My Thoughts About and Experiences with Laser Hair Removal

I’ve written about my body hair challenges quite a bit, and they’ve been some of my most popular posts. First, I talked about body hair removal, feminism, and body image. Based on your feedback, I wrote about my own body hair removal strategies and practices. And then later revisited the topic when I chose to have my bikini line lasered. Body hair is an incredibly personal but also unavoidably political topic, since its presence is natural and its removal is tied to socially reinforced beauty ideals. But even though I know many disagree with me, I don’t believe anyone who chooses to shave or otherwise remove her body hair is a “bad feminist” or a pawn for the patriarchy. I respect those who shun hair removal, but also know plenty of women who have dedicated their lives to the battle for equal rights, respect, and pay for women and also choose to shave or wax or pay for laser hair treatments. If the argument is that feminist bodies should be loved exactly as they are naturally and left entirely alone, other related hypocrisies include deodorant, haircuts, bras, cosmetics, belts, shoes that aren’t 100% flat, and absolutely any article of clothing that alters the appearance of a body. Everything we do to change how our bodies look, feel, and smell is a nod to societal norms. And I’m willing to nod occasionally.

Today, I will be talking about my own experiences with laser hair removal because they have quite literally changed my life and drastically altered how I feel about my body. I addressed this first in the bikini line post, but since I know that body hair and its removal are challenging and frustrating processes for so many of you, I feel like this topic merits a moment in the spotlight. Especially since there are so many myths floating around about the treatments and their results.

When I was in college, I switched my birth control medication. I can’t even remember why I did it, but I did. And the new pills made me feel horribly moody and unlike myself, so I switched back. And after that switch back to the old medication, hair came. I began to notice thick, black chin and nipple hairs that had never been present before. I plucked them and caused ingrowns and felt miserable and confused. I hoped they’d go away eventually, but they didn’t. And over time, my leg and armpit hair became thicker and quicker-growing, to the point where I’d shave, a breeze would cause me to get goosebumps, and stubble would instantly poke through my skin. I mean, it could literally be 10 minutes after I shaved. I had no idea what to do. A friend suggested I just let it go and grow everything out, which I tried. The ingrowns from that experience were indescribably painful, and after a few months of experimentation, I vowed never to go au naturel again.

I got my first laser hair treatments in 2000 when I first moved to Minneapolis. I’d seen billboards around Uptown, and finally worked up the nerve to call a clinic in a nearby suburb. The treatments were incredibly expensive and quite painful back then. I paid $150 per treatment to get my chin and areolas done, and was left red and raw afterwards. But my regrowth lessened, some hairs vanished altogether, and the ones that grew back in weren’t as thick or noticeable. $150 a pop is a lot for a 25-year-old to sustain, so I probably did three or four rounds of treatment before giving it up.

But because it had helped, I came back. Years later a co-worker told me she’d gotten her legs done, and described the process as “an investment in freedom.” So I signed up for a treatment package at her clinic and began to get my legs done, as well as revisiting my chin and nipples. It was expensive and I charged it all. I think around $1,500 for the lot, which included six sets of treatments on all three areas. Not only that, but when I drove down to Eagan for treatment number four, I found the offices dark and no one there. The place had gone out of business without notifying anyone. I spent six months battling to get a portion of my money back, and won … but I was leery. Some of these laser hair removal outfits weren’t exactly above board.

And yet, even those four treatments on my legs had made a HUGE difference in my regrowth. I still needed to shave, but instead of getting five-o’clock-shadow on my legs, I could wait five or six days before visible stubble appeared. I had less razor burn and fewer ingrowns. And, again, all regrowth was thinner and finer.

