The skin is typically red immediately after the procedure, like a sunburn. Hydrocortisone cream, 1%, may be applied to help reduce inflammation. Usually the redness fades over a period of hours. Hair fragments will fall out over the next week or two. There will typically be a hair-free period of a few weeks (longer with additional treatments), followed by a less dense growth of new hair.
Patients need to know that repeated treatments will be needed. The exact number is not known and varies from patient to patient depending upon the area treated, treatment response (related to hair color, skin color, and hair density), and patient expectations.
I explain to patients that each treatment reduces the hair density by a certain percentage, say 20%. The first treatment or two may not produce a conspicuous difference, but the reduction will become more obvious with more treatments. It takes about a 50% reduction to produce a noticeable difference, so if the patient can appreciate a difference they likely have already reached this milestone. Most patients are satisfied with a reduction of about 80% and this may be reached after 3- 6 treatments in patients with favorably dark hair and lighter skin. At this level, they may be shaving infrequently enough that their hair no longer constitutes a nuisance. Of course, they can always return in the future for additional treatments, if desired. On the other hand, there are patients who have 2 or 3 treatments, are pleased with the result, and do not return for more. This is why treatments are priced by the treatment, not for a package of treatments – we never know exactly how many treatments will be needed.
There is a small subset of patients who really want to eliminate the unwanted hair. These patients typically return every month and may do 10 treatments or more. Each treatment is less uncomfortable because there are fewer hairs to absorb the laser energy. You might think that they would be unhappy, returning for so many treatments, but this is not the case. They are very gratified by the improvement and simply want more of a good thing.
When we first started doing laser hair removal, we did not know whether the effects would be permanent, although early studies were encouraging. With greater experience, researchers found that the disabled hair follicles did not regain function – the effect appeared to be permanent.
Patient satisfaction is remarkably high. We were one of the first centers in our area to offer laser hair removal, in 1997, and have now successfully treated thousands of patients, mostly women, but also a large contingent of men who typically have their backs treated.