Can he really eliminate a shaver?
March 2, 2008 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Does laser hair removal really work? If so, can you recommend anyone in the Bay Area who is particularly good?

Posting for a friend, but I'm curious as well. Like this previous poster, my buddy really hates his beard hair. He brings his electric shaver with him everywhere, and shaves 3-4x daily. He's been thinking recently about doing laser. After reading this question, he knows he needs to pay for good results, but doesn't know what that means!

He has extremely pale skin (the kind that would use the 'rice paper' make-up on stage) and dirty blonde-brown hair. I know that laser works best on people with a large degree of disparity between their hair color and their skin color- he has that. His beard hair is coarse and thick and he says he gets about a 30-30-30 blend of black, pale brown, and red hair on his beard area.

Everyone online seems to disagree on the rest of the details, however, including whether to use lightpulse or GentleLase or LightShear- or whether it matters. Jerry Kindall's blog post seems to have the most details but the prices quoted elsewhere seem to range from a $250 for all of the treatments to $800 to infinity, as well as how many treatments it takes to achieve success and what, precisely, "success" is.

A lot of guys seem to agree that even multiple treatments only decrease the amount of hair, never eliminating the need for shaving. Others say- at least for women and the bikini area- it totally works.

So, if you've tried laser beard hair removal:
Did it work? (And what does "work" mean for you- do you still have to shave?)
How many sessions did it take?
How much did it hurt/did it make you look like a leper?
How much did they cost?
Can you recommend someone in the San Francisco Bay area (especially ones that do group discounts, ha ha)?

For my own part, I'm kinda curious if any women have tried laser treatments on the bikini area, and how effective they have been (as well as any health risks?) Sounds like FergieBelle likes her results- any other opinions?
posted by arnicae to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have found it very effective on bikini line and armpit hair. So glad I don't have to deal with the irritation from waxing or shaving anymore!

It is not painless, but not terrible. You can get some ELA-Max at the pharmacy to numb beforehand.

The one thing to remember is that after every treatment, the area is red broken-out looking for a few days. And you have to have multiple treatments.

I don't think it can remove 100% of the hair, but I'd say it was about 90% effective for me, so about once a week I use a dry razor to get the stragglers.
posted by radioamy at 1:59 PM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: Ditto on radioamy's comment. I had my bikini line and lower belly area done. It was about 90% effective, but totally worth it for me. I shave about once a week, but that is peanuts compared to what it was before.

I had 5 treatments, 12 weeks apart. I need to go get a touch up at some point.

Red bumps. Lasted a few days. The hairs inside their folicles die and come out for a few days too. Not attractive.

I was always given a towel to bite. The belly didn't hurt too bad...the bikini area caused me to bite my towel. Hard.

I was told by the spa that they would not do any laser treatment if you were pregnant. They also mentioned that any large hormonal changes (pregnancy for instance) may cause more hair to grow in treated areas. So, if you see kiddos in your future, you may need touch-ups after you are no longer pregnant.

I think the whole thing was a package - buy one area, get one area free. I think it was $750. This was in St. Louis, Missouri.
posted by beachhead2 at 2:23 PM on March 2, 2008

Response by poster: Awesome, thanks guys. Anyone with beard experience?
posted by arnicae at 2:26 PM on March 2, 2008

My mom is a nurse who does laser hair removal as a side business through a doctor she used to work for. She does beards fairly regularly- on men and women. From what she's told me, there are a few different variables in the laser that determine what is most effective for your hair. It might take a treatment or two to figure out the best combination for your friend, but I imagine an experienced technician could make a good guess based on prior experience. How effective it is also depends: on your hair, appropriate usage of the equipment (mostly dialing it up enough if necessary and getting the settings right) and how often you come in.
posted by MadamM at 3:19 PM on March 2, 2008

I forgot to mention: even if the treatments aren't totally effective, chances are your friend will see some improvement after just a few treatments.
posted by MadamM at 3:20 PM on March 2, 2008

