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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.
Laser Hair Removal: Treatment, Costs, Pain, and More!
Why Laser Hair Removal?
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. Our family has a fun genetic combo of Italian and German, leading to light skin and dark hair, so shaving has always been a daily activity unless I want some stubble, so I was willing to find out more!
I wanted to get a number of areas treated. You can probably guess the top ones. Yep, both legs. Underarms. And other things. And since I consider applying very powerful lasers to my skin to be close enough 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). For one thing, you get a package discount.
Ok… What’s It Cost?
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 — you can often ask for adjustments! 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). The price may seem steep, but when you consider the lifetime value of shave-free days, the expertise involved, and the complete lack of razors and shaving cream (ideally — results still vary but my results are below!)… it seemed pretty reasonable. I most definitely wanted it.
Does Skin Type Matter for Laser Hair Removal?
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 (which I appreciate, since they aren’t just going to take your money and then use an ineffective treatment and then shrug about like they didn’t just waste your time and caused you actual pain for no reason!). I also 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!
How long are the appointments?
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, such as 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 discuss (very frankly) about hair in places more than you’d ever expect to in your life, but overall, the staff is incredibly friendly and walks you through the whole thing. I was put right at ease from the get-go, and I never felt nervous after my first visit!
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.
Does it hurt?
Yes, it hurts. But… it’s really not that bad.
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, too — and I’m sure it differs from person to person. 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 and wanted to at least try!). With each subsequent treatment, the laser gets turned up more and more to the level that’s been shown to be effective with your skin/hair pigment. Becuase the intensity increases, some of those zaps can really surprise you (and not the way you might think — I kept thinking in terms of where more nerve endings might be, but some of my sensitive skin areas weren’t sensitive to the laser… but other areas were muuuuch sharper!). To help though, you’re more used to the pain with subsequent treatments, so you kind of are ok with it?
I noticed that the sharp, intermittent pain pattern 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.
Does it smell?
It smells a lot like burning hair. Not great, but not surprising either. You are zapping hair follicles, after all.
Post-appointment and treatment care
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, well… 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 marks 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 my welts. BUT, just as soon as they came, they went: nearly every treatment resulted in a disappearance of any marks within about 12 hours. There were the occasional standounts that lasted a little longer, but no scarring.
How long does the treatment plan / whole process take?
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. Even with my busy work schedule and busy full-time grad school schedule, I could still go to every treatment and move around my appointment if needed. They also recommend planning around that time of the month — your pain sensitivity increases and decreases due to hormone changes, 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.
Any special requirements during laser hair removal?
During my treatment plan, I had to stay out of the sun. If you think about it, it makes sense — the goal was to keep my skin as light as possible. The laser intensity is based on what they’ve already assessed as your skin/follicle pigments to be, so changing that can backfire. 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!
The big question: What are the results?
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. By almost half! And 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. I 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 shaving being a concern, it’s harder to remember what life was like before. It was THAT effective. Temperature changes and sudden stubble because of 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.
Is ALL of it gone? Do you ever have to shave again?
Until the dark hair disappeared, I didn’t realize how much blond-ish hair I still have (which, because of the lack of contrast with my skin color, 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 shining on it 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, a lie. Way, way less? Like, 98% less? HECK YES. But not never.
Another unexpected perk of laser hair removal? Softer skin!
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.
So… is it worth it?
For me, based on the results I’ve had, I am really, really pleased with my decision. It’s been well over
a year six years 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. It was 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 (such as pregnancy), 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!
A 2020 update:
I’ve been writing this blog for a long time at this point, and I nearly forgot about this post! As of six more years after writing this post initially (and keep in mind, that was long after I finished treatment itself), I still think it was worth it. Laser hair removal was a HUGE success for me, personally, and I still highly recommend it. There were a few changes over the years, so here you go:
- Underarms: they’ve have grown back a little to the point where I have to shave about once every two to three weeks. I don’t keep track because I don’t think about it until I feel it (the prickly feeling is still much softer too).
- Legs: still super smooth. In fact, I’m sitting here typing and wondering when in the world I last shaved them. I have no idea. Could have been six months ago (and was definitely when I thought I’d be wearing a bathing suit).
- Other regions: some growth back, but still very worth it IMO. Before laser hair removal, private areas were the spots I would be the most embarrassed/uncomfortable to have stubble. I never liked the maintenance of waxing, either. I now still have to shave very little, and I don’t ever have to worry about bathing suit faux pas!
Hope that helps, friends!