So in 2012 when I jumped on a Groupon deal for discounted treatments, my goal was to push that leg hair growth back even further … and also to get my bikini line and “happy trail” under control. (It was really more like a Happy Superhighway.) The deal was with Clinical Skin Therapeutics, and I can honestly say that the staff there is the most knowledgable, patient, trustworthy, and helpful I’ve ever encountered. AND their lasers hurt far less than any others I’ve ever tried. I’ve been visiting consistently since 2012, getting various areas re-treated or treated anew with my armpits being the most recent new area, and completely love the women who work there. Since they know so much about the laser hair removal process, I asked them to answer a few common questions. Clinic Manager Kristina Pitre – truly one of the loveliest gals I know – helped me out.

In layman’s terms, how does laser hair removal work?
The laser selectively targets your hair follicles to heat them up to damage them while keeping your skin safe.

Can people of all skin tones and hair types get this treatment? Is it equally effective on everyone?
Yes, with the right laser you are able to treat all skin tones, which we are lucky to be able to do. However, laser hair removal is still only effective on dark hair.

Are there any areas that cannot be treated?
We cannot treat under the eyebrows, but we can go in between them. We also cannot do inside the nose or ears, which can be requested by men. Otherwise, most everything else is fair game.

Is the process 100% permanent? What causes any variations in permanence?
Great question. We get frustrated with others’ misleading advertisements for hair removal. Because we do have dormant hair follicles that are not being affected by the laser treatments, we tell our patients that they will be closer to 75-80% hair-free upon completion of 6-8 treatments, even if they appear to be 100% hair-free at the time. Hormone changes can affect new hair growth and realistically, we all bring different biology to the table so treatments and results can vary for everyone. I can honestly say the vast majority of patients are extremely pleased with their results.

Are there side effects?
Any risk associated with laser hair removal really comes from a risk of overheating the skin during a treatment which could cause blistering, and potential pigment changes. This is why it is important to seek out a well trained office that uses current, safe, and effective equipment. In addition, you always want to follow your post-care instructions, the most important being to be careful with sun exposure both before and after the treatments.

How has the technology changed over the years?
The biggest change is in the safety and comfort of the newer lasers. Most lasers now have self-cooling tips on them to pre-cool the skin prior to pulsing the laser.

What are some common misconceptions about laser hair removal?
That you will never have to shave again. Like I mentioned earlier, you will never be completely hair-free, but the significant reduction will mean perhaps a few years with no shaving or maybe just shaving a few patches every several weeks or so.

Clinical Skin Therapeutics uses a Sciton Laser that utilizes both the 1064 nm wavelength for darker skin as well as the Broad Band Light hand piece for lighter toned skin types. This allows thems to treat all patients with dark hair. My tech recently told me that many of their clients are African-American men who have their facial hair treated. Laser hair removal decreases growth, which decreases ingrowns in the beard area. When I first started getting treatments myself, only people with pale skin and dark hair were eligible, so this is a huge change. Sadly, the technology has not yet gotten to the point where blonde or pale hair can be effectively treated, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that shifted in the coming years.

I am in a unique position to show you how effective laser hair removal can be because I have a massive tattoo on my leg. This area cannot be treated – the pigment confuses the laser and would cause burns – so I have patches of treated and untreated skin side by side.

Freshly shaved

laserhair_newshave_text

Here’s a closer look. You can see that the stubble in the tattooed area is just beneath the surface.

laserhair_newshave_closeup

After one week of growth

laserhair_week1_text
And a closer look here. You can see that there’s a hair or two in the treated area, but far fewer than in the untreated area.
laserhair_week1_closeup

After two weeks of growth

Around this time, I get itchy enough that I really, REALLY want to shave both treated and untreated areas. So, as Kristina pointed out, even after many treatments – I’d estimate around eight on my legs – there is regrowth. I am not a hairless wonder and I do still have to shave. But in summer, I can go nearly two weeks without shaving and only someone with amazing vision who came within six inches of my legs could really tell.

laserhair_week2_text

And the close-up:

laserhair_week2_closeup

So before treatments, if I had gone without shaving for two weeks, I would’ve had growth as thick and long as what you see in the untreated area from ankles to privates. For the sake of comparison, here’s my other leg which has been treated everywhere. This is also after two full weeks without shaving.

