Thinking of At-Home Laser Hair Removal? Here's Everything You Need to Know
Plus, the products two dermatologists recommend for all skin tones.
If you want to stop shaving, waxing, or tweezing and instead wish you could simply "zap" your hair away, laser hair removal might be the option for you. The results of professional laser hair removal treatments can last up to several years, but they can be a little pricey. So if you're trying to cut back on expenses, using an at-home laser hair removal device is the next best thing and can provide similar results.
Before pointing a laser at your skin, though, there are quite a few things to consider to make sure you're using the safest and most effective method possible. We consulted two dermatologists to get answers to our questions about laser hair removal devices, how to use them safely at home, and the best products to choose from.
How do laser hair removal devices work?
As Diane Madfes, M.D., FAAD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explains, "Laser hair removal is based on the theory of selective photothermolysis. The laser targets the pigment in the hair follicle, causing heat and damage to the hair follicle." Because the lasers target pigment—more specifically, melanin—within the hair follicle, only darker hairs respond to laser hair removal devices, and the procedure won't work for light blonde, gray, or white hairs, Y. Claire Chang, M.D., a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology explains. For the same reason, the laser technology can be potentially harmful to those with darker, more melanin-rich skin.
At-home laser hair removal devices use a range of laser technology to get the job done, and some options may be more suitable for your skin than others. The different types of lasers used in these devices can include long-pulse ruby lasers, long-pulse alexandrite lasers, long pulse diode lasers, and long-pulse Nd:YAG lasers. Some devices also utilize intense pulsed light (IPL) which isn't a laser but rather a broad-spectrum light that’s scattered across the skin to help with permanent hair reduction.
"The ruby, alexandrite, and IPL devices have shorter wavelengths and are more suitable for lighter skin types," Dr. Chang says. "The long-pulse Nd:YAG laser has a longer wavelength and is safer for those with darker skin types."
What should you look for in a laser hair removal device?
Dr. Chang says the most important factors to consider when choosing a laser hair removal device is your skin type and hair color. When it comes to skin type, she explains, "lighter-skinned patients are candidates for most laser hair removal devices, but darker-skinned patients need to be cautious." This is because, she adds, "darker-skinned patients who have greater melanin content in the skin have a higher risk of side effects, like burns, blisters, and dyspigmentation." Conversely, those with darker hair are better candidates for laser hair removal, while those with lighter hair may want to choose a different route since their hair won't respond to the technology.
When it comes to choosing a specific device, it's important to look at the number of pulses the product offers, since it will no longer work when reaching its maximum—and depending on what area of the body you're treating, you'll need a different amount. Here's a guide to the approximate number of pulses needed for different areas of the body, according to Medical News Today:
- Upper lip: 25 pulses
- Underarm: 100 pulses
- Bikini line: 200 pulses
- Upper leg: 600 pulses
- Lower leg: 600 pulses
Are laser hair removal devices safe for people with melanin-rich skin?
As Dr. Chang cautions above, those with more melanin-rich skin may experience harsher side effects of laser hair removal, but that doesn't mean that it's off the table. This just means it's especially important for those with darker skin to consult with a doctor before moving forward with any option. While some at-home devices may not be recommended, a licensed dermatologist may have access to lasers that are more suitable for dark skin and can provide more insight on the safest way to proceed.
How should you use laser hair removal devices to get the best results?
Dr. Chang offers this list of advice on how to get the most out of your at-home laser hair removal treatment:
- Don't tan before using hair removal devices, and be diligent with sunscreen.
- Always remove all makeup, creams, or sunscreen before the treatment.
- Do not pluck, tweeze, wax, or thread hair before treatment. "Because the lasers target pigment in the hair follicles, the follicles need to be present for the hair removal devices to work," Dr. Chang explains. (Shaving between treatments, however, is okay.)
- Follow the device instructions and don't do treatments too frequently (once every two weeks is recommended).
- Always start with the lowest energy setting to make sure you tolerate it before going to higher settings.
- Never treat open wounds, active rashes, or tattoos.
Dr. Madfes adds that some areas, such as the bikini and upper lip areas, are more sensitive to laser technology. She recommends using ice and topical numbing creams pre-treatment to help with comfort and soothing aloe creams and cortisone post-treatment. "After treatment, it's normal for areas to be red and a little tender," she explains, "but blistering should never occur."
Shop the best laser hair removal devices below.
Silk’n Infinity uses IPL technology, has 400,000 pulses and five different power settings for customized treatment, and treats a broad range of skin types. Dr. Madfes says this product is "excellent and treats a broad range of skin types, and it's safe on dark skin types."
Tria Hair Removal Laser 4X uses diode laser technology with five different power settings to tailor treatment. Dr. Chang likes this product since it features a skin sensor for safety and the LED display guides the treatment and shows the number of pulses used.
Braun Silk Expert Pro 5 is an IPL hair removal system that comes with a sensor that reads the skin tone and adapts the flash intensity from a range of 10 different intensity levels. This product offers 400,000 pulses, and Dr. Chang says it's especially great for quick treatment of large areas, like the legs.
While there are other less expensive laser hair removal devices on the market, Dr. Madfes says that "the cheaper devices tend to run out of pulses before achieving the desired results," so it's best to invest a little more money for best results. No matter what your desired price range or results are, however, it's best to consult with a dermatologist to ensure you're choosing the right option for you.