The big question in laser hair removal treatment…how long will it take??

Many clients are unclear on the timing and process to achieve their hair removal goals.  I’ve found over the years with laser hair removal that different clients have a different definition of “done”.  While some are ok to just have the thick wiry hairs eliminated and can happily live with a bit of peach fuzz, others are adamant that every hair must be removed, even the super-fine ones with no evidence that there was ever a follicle in that area.  In addition to these matters of personal preference, several other factors affect the “end point” of a treatment program.  

Key Factors that can Accelerate or Delay a Laser Hair Removal Program

Hormonal State of the Body

Many clients come to us suffering from unwanted facial hair as a result of PCOS or other hormonal imbalances within the body.  In this instance we have an added challenge in the quest to remove unwanted hair.  When the hormones are not in our favor we can have a significantly tougher time eliminating unwanted hair from the lip, chin, cheeks, neck and jawline. 

Hair Thickness

Many times when we have a very thick hair it can take longer to be permanently removed.  While it is a great target for absorption of laser energy, imagine we are trying to chop down a tree, the thickness of the trunk will determine how long it takes for us to chop it.  This isn’t a perfect analogy, but it helps people to understand that when we deliver a certain amount of energy it is easier for us to  eliminate a hair that receives the energy and singes off fully versus one that takes several doses to respond.  Believe it for not, thinner hairs can also present a challenge because they may not be a robust enough target for the laser to find and remove the hair.  We often have to work with various energy settings in the course of a treatment to customize the energy dose to the hair we are targeting.  We can use higher energy for these very fine hairs to get a response from them as necessary. 

Client Compliance

At times clients may get a little antsy during the process and want hair removal between sessions.  This can be a huge issue! Moonlighting with the tweezers can be very tempting but it will absolutely derail the progress your laser therapist has been able to make for you.  Hair that is pulled out from the root will likely not be ready for treatment when the client returns.  This means the laser therapist is treating over areas and nothing is getting accomplished.  It’s a total waste of the client’s time and money.  Often times clients say something like “there was this one hair… I just couldn’t resist” but the issue is that one troublemaker will be back to aggravate again next month because it wasn’t given the opportunity to be treated.  I have found tweezers to be far more dangerous than waxing and threading (which also remove the hair bulb) because of the sheer easy access of it.  Many of our clients confessed that they keep a pair of tweezers in the bathroom, one in their purse and even one in the car for use at long lights!  It is a satisfying, habit-forming activity that makes the doer feel a sense of accomplishment but they have only delayed their results in the course of a laser program.  If the client is able we strongly suggest shaving with a razor, or trimming the area with a personal trimmer between treatments for optimal results.  If the client is really struggling with the time between treatments or has a special day they are working toward we suggest the increase their treatment frequency to once every 3 weeks instead of the usual 4 weeks.

Hair Density

By this we mean how close is one hair to the next.  Assuming the areas were equally sensitive, person with 50 hairs spread over a large area like a back will be able to eliminate those hairs faster than someone who has them clustered tightly together at the two corners of their chin.  There are a couple reasons for this.  The laser lenses we employ have different diameters which indicate the spot size of the energy that will be delivered.  For instance, if the hairs are densely packed in we may treat 3-5 hairs or more with each pulse vs a sparse growth where we may be able to focus in on hairs as individuals.  Imagine if you have 3-5 people sharing the pizza or if one person can have it all to themselves.  A denser growth will also likely result in more discomfort during treatment as we may have many pulses in the same area.  This can inadvertently delay results because energy may be reduced to maintain client comfort and the integrity of the skin.

Client Tolerance

We tell every client to notice a few things to help us to best maintain their skin during treatment.  a) Advise if discomfort is more than a 5 or less than a 3 on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being “is it on yet” and 10 being “OMG”.  This is highly subjective as each person is different, but it helps them to focus on what they are experiencing and have in mind when its time to speak up.  It also helps clients not to breeze through a treatment when we could have challenged them a bit more with a higher intensity that they were capable of tolerating.  We also ask clients to advise if they are experiencing lingering heat.  Warmth should dissipate very soon after the pulse is delivered. If client tolerance for the energy is low, their program will take longer than another with a higher threshold.

Appointment Prep

The laser delivers energy to the bottom of the hair follicle using the hair shaft like a telephone wire (I guess many of you probably don’t remember telephones having wires…).  In the process the piece of hair outside of the skin is singed off.  What does this have to do with your preparation for a laser appointment?  Well we suggest that if clients are wet shaving they do it 1-2 days before their treatment and if they are using the personal trimmer they can do it day of.  When the area is not trimmed appropriately to prepare for treatment we can waste much of the energy delivered on singing that long hair that is outside of the skin.  This is a problem for a few reasons a) Energy wasted singeing hair reduces the energy that can reach the bottom of the follicle which is our true goal.  b) its dangerous to singe a long piece of hair that is lying on the clients’ delicate skin.  This can result in increased discomfort and even burns! That should be reason enough, however increased discomfort means we will likely have to reduce the energy which will in turn result in a less effective treatment. c) We will always smell the singe of the hair a bit, but with a longer hairs this is greatly intensified and not ideal for the client or the therapist to inhale large plumes of smoke from inappropriately trimmed hair.   So proper trimming to prepare the area for the appointment can be a wonderful help to maximize one’s results by allowing the client to tolerate more energy and actually getting more of that energy to the dermal papilla that is our target at the bottom of the follicle. 