bothlegs

Why was this life-changing? I have no ingrowns, no razor burn when I do shave, and hair growth so inconspicuous that I frequently go for weeks without shaving and no one notices. I am less self-conscious, less itchy, and ever so much happier and more comfortable – both during summer when my bare legs are exposed and during winter when my legs live inside tights for months at a stretch. (Tights and long leg hair make for some serious discomfort, in my experience.) I feel less frustrated with my own biology and body. And I just worry about it less. Doing this removed a source of frequent anxiety and freed up that precious energy for more important matters.

This procedure isn’t for everyone. It’s less expensive now than it used to be, but still quite costly and can be time-consuming as you need to spend between 30 and 60 minutes in treatment every six weeks for many months. People with fair hair aren’t good candidates, and many just won’t be interested in altering their bodies in this way. And, as my story proves, you’ll need to do some researching to make sure you’re choosing a reputable clinic. But if, like me, you struggle with body hair comfort and growth, it can make a huge difference.

It may still be cold, but if you’re curious about laser hair removal now is a fabulous time to get started on treatments. Your skin needs to have little or no sun exposure, so if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere you’re in good shape! And since results will be best after multiple treatments, getting started now means you’ll have less growth during shorts season. If you happen to be in the Twin Cities metro, my truly fabulous friends at Clinical Skin Therapeutics are generously extending 15% off to anyone who mentions Already Pretty at booking. Their prices are already low to compete with Groupon-type deals, so you can get amazing rates and services from well-trained and expert staff. (I’ve also gotten a facial at CST and it was DYNAMITE, so even if laser hair isn’t your bag feel free to use the discount for other services.) CST can be reached at 952-997-9306.

Who else out there has had laser hair treatments? Anyone else feel like it’s potentially life-changing? Anyone had a bad experience? Is this something you’d consider for yourself? If not, why not? Cost? Priorities? Just not that fussed about body hair?

PLEASE NOTE:

  • If you feel strongly about this issue, express your views respectfully and civilly or they will not be published. I’m happy to participate in a discussion that includes contrary opinions, but will not tolerate cruelty.
  • Be courteous and kind to each other when responding to remarks from other readers.

*Disclosure: Although I don’t generally do sponsored posts, I am receiving services in exchange for this piece. I’ve made an exception because I have more than two years of experience with CST and recommend them to everyone I meet, and because I felt this information and background would be interesting and useful regardless.

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27 Responses to “My Thoughts About and Experiences with Laser Hair Removal”

  1. EvaNadine

    my hair story is much like yours — take the time to shave, cool breeze 5 minutes later, visible stubble. i had 4-6 laser treatments on my underarms and bikini line (it was many years ago, so i don’t recall the exact number). i run a razor over my pits maybe once a week tops, and that’s more out of habit than anything else — i only have a few hairs left that grow under there. my bikini line used to be unruly, yet shaving left red bumps so bad i almost preferred the hair. and all that “only shave in one direction to avoid bumps and ingrowns” nonsense? yeah, right — the hair down there grows in approximately a bajillion directions, so that’s not really an option. currently, i still have plenty of hairs that grow in along my bikini line, but the coupla sessions i did have made it much more manageable. i would LOVE to get more treatments there. and id also LOVE to get my legs done. alas, the cost is what has kept me away. it’s just been prohibitive for me.
    i’ve been looking into getting myself one of those at-home lasers, but i don’t know too much about them. has anyone tried them? any success? would you recommend?

    • jdc

      I posted above, but I picked up a Tria at-home laser recently and I’ve been happy with it. I had laser done in a clinic with really good results and no adverse reactions so I felt comfortable continuing myself. I’ve already more than made up for the initial cost of the device.

