The Lowdown on Laser Hair Removal

Q: I'm tired of shaving every single day. Has laser hair removal improved at all over the past couple of years, and is it right for me?

A: Today's lasers are more advanced and do effectively reduce hair growth. They also cost less than they did when they first hit the market; you'll now pay anywhere from $250 for the upper lip to $750 for the legs. But it's important to note that even with all these advances, there's no guarantee that everyone will get the same results, says Kathleen Gilmore, M.D., a physician who specializes in laser hair removal in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Keep the following points in mind before you decide to get zapped:

• Lasers work best on dark hair and light skin. The low-energy light targets pigment in the hair follicle, damaging it enough to slow down future growth. "The light is attracted to color like a magnet," Gilmore explains. "Since blonde hair doesn't have much pigment, the laser won't gravitate toward it as well as it would dark-colored hair." And if your skin is naturally dark or tanned (even from self-tanners), the laser won't detect dark hair against it.

• You won't get instant results. Hair cycles through one growth phase and two dormant phases, usually within two to four months total. So as more hair grows in, you'll need additional treatments, about four weeks apart.

• It's not pain-free. It feels like rubber bands snapping against the skin. To take the edge off, pop acetaminophen beforehand, or ask your doctor to prescribe a numbing cream (apply 30 minutes ahead of time). Slight redness and swelling afterward is normal.

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