The Complete Guide To Laser Hair Removal At Home

How to become silky smooth for less.

Shava Cueva, Alicia Bock, Ulas & Merve, Rene De Haan/Stocksy
an illustration of two pairs of womens legs sticking out of cactus bushes while a hand fires a laser...

In my early twenties, a friend of mine got every inch of hair lasered off her body at a local clinic. Sure, she complained about having to go in every six weeks for a session over several months, and about having to avoid the sun to prevent irritation, but justified the hassle by reminding herself that shaving, waxing, and all other forms of hair removal would soon be a thing of the past. I wanted to join her in her future hairlessness, but the price tag — almost $10,000 for her entire body — put me off. Easy, affordable at-home laser hair removal didn’t exist yet, and so I resigned myself to a lifetime of tedious waxing and shaving.

Eventually, however, I tried a few in-office hair removal treatments in search of smooth, hair-free skin but I found the results inconsistent, and they typically always required returning for yet more sessions after the initial round of six. So while I was intrigued by the number of at-home laser hair removal devices that have flooded the beauty market over the last few years, I had relatively low expectations for how an at-home treatment could improve upon the rather time-intensive and subpar results I’d already experienced. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how I fared with my choice of at-home laser hair removal device.

Keep reading for a primer on these systems and which option gave me the best results.

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How Does Laser Hair Removal Work?

Laser hair removal is the gold standard for permanent reduction of unwanted hair, and works by “affecting hair in the active growth phase by using [lasers] made up of controlled pulses of energy that target the pigment in the hair,” says board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Corey L. Hartman. The laser utilizes a process called selective photothermolysis, which means that the laser energy is attracted to the pigment in the hair. This distributes the energy to the surrounding hair follicle, making it smaller and less active over time. “This results in a hair shaft that is thinner, lighter, and finer until the hair shaft is reduced completely,” Dr. Hartman explains.

Are At-Home Lasers As Effective As In-Office Treatments?

The jury is out on whether most at-home treatments are ultimately as effective and long-lasting as in-office procedures. “At-home laser hair removal devices have much lower energy than in-offices devices, which is why patients tend to start out with the at-home devices and then switch to an in-office treatment for better results,” says board-certified New York dermatologist Dr. Arash Akhavan. “The low energy makes the at-home devices safe but not as effective as higher energy devices.”

“During each laser session, one in every six hair follicles are destroyed,” Dr. Akhavan says. “Therefore we typically recommend six to 10 sessions for optimal results, but additional sessions may be needed depending on the individual and their amount of hair growth.” The cycle through which the hair follicle grows is the same whether with an at-home or in-office treatment, which is why six to 10 sessions are recommended for both at-home and professional treatments.

As for what you can expect in terms of efficacy of at-home products? According to one dermatologist-led study, an average hair reduction of up to 60% was noticed among all subjects after one month of treatment.

It’s important to note that you can’t speed up the process by using the laser every day, as you need to wait for the hair to fall out naturally after each growth cycle. And once a week for treatment seems to be the sweet spot for most devices.

Are There Any Risks To At-Home Laser Hair Removal?

“From a safety standpoint, there is a chance that the technology of at-home devices may not be suited for all skin types,” says Dr. Hartman. “Many at home ‘lasers’ aren’t even lasers — they are intense pulsed light machines, which are not safe for certain skin types or indicated to treat unwanted hair at all, so there is a risk of burns, blisters, redness, hyperpigmentation, and scarring.” Those with darker skin considering at-home treatment will want to be sure to select a device that uses true laser and is marked as safe for all skin tones rather than going with an IPL device. And triple-check that any laser device you purchase for the purpose of at-home laser hair removal is clearly marked as such on the label.

There are also some medications that might not play well with laser. “You want to make sure you are not on any medications that will make you more sensitive to sunlight, such as certain antibiotics and steroid preparations,” adds board-certified nurse practitioner and aesthetic specialist Vanessa Coppola. “It is best to check with your health care provider and review your medication list prior to beginning a laser hair removal regimen.” Additionally, you’ll need to stay away from self-tanner, as the pigment might attract the laser and lead to scarring.

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How To Prep For At-Home Laser Treatment

After much market research, I selected the Tria 4X Hair Removal Laser, which is a diode laser — the same technology used in a clinical setting — and costs $499. Tria’s Content Marketing Manager, Krista DeWeese, walked me through the steps to prep for a session of at-home laser. “You will want to stay away from sunbathing for about 48 hours to ensure you do not have a sunburn before your treatment,” she says. “It also helps to not use any abrasive body scrubs or scrubbing tools on your skin for a few days before and a few days after laser.” All of this is to ensure your skin isn’t irritated before beginning your treatment.

Once I had these cautionary notes in place, and areas selected for treatment (my bikini line and underarms), Dr. Hartman advised testing out a small patch at first to make sure I didn’t have any adverse reactions. Dr. Akhavan then recommends starting with a close shave. “[This will] ensure the laser can target the base of the hair follicle,” he says. And you also want to make sure you’re not waxing or tweezing. “If the technology cannot detect a hair follicle, it will not work,” explains Caroline Candace, founder of Look Organics.

Testing An At-Home Laser Device

I was a bit apprehensive about using a laser device on myself at home without any supervision, but it turned out that I needn’t have worried. I chose to wear laser specific glasses to protect my eyes from potential harmful effects of laser rays — the same ones I wore during in-office procedures. I then simply turned my Tria device on and selected a starting setting of three. The range is between one and five, and the brand recommends starting on a medium or lower setting and working your way up. I then smoothed some of Tria’s gel over my underarms and bikini line and pressed the device against my skin.

Once it made a beeping sound in a certain area, I knew that it had done its job and zapped that hair so I could move on to another spot. The whole process took about five minutes to cover both sections. It felt slightly warm, but otherwise there’s no major sensation — not even the snapping rubber band feeling of a typical in-office treatment.

I used the device once a week, and by week three I was already seeing a significant reduction in hair growth. By week five I wasn’t getting any new hair growth at all, other than on the top edge of my bikini line.

It’s important to note that you can’t speed up the process by using the laser every day, as you need to wait for the hair to fall out naturally after each growth cycle. And once a week for treatment seems to be the sweet spot for most devices.

No aftercare beyond staying out of the sun is necessary, and occasional maintenance sessions are typically required after about six months. There are also a few areas you’ll want to reserve for a pro — giving yourself a Brazilian is better left to in-office treatments, as is removing hair inside your nose.

The Final Results

So far, I am thoroughly pleased with the results so far from my at-home treatments, even though I have only completed seven sessions. I did my bikini line, and have had zero new growth since week five. The no sun exposure or self-tanning rule has complicated my quest to be totally hairless in a manner of weeks, as I did not want to spend my entire summer hiding away under a parasol, but I intend to use the Tria throughout the winter, when my limbs tend to be covered up anyway.

The results I have seen so far are similar to those that I have seen from the same number of treatments at an in-office clinic on other areas of my body. And most priceless of all to me? The time I’ve saved schlepping to and from appointments, along with the freedom to zap more spots whenever I want them.

For $500, I essentially have the opportunity to become hair-free from head to toe, with quick and easy maintenance sessions whenever I need them. While still an investment, compared to the cost of going to in-office treatments, it makes at-home laser extraordinarily efficient in terms of both time and money. And soon enough, I look forward to thinking only about the hair on top of my head.

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