Since less body hair, especially on women, is considered more attractive by North American beauty standards, hair removal is a common practice. There are various methods of removing unwanted hair, but the effort and expense required, as well as how quickly hair grows back following removal, varies among them.

While shaving is a common hair removal method among men and women, the possibility of nicks and cuts, stubble and fast regrowth time have made people look for smoother, long-lasting results. Waxing and lasering are two methods that offer longer-lasting results than shaving, primarily because they involve getting rid of hair by the root. But they each have their pros and cons.

The following sections offer detailed information for some common questions and different elements of hair removal.

Waxing involves applying a layer of melted wax to skinand then pulling it off quickly in the opposite direction of hair growth. This method basically pulls out hair by the root and results in slower hair regrowth, which may occur after 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the individual. Both warm and cold wax techniques are available; extra caution is necessary with warm wax to ensure it is not too hot as to burn skin. It is believed that repeated damage to the hair follicles may eventually result in diminished hair growth. Redness and sensitivity can last hours after hair removal.

Negative effects include pain during removal, as well as ingrown hairs or folliculitis, scarring, hyperpigmentation and dermatitis. Waxing should be avoided on irritated, sunburned or broken skin.

Sugaring is very similar to waxing and consists of a soft paste that is applied to skin, then pulled off. Both methods can be performed at home with kits sold at stores, or professionally at a salon.

laser hair removal diagram

Lasering consists of using a targeted laser beam to penetrate and destroy hair follicles that produce hair. Results can last 3 to 6 months before hair grows back visibly. A series of 6 to 8 treatments is usually required for permanent results.

Potential side effects that can occur with lasering, include blistering, skin discolouration, redness, swelling and scarring. Pigmentation problems, such as white spots where lasering has occurred, tends to be more of a risk with tanned or darker skin.

Questions to ask before seeking laser hair removal

Am I a Candidate for Laser Hair Removal?

Laser technology works by targeting dark pigment. Therefore, it works best on pale skin and dark coarse hair. The lighter the skin and the darker and coarser the hair, the better are the results.

How Does Laser Hair Removal Work? 

Lasers designed for permanent hair reduction emit wavelengths of light that are absorbed by the pigment in the hair (melanin). If the surrounding skin is lighter than the color of the hair, the energy of the laser is concentrated in the hair shaft, effectively destroying it without affecting the skin or the follicle. Since lasers target pigment, treatments are most effective on coarse hair because it has a lot of pigment and can absorb a lot of heat. Fine hair cannot absorb much heat.

The ability of the laser device to produce a very narrow bandwidth on a consistent basis is the key to a safe efficient treatment. While the laser emits a beam that only heats the hair shaft, heat is transmitted from the hair shaft to the surrounding tissue for several milliseconds after the laser pulse. Several lasers possess cooling attachments which cool the surrounding skin to fully absorb any heat transmitted from the destroyed hair shafts.

Intense Pulse Light (IPL) machines are not lasers. These machines use a highly concentrated beam of traditional incoherent light, often in conjunction with a cream or gel, to burn the hair shaft. IPLs produce a wide bandwidth of light that can heat up all of the surrounding tissue, making it less effective in disabling hair and putting the patient at a higher risk for burns, especially on darker skin.

How Many Laser Treatments will I Need? How Far Apart are They Scheduled?

Most patients need at least 6-8 effective treatments spaced 8-12 weeks apart. Because hair grows in cycles, several sessions are necessary in order to affect all hair on any given area. Due to length of hair growth cycles, treatments are usually needed once every 8-12 weeks. Hair cycle length varies depending on body part. Face usually requires more frequent treatments (about 8 weeks apart) whereas legs and back need less frequent treatments (closer to 12 weeks apart).

Shedding of all treated hair should be expected within 3 weeks of each treatment. The hair that doesn’t shed and is growing as usual after 3 weeks has likely been either missed or not affected due to inappropriate settings. All 6-8 treatments should be good effective treatments in order to achieve good results.

Is Laser Hair Removal Permanent?

Laser hair removal lasers have been in use since 1997 and approved for “permanent reduction.” They disable hair permanently as long as the right type of hair is treated with an appropriate type of laser at effective settings.

However, it is called a “reduction” because, no matter what some clinics may claim, hair removal lasers cannot and do not remove 100% of the hair in an area. With proper treatments, laser can remove the majority of the coarse hair on a body area, but they cannot remove finer hair. In order to achieve 100% clearance of hair in any one area, most people need to follow up laser treatments with electrolysis treatments to remove any remaining finer hairs.

Any hair that grows in after the 12-month period is new hair that the body can develop due to numerous factors such as age, diet, hormonal changes, and medical conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

Is Laser Hair Removal Painful?

In one pulse, laser removes all the hair on a patch of skin the size of a nickel or a quarter. Generally, laser hair removal is not much more painful than waxing, though the sensation is different. With each pulse, the feeling resembles a rubber band snapping against the skin for a quick second. Pain is only felt while laser is hitting the skin and doesn’t last. Most people do not require an anesthetic cream, though one can be prescribed to more sensitive patients.

Using anesthetic creams is safest on small areas. It’s also important to obtain a cream that is properly compounded. Using an inappropriately compounded numbing cream on large areas can result in adverse side effects or even death. Patients should consult with their doctor.

Are They any Laser Hair Removal Risks or Side Effects?

Some people may experience the following potential temporary side effects:

  • Itching
  • Redness for up to 3 days
  • Swelling around mouth of follicle for up to 3 days
  • Tingling or feeling of numbness

The following rare side effects are indicative of inappropriate laser type and/or settings:

  • Crusting/scab formation
  • Bruising
  • Purpura (purple coloring of the skin)
  • Temporary pigment change (hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation)