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Your Complete Guide to Laser Hair Removal

The science is more complicated (and pricier!) than the average beauty treatment, but much more effective.

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laser hair removal

Laser hair removal technology has been growing for decades and—like stubborn stubble—isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. You hear about it every time you surf daily deals, and your local spa may offer it. But things can get hairy if you don’t have the full 411. We talked to leading skincare experts and laser hair removal spas to bring you five things you need to know before you get zapped.

1. The wrong laser can do damage.

Choosing the right laser for your hair color/skin color combo can be the difference between hairless bliss and a trip to the ER.

“Hair removal lasers are basically attracted to dark pigment in our hair follicle, which absorb different energies,” says dermatologist Anne Chapas, M.D., Medical Director for Union Square Laser Dermatology in Manhattan. The energies are different wavelengths of light, each suited for a particular unique skin and hair combination.

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“For a laser hair treatment to be safe and effective, the right laser must be used for that individual’s skin and hair type,” says Dr. Mitchell Chasin, Medical Director of Reflections Center for Skin & Body in New Jersey. “Using the wrong laser can create unsightly lightening or darkening of the skin in the treatment area and sometimes even burns. Or the treatment simply might not work at all,“ he adds.

The general consensus from leading dermatologists: You can get in big trouble if you sign up for the first hair removal offer that hits your inbox. Follow our goof-proof guide to make sure you’re getting the right laser for you:

  • Alexandrite laser- This laser, a 755-nanometer wavelength of light coming from an Alexandrite crystal, is the gold standard for fair-skinned women with dark hair. “You want the laser energy to be absorbed by your hair follicle and not by the surrounding skin, which also has pigment in it. So it’s ideal for someone very fair with dark hair,” says Jennifer, a technician at Pulse Laser and Skincare Center.
  • Diode laser- This computer-generated, 810-nanometer wavelength treats lighter skintones and some light olive skintones.
  • YAG laser- The longer 1,064 wavelength from a synthetic crystalline material is less readily taken up by pigment, which makes these lasers effective for darker skintones or tanned skin.

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“All the melanin in Asian, Hispanic, African American and Indian-type skin ends up attracting the Alexandrite laser, so none of the energy makes it to the hair,” says Dr. Chapas. “The YAG laser goes deeper, becoming less absorbed by pigment in the skin,” she adds.

These days, the newest cutting-edge devices can combine lasers in one machine. “What’s nice about the GentleMax Pro device is that it has an Alexandrite laser and the long pulse YAG laser. So if someone comes in and they might be on the fence, I can say, ‘Okay, well this time we’re going to do the Alexandrite rather than the YAG,’” says Dr. Chapas.

Bottom line? Dial up the derm office or spa ahead of time to see what lasers they offer.

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