While removing unwanted body hair at home by shaving, waxing, or plucking isn’t all that difficult, it can be a time-consuming chore. The appeal of getting rid of that hair—possibly for good—is strong; who doesn’t want that extra time? Since its approval back in the mid-90s, laser hair removal has grown steadily in popularity. Let’s find out if it’s the solution for you.

How Does Laser Hair Removal Work?

The first thing you need to know about laser hair removal is that while there are several different types, they work similarly: A medical professional uses an intense, pulsating beam of light (a laser) that passes through skin and is attracted to dark pigment in the hair follicle. The laser focuses intense heat on the hair follicle, causing damage, which eliminates or at least slows recurring hair growth.

The process might sound scary, but the procedure is quite safe, and designed not to damage any of the surrounding skin. Side effects generally range from mild skin irritation, which usually disappears in a few hours, to lightening or darkening of the skin around the follicle, which usually goes away in a few weeks.

What is the Best Laser for Hair Removal?

As far as the types of lasers used, ruby, alexandrite, diode, and neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd:YAG) lasers are the ones currently approved by the U.S. FDA for laser hair removal. Which laser is best for hair removal? One isn’t markedly more effective than another, although some have been shown to have more success in people with darker skin tones than others.

You’ve also probably heard of intense pulsed light hair removal, or IPL. Though it does use light to remove hair, it’s not technically a laser because it uses a range of wavelengths instead of a focused wavelength. Despite this difference, it works in much the same way as laser hair removal—that is, it heats the follicle, although with less intensity and at a shallower depth—and is often categorized along with the others by doctors who provide hair removal services.

Laser Hair Removal Cost and Results

Just like other cosmetic services, costs for laser hair removal vary widely, based on numerous factors: the type of laser used, the size of the area where the hair is being removed, where you live, and which doctor you choose. In general, laser hair removal prices range from between $150 and $900 per session.

Speaking of sessions, laser hair removal is not a “one and done” process. In most cases, six sessions, spaced four to six weeks apart, are needed to see any significant decrease in hair growth, with follow-up sessions as needed.

Many people who get laser hair removal are happy with the results; however, it’s important to note that this service doesn’t always result in permanent hair removal. In many cases, it only lessens hair growth, which means you won’t need a session as frequently. To keep legs feeling soft and smooth, use a moisturizing body butter daily.

As with any type of procedure, doing research before you make an appointment is critical. Make sure the doctor doing your laser hair removal is board certified, and check reviews online to see how many patients have provided feedback. This will give you an idea if the physician you’re choosing is the one for you.

To reiterate, laser hair removal might not mean the end of shaving. Still, many people find it worth the time and money—you might be one of them.

References for this information:
Dermatologic Clinics, January 2013, pages 179–191
Dermatologic Therapy, January-February 2011, pages 94–107
Clinics in Dermatology, September-October 2007, pages 443–453
Dermatologic Therapy, May 2005, pages 209–216
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, April 2002, pages 107–115