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, here are some other related hypocrisies: 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 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. 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.
Here’s a closer look. You can see that the stubble in the tattooed area is just beneath the surface.
After one week of growth
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.
And the close-up:
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.
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 two 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. I worry about it less. I feel less frustrated with my own biology. Doing this removed a cause of anxiety and freed up that energy for more important tasks.
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. 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 in 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?
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*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.