Here's Why You Should Think Twice About Laser Hair Removal

If you've spent your whole summer shaving and going through razor after razor and shave cream after shave cream trying to keep as smooth and beach-ready as possible, you may be sick to death of razors. And if you're tired of the pain and expense of waxing, perhaps you're considering laser hair removal as an alternative; it's more permanent, and it sure would save time and money on hair removal products and services in the future. But is it safe, and is it worth the cost? While Medical News Today calls the process a safe and effective option for most people, there are several things to consider before taking the leap.

Laser hair removal isn't as simple as one treatment and you're hairless forever. The process of laser hair removal works by stopping the hair follicles from growing new hairs, but it's rarely a permanent solution. After the first treatment, you will likely be hairless for a few months, but will need to return again for another treatment when the hair grows back. That hair may be finer and lighter when it does grow back, which is certainly a positive, but many people require multiple sessions to achieve permanent or longer lasting effects. It's also worth noting that the level of effectiveness varies not only from person to person, but from hair color to hair color. People with lighter shades of hair may have less successful results than those with darker hair because laser lights are attracted to darker hair.

Side effects to be aware of with laser hair removal

As with any medical treatment, laser hair removal is not without its potential side effects. According to Medical News Today, the most common side effect is for the skin of the treated area to be red and sensitive for a few days after treatment. Most people classify it as sunburn-like, and it is usually a quickly-passing reaction. However, in some cases, especially if the skin is not properly treated with moisturizer or other soothing treatments post-session, skin irritation can lead to crusting, which can lead to scabbing and scarring. Changes in skin pigmentation are also possible, with lighter skinned people experiencing darkening, and darker skinned people experiencing lightening. These changes usually fade over time.

Because lasers are harmful to the human eye, there is also risk of eye injury, especially when the area being treated is on a person's face (via Mayo Clinic). It is essential practitioners use appropriate measures and protective equipment to protect themselves and their clients. Skin infections can also happen as a result of damaging the hair follicle as lasers are meant to do, and so the treated area should always be treated like a wound until it is healed to prevent infection. If an infection occurs, an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment can help until the person can be seen by a doctor. More serious side effects, like scarring, are also possible although they are less common. Taking care of the affected area properly after treatment is the best way to prevent this.

Other risks and considerations of laser hair removal

Dermatologic surgeon Dr. Gary S. Chuang reported on a study he conducted which proved that laser hair removal releases potentially harmful toxins into the air (via Elle). When the laser is used to remove hair, a small black plume of smoke occurs. "Initially people said, 'Ah, it's just sulfur,' because that's one of the main components of hair. There's a disulfide bond between keratin that makes your hair curl and builds up the bond within the hair," Chuang told Elle. "That seemed to make sense. But the black plume that comes out [during the procedure] was unsettling. And I found all these chemicals that were shocking."

The study revealed 300 different chemical compounds in the plume, 13 of which have been shown to be harmful to humans and animals. What are the health implications? The medical field is just beginning to understand them. As of now, the biggest risk is potentially to the practitioners, who encounter and inhale these particles frequently, rather than to the patients who encounter it only rarely. It's important to note that no documented cases of cancer or other devastating illnesses have been associated with laser hair removal. While this is still being studied, and you more likely need to worry about topical reactions if you are the patient, it is something to keep in mind when considering all possible health implications.