Shaving before Laser Hair Removal - Optional or Mandatory?
Laser hair removal is the process of using a laser remove hair. It is a medical procedure that targets the hair follicles, essentially damaging them, to prevent or delay further hair growth.
With so many options for hair removal – from waxing and threading to shaving and sugaring – it is important to read up before committing to a hair removal routine. Laser hair removal does have an added benefit over these other methods of hair removal: it is markedly more permanent. Its long-lasting effects however come only with repeated sessions.
Often, it can take up to eight to ten laser hair removal appointments with the Bareskin device and a handful of weeks to obtain the full result though some are visible after just two sessions. Maintenance treatments may be necessary to have consistent results and results, of course, are not standard among all people.
Is There an Ideal Laser Hair Removal Candidate?
Laser hair removal can be used nearly anywhere on the body with the exception of the area around the eyes. As with most medical treatments, its efficacy can change from person to person. In other words, the results of laser hair removal can be dependent upon hair type and color, and skin type and color.
Laser hair removal therefore does not always make sense on other facial areas, aside from those around the eyes, like the upper lip as the hair can sometimes be too fine or too light. Hair of this type and color are not always detected by the laser.
This is because the concentrated beam of light targets hair whose pigment absorbs the laser light and converts it to heat, which destroys the hair follicle. As the laser is absorbed by the hair pigment, the skin beneath and around should remain unaffected. The best results tend to occur in those with a more drastic hair to skin color contrast, like dark hair and light skin, and those with darker hair in general.
Preparatory Practice: But Do I Have to Shave Beforehand?
As has been previously mentioned, laser hair removal is a bona fide medical treatment, which means you should not only ensure that the device you are using works well but also certified and/or licensed, you should also ensure to prepare properly. One common pre-laser hair removal question is ‘must I shave beforehand?’ The answer from the professional performing your treatment should be a resounding ‘yes’.
When to Shave and Why
It is advisable to shave the area to be treated the day before you make use the machine. This shave should be performed with a clean and sharp razor to prevent any bacterial residue and possible infection after the appointment.
Ideally, you should use a brand-new razor in conjunction with a well lathering and hydrating shave cream. Afterwards, gently wash/clean the skin to further erase any trace of bacteria, soap, lotion or deodorants from the skin’s surface and from the skin shaft. This shave should be done within the timeframe of 24 hours before treatment – enough time for the skin to recover from any immediate post-shave irritation yet not so much time that the skin has an opportunity to grow back.
The skin should be without stubble, indicating that the hair is not above the follicle. If the hair is too long, your risk of being burned or pigmented is greater and the pain you may feel is increased.
Being clean shaven will make the entire laser hair removal process easier to perform and less harmful to experience for you as the laser will be able to locate the pigment in the hair follicle without any issues. If you are still worried about possible pain, you could take a pain reliever shortly before your appointment.
Can I Wax Instead?
To recap, laser hair removal works by targeting hair at the follicle level to disrupt it and prevent or delay further hair growth. When you shave, you essentially just trim the hair while leaving the follicle intact in the skin, ready for the laser to do its hair removal magic. When you wax, you are removing the hair from tip to the root right out of its follicle.
This leaves the laser without a target; there is no longer any pigment for the laser to hit. It is advisable to wait at least a month, and ideally six weeks or more, before your last wax before going in for a laser hair removal.
Still do make sure to shave within the day before your appointment. As they work under similar principles of yanking from the follicular level, tweezing/plucking and epilating should also be avoided in the weeks leading up to your laser hair removal appointment.
What if I Forget?
If you forget to shave, you may want perform the procedure at another time. If the hair is above the skin, above the follicle, the risk of burn to your skin is raised. Your health, safety and comfort trump going through with the laser hair removal appointment.
If you do decide to continue with the laser hair removal, it is possible that the hair follicle will not be targeted – or not as well as it could have been – and only the hair above will be removed. This is because the pigment in the hair above the skin can absorb the laser in place of the pigment in the hair follicle.
This can sometimes be accompanied by the smell of burnt hair, which is never pleasant. Between pain and a possibly pungent smell, it is not worth it to skip out on shaving before your laser hair removal appointment. In the hustle and bustle of life, set a reminder to shave the day before you perform the procedure. Your skin will certainly thank you for it.
Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Walters MD (Dermatologist)