Fuzz-free legs are just the beginning

Published 10:29 am PDT Tuesday, September 20, 2005

(SH) - You’ve spent years shaving, waxing and plucking and you’ve had enough. Now, getting out of a hairy situation is easy, thanks to laser hair removal.
First things first: Ignore those ads you see offering laser hair removal at deeply discounted prices at day spas or salons. It’s imperative that you consult a dermatologist or plastic surgeon before laser treatment of any kind because different skins react differently to light-based treatments. This is particularly true of darker skin or skin that is darker than usual due to sun exposure. In the name of safety and effectiveness, make sure the doctor you choose has experience treating skin similar to yours.

Laser hair removal can be performed on any area of the body, including the face, back, shoulders, arms, legs and bikini area. The light source penetrates the skin to disable the hair follicle in its growth phase. Because hair grows in cycles, you’ll need four to 10 treatments spaced four to six weeks apart, but this will vary according to your hair type (fair skin with dark, coarse hair needs fewer treatments) and the area being treated. A successful course of treatment disables 90 percent of the hair follicles in the treated area. Touch-ups are needed once every few years to take care of the other 10 percent. And any hairs that do grow back are usually thinner and finer - that is, less noticeable.

Darker hair responds better, but there is hope for eliminating the light, thin, peach fuzz that many women struggle with on their faces. A recent study released by the American Academy of Dermatology states that the use of Vaniqa (the prescription cream used to slow unwanted facial hair growth in women) along with the series of laser hair removal treatments produces more complete results with fewer treatments.

Laser hair removal is not painless - it feels like a rubber-band snap. Your doctor may chill the area or recommend a topical anesthetic cream to numb the skin’s surface. (There have been recent reports of side effects from topical anesthesia used over too large an area during laser hair removal, which is another important reason why you must be treated in a dermatologist or plastic surgeon’s office.) Treatments can last from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the size of the treated area. Typical cost for the procedure is $200 per treatment, or $1,200 for a series of treatments to clear one region.

There are a few dos and don’ts to observe both before and after laser hair removal. In the month before, don’t get a tan - and this includes self-tanners. Don’t tweeze, wax or use electrolysis; hair has to be in the follicle for the laser to have a target. You can, however, shave the day before; hair doesn’t have to be grown out for the laser to work. After the procedure, sun exposure is an even bigger no-no; your skin will be extra sensitive to the sun’s rays. And when you must go out, wear of sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30.

Paige Herman and Marie Kuechel