  2. Courtney Landes

    I’ve never had laser treatments, but I’ve been circling around the decision for years. My body hair growth is similar to what you described from your pretreatment days. Thankfully, I haven’t had any chin hairs yet. My legs become Christmas trees at the drop of a hat, and I can never get a smooth shave under my arms. Those are the areas I would do if I can gather the nerve and the money.

  3. jan.4987

    Wow, really helpful, thank you, especially for the pictures.

    I’ve got comparatively little body hair and prefer a lack of it on my legs, armpits, bikini line and upper lip, but the only area I’d spend a lot to have it permanently cleared from is my upper legs. I’ve never shaved them because the edge of the area I do shave *does* go stubbley, in contradiction to what I’ve been told by some people about shaving thighs, so I don’t want to go down that road. However, it being so pale means that there aren’t any permanent removal techniques that work (that I know of). It’s really annoying. Sorry, I just needed to vent about that, it’s on my mind more than it should be!

    If it were more affordable I’d be on it like a shot though, for all the areas I remove from. The main reason for that is actually sustainability. I don’t like the waste that shaving produces. I have a stash of used razors as I haven’t found a recycling option yet and I assume I will, but even if I do, it seems wasteful. Seeing what it’s done for you will help enormously in deciding whether or not to have the treatment, should I have the resources in the future.

    • Cloggie

      I don’t know who told you that you won’t get stubble on your thighs but the hair there is just like hair anywhere else. If you cut off the fine, tapered end you get the thick, coarse base. Have you considered waxing or epilating? Neither is as painless as shaving, but they get easier and the hair really thins out over time but the results don’t last as long as lasering.

    • jan.4987

      I don’t either, they were just people in forums I’d never heard of, found after googling the subject about 6 months ago. It never made sense to me.

      I always assumed that there’d be a problem with hairs getting darker after waxing or epilating too, since they always do when I pluck them. Though the ones I pluck are strays and slightly darker/thicker to begin with, they do get more so once I’ve succumbed to temptation. From what you say it sounds like that doesn’t happen, so I could maybe give it a go on a small area, and it’s inexpensive! I’ll have a think about it, thank you.

  4. KimM.

    Just want to comment that I’ve had laser hair removal from upper lip, armpits and bikini area. It’s very liberating not to be a slave to shaving. No more ingrown hairs, yay! I went to the same place for all my treatments and had the same nurse do them. I felt very comfortable with her as she clearly knew what she was doing. That said, I believe on my 5th bikini treatment, I ended up with really bad blisters, so bad I thought I’d have to go to the ER. I was miserable. I was very scared to go back in 6 weeks for the last treatment but I did and it was fine. Even though I had that experience I would still recommend laser hair removal. I do still have to shave but much less frequently.

  5. Jenny Nunemacher

    I, like you, decided to do something about the dark hairs that grew on my chin and around my areolas. I also struggled with ingrown hairs, particularly on my breasts. It was terrible. And now, even after just one treatment I could see a difference. It’s almost addictive. Now that I’ve done my problem areas I am tempted to keep going with under arms and legs. The freedom from self consciousness and and shaving is a powerful draw.

    • Phira

      I didn’t know that laser hair removal was an option for hairs around areolas. I’ve had similar problems with mine–I’m totally fine tweezing but the ingrown hairs are so bad that it’s not worth it. I was going to try electrolysis (for areolas and my upper lip and chin), but I think that’s more expensive and more painful than laser hair removal.

  6. jdc

    My hair situation is similar (dark, coarse, thick hair) and I too invested in laser hair removal a few years ago. It was completely life-changing for me as well.

    A few months ago I purchased in a Tria (at-home laser hair remover), and I’ve been using it on my chin and for touchups elsewhere. I’ve had just as good results with it as I did at the clinic. I’ve already gotten more than my $400 worth.

    If laser hair removal is something one might be interested, I would highly recommend checking it out.

    • KimM.

