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Laser Hair Removal: Should I Switch From Waxing?

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Dear Beauty Editor,

I’ve been waxing (armpits, Brazilian, etc.) for years. I recently moved and as I struggle to find a new salon, I’m wondering if I should get laser hair removal. Is it safe?

I wish I could tell you to hop on Groupon and find a great deal for laser hair removal in your new hometown, because no matter who treats you — or where or how you go under the laser — you’ll be happy with the results. But the safety of the process depends on the person wielding the laser, the device used, and your skin and hair type. If you want to have a great experience, I suggest you follow these tips.

First, find an experienced practitioner. Just last month, a dermatologist spoke at the Pigmentary Disorders Exchange Symposium (yes, that’s a thing) about how she was seeing more laser complications due to inexperienced practitioners (think: junior employees at all those new laser clinics and medi-spas). “Inadequate training among practitioners can result in potential side effects such as skin blistering, irritation, and burning,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry, M.D. “But when performed by a certified and experienced dermatologist, laser hair removal is safe.”

That’s right, she said go to a doctor — which is something I heard from the other dermatologists I spoke to as well. But, I’ll be honest, I think they’re being cautious because, uh, that’s their job. And also because they’re the ones who see all the patients who have had botched laser treatments and need medical help. In my (non-medical!) opinion, you can also get safe treatments and good results from a laser center or spa — you just have to do your homework and find one that you trust with trained providers and the right type of lasers for your skin tone.

Next tip: Figure out if you’re a candidate before you book an appointment. Any good laser practitioner (dermatologist or not) will tell you that laser hair removal isn’t safe if you’re pregnant, breast feeding, have an active skin infection, a tan from sun exposure, or are taking certain medications that can make the skin more sensitive to light, says Dr. Brendan Camp, M.D.

But if none of the above describes you, then you should be a candidate, regardless of your skin tone or hair type. That said, if your skin is Fitzpatrick skin phototype V or VI, which means it’s medium brown or darker and rarely burns, you should look for a practitioner who has experience working deep skin tones and who plans to use an Nd:YAG laser. “In the past, laser hair-removal procedures would often encounter difficulties as the melanin-rich skin absorbed a significant amount of the laser’s energy, resulting in excessive heat and potential skin burns,” Dr. Henry says. “But the Nd:YAG laser has numerous benefits, including its skin-type range and longer wavelength that targets the hair follicles while bypassing melanin.”

So, if you have melanin-rich skin, I’d suggest calling around to the places you’re considering for hair removal, describing your skin and hair, and asking if they use an Nd:YAG laser. If they say the type of laser doesn’t matter or (worse!) they don’t know what type of lasers they have, do not get a treatment from that provider.

Since you mentioned that you currently get armpit and Brazilian waxes, I assume you’ll want to get the same spots lasered. The good news: You can. Dr. Camp says that laser hair removal can be safely performed on many areas, including the chest, back, abdomen, arms, legs, underarms, and buttocks. Even a Brazilian laser treatment, “which typically includes the bikini line as well as the labia and perianal area,” is doable, he says.

But I do want to remind you that laser hair removal can be permanent (at least that’s the goal for most people). But I suggest you really think about what it means to be hairless on certain parts of your body for the rest of your life. I have a few friends who had all their pubic hair lasered off when they were in their twenties, and now, in their 40s and 50s (and after some of them have given birth), they’ve come to regret it. Your butt, your vulva, and the skin along your bikini line will age, just like the rest of your body. And several of my friends have told me they wish they still had some hair down there because it might make them feel more … youthful. I don’t know how old you are or if you care about looking youthful (nor am I saying you should care), but it’s something to think about.

If you’re still excited about the idea of permanent hair removal, it’s going to take at least six laser sessions spaced about 4 to 8 weeks apart, according to research. And according to me, it’ll take more. I had laser hair removal from two different clinics (Pulse and Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal, both in New York City) and was really happy with the results. I got about eight treatments on my underarms and there’s barely any hair left there. But it took about ten sessions to remove the hair along my bikini line permanently (it’s been about 15 years since I had it done). Was it safe? For me, yes. And if you do your homework and select the right practitioner, it will be for you, too.

Jennifer Sullivan answers all your beauty-related questions with practical advice and zero judgment. Send your questions to (By emailing, you agree to the terms here.)

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