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How to Care for Your Skin Before & After Laser Hair Removal

How to Care for Your Skin Before & After Laser Hair Removal

As someone with dark hair, well, everywhere, I’ve always been curious about laser hair removal.

At the same time, I’ve been making a concerted effort to deprogram myself of toxic thoughts about my body.

I’ve realized it can actually be body positive and affirming to address body hair. For example, I’ve been getting into having some underarm hair lately—it’s its own aesthetic, okay?! And I feel better about myself when I address the handful of wiry whiskers that pop up only on the left side of my chin.

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For those hairs I always feel sexier without, I wondered if investing in a laser might be less wasteful and more permanent than waxing, plucking, or shaving and if my sensitive skin might tolerate it better. So I put on my research hat and dug in to find out more.

I believe sharing is caring. So if you’re on the laser hair removal train or thinking about taking the plunge, here’s what I learned.

What is laser hair removal?

A laser is an artificial beam of light with concentrated wavelengths of similar size. Unlike other light, which has varying wavelengths, the relative uniformity of laser light makes it easier to control and focus onto specific applications.

There are different types of lasers used in hair removal but they all work the same way: light emitted by the laser is absorbed by melanin in the hair. As the hair absorbs the energy from the light, that energy becomes heat which damages the hair follicle, resulting in reduced hair growth.

Laser Hair Removal on a Leg

Laser hair removal was first developed in the 1960s and the first widely used aesthetic lasers were FDA-approved in 1997. Aesthetic devices are federally regulated and require operation by someone with training or certification, whereas non-medical cosmetic lasers can be used in households and salons.

Because the cost of professional hair removal can be prohibitive, at-home laser treatment has increased in popularity in recent years. These lasers are often IPL, which stands for intense pulsed light, or light-emitting diodes. At-home lasers are less powerful than their medical office counterparts, and they should be! Let's leave the medical-grade equipment to the trained experts, y’all.

Laser hair removal works best on those with light skin and dark hair, which gives the laser the best differentiation to focus on. It doesn’t work well on folks with lighter colored hair—like blonde, gray, red, or white—or those whose hair and skin tones are too similar. That said, advances in technology have increased effectiveness when it comes to folks with more melanin, allowing dermatologists to employ different lasers and techniques for Black and darker brown skin.

Lasers shouldn’t be used near the eyes (which includes your eyebrows) or on tattoos, moles, or other skin that has darker pigmentation. It’s also not for pregnant folks or those who scar easily.

Laser hair removal is touted as “permanent” but it’s really more like “permanent” hair color: It lasts for a while but requires maintenance. Consistency is key; if your goal is to never see those hairs on your toes again, you gotta keep going back for repeat treatments.

HOW TO PREPARE

A few days before doing laser hair removal, stop using anything on or near the area that could be irritating. Looking at you, exfoliators, acidic products, and retinol or retinoids.

Strangely, one thing I discovered is that it's better to shave the day before, no matter if the treatment is occurring at home or in a medical office—because it’s all about creating the clearest target for the laser. Shaving helps shorten the hair shafts, making the follicles more visible, and a bit of five-o’-clock shadow creates a strong differentiation between hair and skin to help the laser target the hair and not the skin.

But you don’t want to pluck or wax because the laser needs to be able to see the hair to target the follicle—so removing the hair altogether is a big no-no.

When it’s removal time, lasers should be used on clean skin only. No cosmetics, lotions, or deodorants, please.

Legs that had laser hair removal

LASER HAIR REMOVAL AFTERCARE

1. Relax your wardrobe.

After the pew-pew is over, it’s time to rest, relax, and keep the area breathable.

If you’ve zapped any hair close to your groin area, skip the workout and tight pants or spandex undershorts for a few days.

2. Chill, literally.

Ice, especially the cooling gel packs that can be kept in the fridge, can feel very nice. In my case, cold-cold is too much, so I wrap a gel pack in a tea towel (a lighter, thinner type of kitchen towel).

3. Baby your skin.

Your skin was just blasted by lasers! Choose gentle, fragrance-free (different from unscented) lotions and creams. Items containing soothing aloe are an excellent idea, as is gentle and fragrance-free soap.

4. Pretend you’re a vampire.

It’s a good idea to take a little break from direct sun exposure, if possible.

If you’ve done laser hair removal on an exposed area, like your face, remember the mantra of skincare: sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! Be extra diligent and, on top of sunscreen, wear a wide-brimmed hat.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Laser hair removal isn’t for everyone. Maybe your skin is extra-sensitive, or you don’t have  a strong enough contrast between your skin and hair. That’s okay—there are plenty of other hair removal options to consider!

Plus, just as every body is a swimsuit body, let’s not forget that hair belongs on bodies, no matter its color, texture, or the gender or body type of the person who owns the body and its luscious locks. What’s sexy is what makes you comfortable!

But if you’re looking to laser, be sure to pamper your skin both before and after to get the best results.

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Leah M. Charney is sassy yet classy and is always seeking a beauty routine to match. She delights in both the science and aesthetics of the clean beauty movement.

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