Laser hair removal is a cosmetic procedure that uses a powerful laser or intense pulsed light (IPL) to remove unwanted hair.
This light source heats and destroys hair follicles in the skin, which disrupts hair growth.
Common areas to treat are the face, chest, legs, arms, underarms and bikini line.
It can be helpful for women with excessive hair growth (hirsutism).
What to think about before you have laser hair removal
Laser hair removal may have side effects, it has limitations, and it can be expensive.
Laser hair removal is safe, but it can occasionally cause side effects, such as pain and discomfort, and red skin that may last for some time.
It may also not be suitable for everyone, including pregnant women and people with certain skin types.
There's no evidence to suggest that laser hair removal causes skin cancer.
It's important to make sure the person doing your laser hair removal is experienced and suitably qualified.
Check they're on a register to show they meet set standards in training, skill and insurance.
- the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS)
- the Joint Council for Cosmetic Practitioners (JCCP)
- Save Face
- the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses (BACN)
Avoid practitioners who have only completed a short training course.
Read more about choosing who will do your cosmetic procedure.
It's not permanent
You'll need regular sessions to keep hair from regrowing.
How often sessions are needed varies for each person. For example, you may need a session to remove facial hair every 4 weeks, and for body hair every 6 to 8 weeks.
There's no guarantee laser hair removal will get rid of all the hair.
It does not work well on dark skin
Laser hair removal works better on people with pale skin and dark hair.
It's not as effective on tanned skin or hair that's been bleached by the sun. If you've got a tan you'll need to let it fade before having treatment.
The cost of laser hair removal depends on the area of the body being treated and the number of treatments needed.
For example, for single treatments it may cost around:
- £85 for the upper lip
- £110 for under the arms
- £130 for the bikini line
- £270 for the arms
What laser hair removal involves
You'll need to shave the area of skin the day before your appointment.
On the day, you'll wear specially designed goggles to protect your eyes.
The practitioner usually applies a cool gel or cooling air spray to the area of skin.
They then press a handheld device to your skin and trigger the laser. This may feel like an elastic band snapping at your skin.
Each session may take between 15 minutes to over an hour.
The number of sessions needed depends on the area to be lasered and the system used.
The affected area may be red with a raised rash for a few hours to a few days.
Regularly holding an ice pack to the skin may help (try a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel).
Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun after laser hair removal. It’s best to avoid exposing the treated area of skin to sunlight until after the treatment course has finished.
Regardless of the weather, use sunscreen (minimum SPF30) for at least 4 weeks on exposed areas that have been treated.
Rarely, laser hair removal can result in:
- pain, discomfort or tenderness
- red skin that may last for some time
- crusting, blistering, bruising or swelling of your skin
- lightening or darkening of your skin
- burns from the laser's heat
- bacterial infections
What to do if you have problems
If you've had laser hair removal and you're not happy with the results or you have side effects that are troubling you, talk to your practitioner at the clinic where you were treated.
Go back to the practitioner who treated you if you have any complications that need medical attention. If this is not possible, see a GP or go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E).
Page last reviewed: 16 September 2019
Next review due: 16 September 2022