter). During the summer or on vacation, I can put on a bathing suit or sundress and just go. No razor burn.
No, not all of the hair is gone. Until the dark hair disappeared, I didn’t realize how much blond-ish hair I still have (which, because of the lack of contrast, wasn’t effectively treated). So I still have to take care of that from time to time with a quick swipe of a cheap razor, but I usually don’t notice it until I’m in the sun and the light makes it obvious (so maybe in the week before heading to the beach, I’ll remember to shave, just in case… but there’s no need to pack it with me). I only have to shave every few months, and I determine when that is more based on feel or catching myself in the right light as opposed to it being something that I’d be embarrassed about if I forgot. But since I do still have to shave, I also think that whole advertising shtick of “Never shave again!” is, obviously, complete bullshit. A complete lie. Way, way less? Like, 98 percent less? Definitely. But not never.
My skin is also always soft. The baby-blond stuff doesn’t feel prickly, so my skin feels smoother. I can still tell a difference when there’s a little bit of blond hair grown back versus that just-shaved feeling, but the just-shaved part last for weeks.
For me, based on the results I have so far, I am really, really pleased with my decision. It’s been well over a year since my last treatment, and I experienced the bulk of the results about a year before that. I don’t regret it at all, and I feel like it was money well spent. A present to myself to enjoy far longer than most things I buy. That’s not the case for everyone of course, and I’ve been told that hormone changes could cause my results to change over time, but from where I sit, it was worth it for me. Plus, if I ever feel the need to go back again, there’s a set cost for re-treatment that is way less than what I initially paid (just to give you a ballpark, think one or two hundred versus the thousands paid initially).
So, if you’re considering this yourself, my advice to you is to do your homework. Get referrals from people you know. Don’t believe that it’s equally effective for everyone (since when has that ever been true about anything, really?). Don’t believe that you never ever ever have to shave again, or any other too-good-to-be-true promises. Be realistic with your expectations. Ask lots of questions. And if you do decide to move forward with it, best of luck (and shave-free months) to you!