Here's What You Need to Know Before Trying Laser Hair Removal at Home

What does an at-home laser hair removal before and after look like — and does it really work?

Someone using an at-home laser hair removal device on her leg
Photo: Getty Images

Confession: I'll cut any corner to avoid shaving my legs during the winter — or really any time of year. I hate it! So you can imagine my excitement when I got my hands on the Tria Hair Removal Laser 4X (Buy It, $449, triabeauty.com), a handheld device that promises to zap away your hair for good, and do it just as well as an in-office treatment. (FTR, what you do with your body hair, armpit hair, and pubic hair are your choice, and there's nothing saying you must get rid of it.)

If you're not even sure how laser hair removal works, here's the gist: Lasers use pulsed light to target hair, which then converts to heat and breaks down the dark pigment in the hair follicle. Zap the same pigment over and over, and it'll damage it enough to prevent future growth, which is the name of the game of any kind of at-home laser hair removal treatment or device.

So what can you expect when you DIY? Specifically, does at-home laser hair removal even work?! Well, I can only speak from my experience, but through the process, I learned a handful of things you should know before giving any at-home laser hair removal a try.

Tips for Successful Laser Hair Removal at Home

Want to give at-home laser hair removal a shot, but unsure about what you're actually signing up for — or whether it's the right option for you? Here's what you should know before you invest in an at-home device.

Be prepared to spend now, but save later.

Most laser hair removal at-home devices will cost you about $400, but the in-office option can clock in at $150 per visit — and most people need between five to eight sessions for complete results. Getting a wax the recommended once per month can cost up to $500 a year, while the cost of razors and shaving cream add up to thousands of dollars over time. TL;DR: You'll spend more up-front with an at-home laser hair removal kit, but less total cash over time.

Know that at-home laser hair removal won't work for everyone.

Important disclaimer: You should only use an at-home laser hair removal device if you have a light or medium skin tone and dark hair. If your complexion is even slightly deeper than a medium tone, the pulsed light won't be able to distinguish the hair from your skin, which could lead to discoloration. On the flip side, lasers can't pinpoint gray or blonde hair, either. (More: How to Embrace Your Gray Hair with Highlights)

You'll need to have patience.

Simply put, an at-home laser hair removal before-and-after transformation takes time. As mentioned, you'll need anywhere between five to eight sessions — no matter if that's at the salon or with an at-home laser hair removal device — to let the hair fall out naturally after each growth cycle. You can treat the area as little as once every two weeks.

It might hurt a little.

Mid-armpit zap, you'll likely be cursing your parents for your hairy genes, too. It just feels a little like someone with tiny, claw-like nails is pinching you…over and over again. Bony areas (your shins or ankles, for example) will hurt a lot more than spots with more cushion to them (such as your calf). That's because the skin closest to the bone is thinner. (It doesn't mean that hair is more difficult to treat, though.)

But here's a reason to power through it: higher intensity levels — the Tria at-home laser hair removal device has up to five settings for strength levels — yield much quicker results. So instead of it taking eight sessions to reach hair-free status, you could be done in half that. Plus, your skin adjusts to the sensation, so after a few zaps, you'll be used to it. (Up next: Everything You Need to Know About Laser Hair Removal, According to the Professionals Who Do It)

Don't even attempt to do at-home laser hair removal on your pubic hair.

Sounds obvious, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't read the directions three times to find a reason why it wouldn't be that bad to try at-home laser hair removal on my pubic hair. But I'm glad I didn't try this at home and kept that task to the professionals: The skin down there is extra sensitive. So you can target the bikini line, but you just shouldn't get into the triangle. (Instead: How to Shave Your Bikini Area Without Causing Irritation)

You can shave a few days before an at-home laser hair removal treatment.

Unlike waxing or shaving — where you want hair to be grown out and long enough to pull or cut — laser hair removal works by targeting the hair follicle or root at the surface of the skin, so hair shouldn't be so long that the laser can't find the root. On the other hand, you shouldn't wax for at least a month before at-home laser hair removal treatment, since waxing typically removes the root of the hair, and the laser needs to be able to find that to effectively get rid of it.

At-home laser hair removal does work...

...but that doesn't mean it's always permanent. You'll likely need touch-ups every so often after you've reached your desired results. If you notice a stray hair growing a year after treatment, it means that either the follicle's natural growth cycle wasn't finished when you stopped treating the area with laser hair removal at home, or the hair was too fine for the laser to target in the first place.

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