Client Consistency

“Consistency is the key to results”.  It is really critical that the client sticks to their program as scheduled.  Treating at random times when it is most convenient can delay client progress as we may miss hairs in the active growing phase when they can be eliminated.  When this happens we must then wait for hairs to cycle back through all the phases of growth to become available for treatment once more.  This type of haphazard

Rough Timing

When you ask the laser therapist – “how many sessions will it take?” if you get a concrete answer the person has likely misinformed you. How could they possibly know how your body will respond to the treatment? That’s kind of like asking your doctor how many beats your heart will make, if you smoke there will likely be fewer beats, if you workout there will likely be more beats…Many companies advertise hard on the 6-session solution whereas that is just not reality for most resulting in clients becoming disappointed and jaded, thinking either that laser doesn’t work or that it can’t work for someone like them. Over my decade of using cosmetic lasers for hair removal I have found amazing differences from one client to the next and even with the same client (one underarm may respond much faster than the other).  I’ve even had 2 “one-hit wonders” (treated once and the hair never returned).  There is no way for the therapist to look into their crystal ball and determine what that timeline will be for a given client, but we can provide some general guidelines based upon our experiences over the years.  

Armpits – usually quite fast, can often be completed in 4-6 sessions, low sensitivity for most people.Face/Neck – For hormonal women this can be one of the longest with the most frequent need for retouch due to the high visibility.  Allot 10-12 months to get the area clear and be prepared to do quarterly touch ups.Legs/Arms – Hmmm… 8-10 sessions for most depending on hair density which can vary greatly in these areas.Chest/Torso – Likely 7-8 this area often varies significantly.

Back/Shoulders/Buttocks – These are a toss up. I can’t say I’ve seen a real trend over the years.  Some are as quick as 5-6 others may go for the long haul.  A lot depends on the hair placement, texture and client tolerance.Brazilian/Genital Areas – Due to the sensitivity of these areas they can take a while. Plan for at least 10-12 with regular touch ups.  The good news is getting bikini ready is significantly more easy.  Usually the front pelvic area will clear in 5-7 treatments but the inner portions are not a smooth plain of easy access and they are more difficult to reach and more sensitive thus they can take a while.  Fingers/Toes – These guys usually go pretty fast – maybe 5-7 sessions for most.

Disclaimer: These rough timelines are purely based on experience, not science.  They are not a promise or guarantee of results.  

Hopefully this information can bring comfort to someone who is obsessing over how quickly they can be free from their unwanted hair.  We want to reassure our clients that though there are factors that can delay results, some are actually within their control, and if they stay the course we can and will get them the results they desire.  Stay tuned for upcoming Zen Tips to help you optimize your laser treatment program.

Sun Protection…When You May Not Think You Need It!

Here in Atlanta we just survived a serious heatwave, I mean one day we actually hit 110 (WTH). Experiencing that kind of heat made me think about how our clients’ skin would be affected. Many clients feel that sun protection is only for days when they are going to be “out in the sun,” but we have been desperately trying to communicate that if you leave the house or even open a curtain or blind you are “out in the sun”!

So our Zen Skin Tip for today is to reinforce the fact that sun exposure happens even when you aren’t laying out on a beach towel or doing a lengthy outdoor activity – and there is a hefty price to pay for that! Sun protection should be used daily to keep the skin healthy, youthful and even-toned. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY! Even if you have a darker skin tone – I say it with love to my pigmented people, we are not exempt!

Sometimes clients come into Harlem Zen to get a microdermabrasion facial or other skincare service focused on evening out the skin tone and admit that they have not been diligent with applying sun protection. We always inform them that they are literally throwing money out of the window because all of the hyperpigmentation we worked to remove will be back with a vengeance. If you are going to invest in beautiful skin it just makes sense to protect your investment.

For those who are still skeptical that the sun can damage the skin when you are inside, you only need to see our example of the truck driver. After driving trucks for 28 years this photo was taken of his face. The left side where he daily suffered harsh rays from the sun via his truck window looks about 20 years older than the right side. There are pronounced lines, sagging skin, wrinkles and unwanted pigment that was totally avoidable. Of course, this is an extreme example, but it is happening to us daily on a smaller scale.  

This example inspired our video about the use of sun protection in the car. Now you can see I was really hot and struggling a bit when we taped the video, but hopefully it still gets the point across. Take time to apply your sun protection 15 minutes before you leave the house so it has time to absorb and make sure to reapply because the sun protection factor (SPF) is only fully effective for two hours after you put it on (grab a travel size to keep in your bag). According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if you wait until you are in the sun to apply sunscreen your skin is unprotected and can burn. Here at Harlem Zen, we ask that our clients use an SPF of 30 or higher…but we will settle for 15 if that’s all we can get out of you. If you wear foundation that contains SPF no need to double up.  

Signing off from Harlem Zen, where we partner with you on getting Zen Skin. Reach out to us with your skincare or hair removal questions and concerns. We also offer complimentary consultations daily if you’d like to come in and speak with one of our skin specialists.