      @jdc, I’d love to know if you’ve tried the Tria on your upper lip, legs, or bikini area, and if so, did you have any serious reactions or redness? Even though I’ve had lip, bikini, and armpits done, I do still need to touch up. When I had those areas done before I would always have to take a Benadryl before the treatment and have ice cold cloth applied after. With the Tria do you have to use a gel? Thanks so much for any info!

      • jdc

        Hi Kim, I’ve tried the Tria on all those areas and I did not have any reaction. I found that my experience with the Tria has been similar to my experience going to a clinic. Since I knew I had good results and no reactions in the clinic I felt comfortable doing this myself at home.

        One thing with the Tria is that the power is adjustable, 1-5 with 5 being the strongest. I’ve kept it on 3 for the most part, except for my chin which I’m able to use a 4.

        I haven’t used the gel with the Tria at all.

        I hope that’s helpful, let me know if you have any more questions.

  7. Gisele

    Sally, this is super interesting–thank you.

    Any tips about how to find a place that’s on the up-and-up and will do a good job? Are there certifications one can look for? Tell-tale signs of sketchiness? (Customers leaving with smoke rising from their pelvises?)

    • Sally McGraw

      Oh Gisele, I wish I had a foolproof test or tool, but I’m afraid I don’t. Certifications generally only come from the companies that make the equipment, so just because a clinic’s staff has been certified to use the machines doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be 100% above board. You can definitely check with online ratings sites like Yelp which will likely help you figure out which clinics are best avoided. Otherwise, go with a clinic that has been around for a while – at least 3-5 years – and has some testimonials or other proof that they’re doing good work. Word of mouth is also great, but can be a little hard to come by … hope this helps a bit.

  8. Megan @ Meganmumbles

    I’ve had some pretty good success with laser hair removal in my bikini region. I still need to shave but it’s much smoother and I do not get razor burn. I live in the NYC area so it’s rather expensive here; it usually runs me 300-400 a session.

  9. Trystan L. Bass

    So, different perspective here: my body hair has just grown back after completely falling out (head to toes) during chemotherapy for breast cancer. While I didn’t miss shaving my legs or armpits, OMG, it was traumatizing to lose every last bit of my pubic hair. Horrifying. I looked prepubescent. But I’m over 40. It was freaky. Now that it’s all grown back (except for my head, which is coming back, but not yet as long as even Sally’s pixie cut), I’m fine with letting it go long before shaving. And I haven’t so much as trimmed my bikini line, not that I’ve gone near a swimsuit, but still, I’m relishing in having some coverage back down there 🙂

    Also, my leg hair (before & after chemo) seems to grow about as long as these pictures in a week or less. *shrug* Never bothered me. I wear tights & leggings all winter, shave a couple times a week usually, less right now. Post-chemo hair seems to be a tiny bit softer than before, but same growth rate & very dark.

  10. Shanna Mann

    Super interesting to hear that darker-skinned people can now get lasered. I know that was the received wisdom for a long time. Can’t wait for the blondies to be able to take part!

  11. fashionforgiants

    I’ve thought about laser hair removal, but I am oddly determined to hold on to my hair down there. I don’t wax, I don’t shave (except for those that try to escape my bathing suit & then only during bathing suit season) and I rarely even trim. I can’t really articulate why I don’t want to go bare there, but I don’t. As for my legs, yes, the hair grows back quickly & it’s a pain to shave, but being smooth just isn’t that important to me.

    Also, I don’t love newfangled technology. I won’t get Lasik and I won’t let lasers near my lady parts if I can help it.

    • Kate McIvor

      Thanks Gracey. I’m with you 100%. Even though I have dark, coarse hair, I just shave my legs and underarms every other day or so. I have recently started shaving my upper legs because my daughters, who are in their early 20’s, have informed me that even a little hair on my upper legs is “gross.”