Oh, and it was a few years ago so I can't recall exact prices, but I believe it was like $200 a session for bikini line, a little more for under arms? I think I went four times. It will probably be more expensive per session for the beard because it is a larger area.
posted by radioamy at 5:37 PM on March 2, 2008

I don't have links handy, but I did a little research on this a while ago. Laser hair removal is not permanent and there is risk of burning/scarring. Electrolysis, on the other hand, is permanent, safer, and has been around longer and thus is more proven. Personally, I decided if/when I get hair removal done that it will be electrolysis.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:47 PM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: The post which made me join! Self-disclosure: I've worked in my own little hairy world as an electrologist for the last 10 years, so take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt.

There has been a new class-action law suit every year since they started using lasers for hair removal in 1998, but they were always settled out of court. Originally they told people they could kill the hair in one shot, and do an area the size of a quarter for $2000. After every class-action lawsuit, they would increase the amount of sessions, increase the area, and lower the price.

They are required by law to use the phrase "permanent hair reduction" instead of the phrase they wanted to use, which was "permanent hair removal". Reduction, as you know, means to reduce the amount of hair, not actually kill it permanently. The longest study they've every bothered to conduct is 30 days -- far less then the two years required for any ethical hair removal study.

If you cruised through the US online patent website, you might find one of the original patents, which states very clearly that the laser lightbeam is only capable of penetrating 2.5 mm into the skin tissue. This is not deep enough to hit anything but shallow roots, but it does a great job of removing the hair shaft. I've read some papers which were published in dermatology journals, and was amazed to learn that they have no idea what happens below the epidermal layer. They use the term "freezing" very loosely, in the sense that "something is frozen so the hair doesn't grow back for a period of 3 months to a year".

I would never encourage a client, especially a male who is inclined to impatience, to do electroysis on a large area. It would take too long and most of them would quit before they were done, and I wouldn't want anyone to think that I "led them on". So for legs or anything you wouldn't mind growing back, I would encourage laser. is a great site, with lots of pros and cons of all the hair removal techniques, so just don't take my word for it. Please do your research. Until very recently, most people were too embarrased to discuss unwanted hair, so if someone had a bad experience somewhere, they wouldn't even have anything to compare to, and they wouldn't even know they had a bad experience.

Check around, some doctors will tell you flat out it doesn't work, others will hedge. Keep in mind there is a psychological mechanism at work; people apparently don't like to admit even to themselves that they made a bad buying decision that cost thousands of dollars. I had one woman who stuck her hairy arm under my nose and said "Look, no hair!" I had no idea what to say to her because yes, her arm was really hairy. Another woman did the same thing with her leg.

I admit I haven't kept up on all the new developements concerning laser. After I attended my last physics seminar I realized there was no way the thing was ever gonna work, and I wrote the whole subject off. One of my clients is an electrical engineer and a cross-dresser, and he just gave me a paper yesterday (which I haven't read yet) about how for some technical reason the laser industry has decided to reduce the amount of energy they use, but because of this they are also trying to ramp up their advertising by word-of-mouth. And here I find this post!

Sorry for rambling. If the laser worked I'd quit my job and do something else. I just hate to see people taken advantage of. It usually takes about three months for the hair to come back, and when it first appears it looks like peach fuzz. That's when you're supposed to go back for another treatment because they don't want you to wait and see that the rest of the hair shaft is just as big and ugly as ever. If it's been two years since your last session and the hair hasn't grown back yet, only then can you safely say it's permanent. ymmv

I can't see the laser being permanent on male beard hair at all, but unless your friend is TG then the laser makes a nice compromise.
posted by sunai at 6:40 PM on March 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

Oh well if you want to know what to look for in a good electrolysis, Jacqueline, you can metamail me, though I registered to just respond to this. You would not believe what kind of sleazy things go on in the wonderful world of hair removal. This is why I encourage every one of my clients to TALK TO THEIR FRIENDS about their previous experiences-- not, er, strangers on the internet. Being honest with your friends about embarrassing situations is the only way to put the unethical folks out of business.
posted by sunai at 6:49 PM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: For the record, I had mine done at my dermatologist's office in New Orleans. I suppose that doesn't guarantee you won't get a bad laser tech, but if you go to a reputable doctor you trust, you up your chances of having a good experience.

