Editorial note: this article was updated on June 26, 2020.
- Redness and irritation
- Slight discolouration
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (i.e. ‘burn marks’)
- Acne and pimples
- Hair regrowth
- Staying safe
Laser hair removal can provide an amazing life change for those who suffer from unwanted hair. It can be an easy way to remove a large portion of body hair permanently. However, the procedure can come with some pesky post-treatment, short-term side effects. The good news is that these can be easily cured with the right aftercare and precautions.
Below is a list of common laser hair removal side effects you can expect from your treatment, along with ways to fix or prevent them.
Redness and irritation
You may experience some redness, small bumps, irritation, and temporary discomfort directly after a treatment, but only on the area that was lasered.
This is temporary and should go away on its own within a few hours to a couple days. However, you can help soothe the area by using a cooling cream. For example, try a fragrance-free aloe vera, or non-comedogenic aftersun products). You can also use ice packs or cold wash cloths as compresses to reduce swelling, or sensations of burning or itching.
Avoid using harsh cleansers or exfoliants on the treated area. This will only irritate the skin further.
After laser hair removal treatments, your skin may appear slightly discolored. This is a temporary side effect and usually goes away on its own within a week or so.
If you have any severe pain, in addition to discoloration, you should call your laser treatment provider right away, or see a doctor. You should not feel like you are ‘on fire.’
That said, some discomfort is expected. It is common to feel like you have razor burn after laser hair removal. But, it is not common to feel debilitated by pain.
If you’re unsure whether or not your symptoms are serious, call and ask the clinic you went to for this service. They may ask you to come in for an assessment (especially if a doctor runs the clinic). If that is the case, don’t delay going back so they can take a look, and advise further.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (‘burn marks’)
Some people call these scars, but they are not quite the same thing. Permanent, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can create a ‘burn mark’ if a laser was used inappropriately during hair removal sessions. They can be hard to reverse (though steps can be taken to try to reduce their appearance).
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is the result of skin being affected by the laser treatment, instead of the hair follicle only. Ideally, a laser should not do this. However, since laser light is attracted to pigment, tanned skin, or certain skin tones, can be more susceptible to this side effect. If the laser is set too high for the context in which it is being used, the chances for ‘burn marks’ can increase.
This is why we can’t stress enough that seeking a treatment like laser hair removal is very serious. It should only be done in a professional setting. It’s nothing like waxing at a spa, nor even like electrolysis with needles.
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As a precaution, you should never, ever (we mean never) undergo laser treatments if you have recently been exposed to the sun. Even if you are not fully bronzed, sun exposure can spur melanocyte activity in your skin. This will make you more sensitive to hyperpigmentation from laser treatments.
You should also avoid the sun after treatments, and wear high-SPF, broad spectrum sunscreen daily.
If you do find yourself with a permanent burn mark or scar that won’t go away after laser hair removal, you should start by contacting your provider. If it is a medically-run clinic, they will likely be your best bet. This is because they will have information about how your scar may have happened to begin with. If they don’t have access to a doctor, you should seek medical care on your own.
Acne and pimples
After your laser hair removal sessions, acne may appear on the treatment area. This side effect happens when pores get clogged. Since the heat of the laser opens up your pores, your skin will be sensitive to these very tiny infections. They happen the same way as any acne would – dead skin cells and bacteria can’t escape, so they create a puss-filled bubble as your body tries to get them out.
This issue can be prevented with a proper, post-lasering treatment regime. Keep the area clean. Avoid putting on makeup, deodorant or other cosmetics directly after sessions. This will allow the skin to ‘breathe’ while it heals. You want to keep that ‘pathway’ open for the pores to clear out debris.
But, do keep using the cooling creams or ointments that a doctor suggests, to keep irritation down.
If acne persists after laser hair removal, it can be helped with a triple-antibiotic ointment. This type of product can be found over-the-counter at most drugstores. A doctor can advise you on which one you need (another reason to only use a doctor-led medical spa for any laser treatment).
You should refrain from picking or popping the acne spots, to avoid scarring.
Since lasers use heat from light energy to destroy hair follicles, they can create blisters, like a burn would. However, this would be unusual in a medically-run clinic, and when using the most modern devices.
One basic part of training with laser hair removal technicians is to keep the skin cool during the procedure. This is so that the laser heats only the pigments in the hair shaft, and not the skin. You may be iced during sessions, to achieve this.
Some lasers are so ahead of this issue, they include cooling devices into their handpieces. This way, additional icing is not always necessary.
If you get a blister from laser hair removal, allow it to heal as you would any other blister. Use a wound healing cream to avoid infection. Do not try to pop the blister.
Be sure to tell your provider that you got the blister, and ask them what measures they will take to prevent it from happening again.
It is possible to be lasered too much. Laser hair removal can only achieve about 80 – 90% hair reduction in a single treatment area. If it is overdone, it can reactivate hair follicles.
The best way to handle this is with prevention. Your laser clinic provider should not be over-aggressive in attempting to remove 100% of your hairs.
If you want that baby-bare skin, electrolysis may help to clear out the few strands that remain, after laser hair removal has taken you most of the way there. However, many people are happy to do at-home maintenance on these leftover hairs. Waxing or shaving is a lot easier when there is less hair to begin with. However, you should only do this after your series of laser treatments are completely done.
Laser hair removal side effects are minimal and temporary, when the procedure is done safely
While severe side effects are possible, most of the time, laser hair removal poses very minimal risk. Most issues are temporary. However, the length of time side effects last can depend on the practitioner performing the procedure, and the measures you take to both prepare for sessions, and care for your skin afterwards.
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If you experience rare, long-term side-effects, or if you are not certain they are related to your laser hair removal sessions, always call your provider. Ask to speak with a doctor on staff.
Keep yourself safe from laser hair removal injuries
As a final word, we will also say this:
Don’t be fooled by ‘cheap deals’ and ‘back door’ offices for laser hair removal. Some of these places even come with fancy signage and beautiful websites. The questions should ultimately be: is a doctor running this clinic? What is their experience in the industry? Who trains the staff that does treatments? What are the staff qualifications? And so on…
Lasers are not regulated, so anyone can acquire them. That leaves it completely up to the consumer to determine whether they are getting a quality, safe treatment.
That’s a shame. And that’s why, in 2011, we pioneered an organization calling for standardization in the industry. It’s called the BC Society of Aesthetic Physicians (BCSAP).
Many doctors feel the same way, especially after a woman was left with a slew of burn marks on her legs and gential area. Read more on that in this article by the CBC (opens a new tab).
In the meantime, you can do a lot to prevent the worst side effects of laser hair removal, by doing your research, and choosing a quality provider.