      I also support Sally’s decision to make grooming quicker and easier! And, I have not had to deal with chin or nipple hair. I know I would get laser treated in those two places if they became hairy. Thank you, Sally, for opening up a great discussion on something that should not be embarrassing. 🙂

  12. Meg Clement-Couzner

    Hey Sal,

    I absolutely agree that “even though I know many disagree with me, I don’t believe anyone who chooses to shave or otherwise remove her body hair is a “bad feminist”
    or a pawn for the patriarchy.” And I appreciate that you’ve also noted your respect for those who don’t remove hair.

    Like your blog talks about (why I’ve read it for years), I think it’s important to think about the power dynamics inherent in the way we present and groom our bodies. I don’t remove hair, other than the odd trim, and as I am a fashionable lady living in the inner city of sunny Sydney, Aust, this means that peers and strangers sometimes get a good view of my body hair. I’ve talked a little about my ‘whys’ here: http://fcollective.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/on-body-hair-that-trivial-beast/

    The main thing I want to say is that I think that by and large, hair removal is still the norm. Of course there’s active feminists who remove hair – that describes most of my many feminist friends. But that doesn’t mean there’s not still powerful social disapproval of women’s body hair and there are majorly sexist reasons for that. That comment does NOT mean I think other women shouldn’t do laser, I’m totally glad it’s worked for you!

    However, it’s not uncommon for other women to stare at me at the gym, for sales reps to look at my legs oddly in shoe stores, for colleagues to stare, and an acquaintance recently made negative comment on my body hair in general conversation. I can only assume I’m not the only person this happens to. So I feel like in any conversation about body hair removal, from a feminist perspective, it’s valuable to note this.

    Thanks for bringing the topic into a space for discussion.

  13. Liz

    I have never had much body hair, probably as a result of my genetic heritage (native American amongst others). Actually, I have never had to shave above my knees or anyplace else for that matter.
    However, I think that whatever women wish to do, no mattter whether it suits other people’s ideas of what is “right” or “exploitive” or anything else, is their personal business.
    It doesn’t hurt me and I have no desire to make everyone hew to whatever my personal ideas of “proper” female behavior are.
    Whatever makes someone feel better, more secure, or more beautiful is fine with me, as long as it is their personal decision and they aren’t being coerced into doing it.

  14. pambamboo

    I don’t have much to add about hair anywhere – I’m very fair and long past menopause (at which all my underarm hair vanished – wonderful!) and the hair on my lower legs (upper legs also vanished!) is so pale that it is unseen. I’m lucky and I know it.

    So I’ll try not to gush too much, but Sal: I just think you are one of the greatest women EVER! I love everything you say and your honesty and you’re………authentic is the best way to put it. Thank you so much for doing all this. I send all my wobbly female friends (and my fierce feminist ones) to your blog all the time.

    XXXOOO

  15. Beth

    Love this discussion (and all discussion, really) about body hair. I had my upper lip lasered and was/am very happy with the results. It’s not completely hair free but the coarse, dark hairs are gone which was the point. My only beef is that last year I began taking hormones to get pregnant, and suddenly several patches of SKIN above my lip darkened. It looks sort of like freckled skin, but also a little bit like a mustache which was the whole reason I got the hair removal in the first place! Apparently this is common with women who have changes in their hormones (it’s also common just for pregnant women in general) and have had hair removal services–the pigment can darken in the area where the hair was removed. It’s supposed to be temporary and I am still hopeful that it goes away, but if it doesn’t then I’m facing having to pay a dermatologist to lighten the patches of dark skin above my lip.

  16. Vanessa James

    Laser treatment for hair removal is really good and people now have started to go for
    permanent hair removal to get rid of unwanted hair from the body and
    that’s why laser hair removal treatment is on high demand.

  17. Emily Limoges

    Nice post .. Thanks for sharing it.
    Unwanted hairs are always a big obstacle for your beauty. Especially for women, they have many temporary hair removal techniques but it requires frequent visits. So permanent hair removal is the best investment.