With the shorts and swimsuit season right round the corner, it’s time for the womenfolk to go into full-blown fuzz fighting mode to get our gams and arms all smoothed and groomed. We’ve all had our fair share of problems when it comes to the ongoing battle against body hair. All those tired of spending precious a.m. time shaving, raise your hand…is that a darkened pit and ingrowns from repeated shaving? *gasp*. Waxing (whether the straight or sugared version) and chemical depilation give you a bit of a ‘shave’-cation, but let’s be honest – the pain factor or risk of skin irritation aren’t stuff any of us look forward to, and the hair always comes right back in any case.
The one possible exception is laser or IPL hair removal, which removes most unsightly fur, stubbles and nasty ingrowns – for good. Once prohibitively expensive, laser hair removal is now within reach of most of us, although many remain fuzzy about the vital facts and crucial prep for successful follicle zapping. So get savvy with this no-BS guide before you take the laser leap to get your bare skin ready and proud see the light.
CRASH COURSE ON LASER/ IPL HAIR REMOVAL
Let’s get down to basic tech. Essentially, light energy from the hair removal laser or IPL (both light devices) is directed at the melanin (pigment) in the hair shaft, gets conducted by the hair through the skin to ‘zap’ individual follicles at the root. In doing so, the treated hair follicles are disabled or deactivated, making it much harder (if not impossible) for new hair to grow again in that spot after the old hair strand is shed after 10 to 14 days. Since hair growth occurs in cycles, the next crop of previously dormant and untreated follicles will sprout in a few weeks’ time, getting you ready for your next zapping session.
Depending on the total density of hair follicles buried in your skin and the rate of hair growth, you may need an average of 3 to 6 sessions, spaced at of 4 to 8 weeks apart, to see full results. As more and more weed is culled, you will notice progressively less strands, slower sprouting, and a finer and fairer (less pigmented) growth with every session.
IS IT SAFE?
The short answer is: Yes. But as with all treatments, both the equipment and the hands operating the machine matter. It’s always wise to go to a qualified and experienced professional using FDA-approved gadgets (preferably the updated models too, thank you very much).
As the light beam is targeted at the pigmented hair shaft, the ideal candidate is one who has dark hair and fair skin. This remains so especially for IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) hair removal which uses a broad spectrum of visible light source. In contrast, newer lasers that emit a single wavelength of light, allow those with medium to darker skin tones, or lighter brown hair to be treated safely and effectively as well, and generally in less number of treatments. However, grey and blond hair still escape the laser. Tattooed skin cannot be treated with IPL or laser hair removal.
Otherwise, any unwanted hair – from the upper lip to the legs and anything betweeny – can be uprooted with laser or IPL. Point to note: Because the IPL handpiece is rectangular and way bigger than a typical round spot of the laser, hair hiding in narrow or tight corners like the upper lip might be difficult to catch with the IPL.
To be sure that you’re getting the best treatment option for your skin colour-hair colour combo, look for a doctor who has multiple types of lasers as there is no one-size-fits-all.
HONESTLY, DOES IT HURT?
Most people describe the sensation of a rubber band snap. Certain areas – like up there in the smooch area, or the peach fuzz down under – are obviously more sensitive. A girl’s overall pain tolerance tends to be reduced if you’re zapped during the time of the month as well (so schedule smartly, or pop an aspirin before heading off for your armpit zapping session). Any discomfort at the flash of the light goes away almost immediately too. But most good centres offer topical numbing cream or a ice pack to make the whole process much easier.
Mild pinkness in the treated skin is common after treatment, and should resolve quickly in a few hours, as long as you care for skin with a little common sense (i.e. be gentle, don’t scrub, bake, or do anything silly to irritate the just-lasered skin).
IS ANY PREP WORK NECESSARY PRIOR TO THE TREATMENT?
Since the IPL and laser work on growing follicles, avoid temporarily ‘plucking out’ the roots with waxing, tweezing or chemical depilation in the area you intend to treat about 4 to 6 weeks before the session. In areas with longer strands, lightly shave or trim the hair to a short stubble 1 to 2 days before your appointment. This is mainly to reduce the heat on your skin surface, which translates to less discomfort. Do not tan or use any self-tanning products, preferably about 4 weeks prior to (and for 1 week after) treatment.
Also let your doctor or therapist know if you are taking any medications (like Roaccutane which makes your skin dry and more sensitive to damage), or if you may be pregnant.
WILL IT REMOVE ALL OF MY HAIR FOREVER?
Here’s where things get a tad tricky. To be absolutely accurate, laser hair removal provides ‘permanent hair reduction‘. The majority will be thrilled by their permanently faded fuzz after completing their treatment course. The handful of individuals who are genetically furry or have an underlying hormonal disorder (such as polycystic ovarian syndrome which stimulates vigorous facial hair growth) might still require very intermittent maintenance treatments, although the hair growth will be significantly sparser and reduced to finer down that’s much less embarrassingly obvious.
WHAT ABOUT AT-HOME TREATMENTS?
DIY handheld IPL hair removal gadgets aren’t as thorough or as powerful as pro treatments (and they don’t come cheap either). But we see a place for these home treatments as a supplement in between professional services if you are not able to make it regularly to the doctor’s, or for fairer maidens looking to eliminate a minimal crop of dark coloured hair. Some of these devices has a window that allows you to test your skin colour with the machine, so you know it’s safe for you. The hairy folks amongst us might use it as a maintenance therapy after completion of the pro treatment course to keep any residual strays in check too.
Don’t forget: Never get carried away just because the handheld device looks a little like a toy. Overzealous self-treatment due to inexperience can overheat your skin and cause burns.
SO IS IT ALL WORTHWHILE?
Although more affordable now, laser hair removal still isn’t exactly cheap. But compared to the long-term cost of waxing and shaving, it could pay for itself in the long run. In fact, it is one of the most commonly requested cosmetic treatments, and it eliminates complications of repeated shaving and waxing such as bumpy ingrowns too. And, if you’re curious, an informal poll found that 100 percent of SKIN writers and their close pals (girls mainly, with a couple of boys who are either tired of his 3 o’clock shadow or a hairy back) who’ve had laser hair removal would recommend it…and this writer included. *wink*
- By Claudia Lin