FWIW, when I lived in SF I went to Dr. Kathy Fields for my dermatological needs, but that was before Proactiv took off and it was not terribly difficult to get an appointment with her.
posted by radioamy at 10:24 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yarg. Thanks for registering to add your thoughts, sunai- the annoying thing is that no one seems to have evidence one way or the other, it is just a bunch of short studies on pubmed and lots of personal opinions that go one way or the other.

When I was 16 and 17 I did electrolysis on my eyebrows- with alright results. I don't think I'm as bushy in general, though it seems like I still get a lot of those stupid hairs that are 1/2 inch from my eyebrows that I was hoping electrolysis would eliminate.

I wax pretty regularly and went from thick dark hair to much thinner, paler hair on my legs, underarms, and bikini area. Lots of ingrown hairs, especially on my legs where the hair is thin enough that a high percentage of hairs seem to be too thin to break the skin. I hate that. In the bikini region, I get super-inflamed ingrowns, some of which requiring minor surgery with a sterilized pin to eliminate.

In 2003 I had a laser treatment on my underarms when I knew nothing about laser and was subsequently rather disappointed to see no real impact, but it was only one treatment and my underarms were pretty thin by then already from the waxing.

Sunai, have there been any studies on the effectiveness of electrolysis done? I know of at least one reputable dermatologist who *does* recommend laser, and she actually teaches physics part-time at a local community college (strange coincidence, eh?). So many reasonable-sounding opinions out there, it is hard to know what to go with!
posted by arnicae at 10:34 PM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: (My first Ask MetaFilter post)

I'm a male, and have been getting laser treatments performed on my face/beard since December, 2006.

My reasons for seeking the laser hair removal; 1. My facial hair growth was very patchy (the growth was enough that I would have to shave daily with a razor (Mach 3, not electric) to not look odd), 2. Save time each morning by not having to shave, 3. The treatments **might** eventually “pay-for-itself”, through never having to buy shaving supplies again.

My skin is fairly pale, and my hair is dark brown. I'm getting it done at one of the national laser hair removal chains. The cost was $1500 (yes, in hindsight I could probably paid less if I shopped the quote around to different places) for a package of nine treatments for entire area (cheeks, jaw line, neck) and lifetime membership (which means I can come back for touch-ups after the nine treatments, where each laser pulse costs $1).

I've completed seven of the nine treatments (you have to wait two or three months between treatments), and am pleased with the results. Less and less hair has come back after each treatment. I haven't shaved daily with a Mach 3 since treatment three or so. Currently, once or twice during the work week, I shave with an electric razor at night. With the rate of progress over the previous sessions, I'm confident I will no longer have to shave at all after the finishing the final two treatments.

To answer your specific questions...

“Did it work? (And what does "work" mean for you- do you still have to shave?)”
Yes. See above.

“How many sessions did it take?”
Seven, so far. Nine total.

“How much did it hurt/did it make you look like a leper?”
I'm amazed at how much each pulse hurts. Of course, I might just be a wuss. The person that does the treatments says it doesn't hurt much as much as waxing (which I've never had, so can't compare). After a treatment, my fair and neck are very red, and maybe a touch swollen. After a day or so, all that is gone. I always get the treatments performed on a Friday afternoon, so I have the weekend to “recover”.

“How much did they cost?”
$1500 for nine sessions and lifetime membership.

“Can you recommend someone in the San Francisco Bay area (especially ones that do group discounts, ha ha)?“
Nope, sorry.

I'm happy to answer additional or follow-up questions.
posted by disguise at 12:27 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, for real, disguise! I'll give you your first favorite in appreciation for your first post!
posted by arnicae at 5:57 PM on March 3, 2008

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