For the Ladies: Laser Hair Removal

Kristin Walsh, April, 2013

*What follows is a zap-by-zap account of Kristin’s adventure into the laser hair removal process. While Doug was fretting over which tent to buy and whether to go with Sram or Shimano components, Kristin was enduring thousands of laser strikes in hopes of not having to shave under a bucket of cold water out on the road.

January 10, 2012

Tomorrow is my first of six laser hair removal treatments. I’m very excited…to be done. I have a good friend who had it done a few years ago and said it’s like getting a tattoo. I don’t have any (mostly because I’m afraid of the pain), so that doesn’t help me. Then she compared it to getting snapped repeatedly by a rubber band. That I can relate to, but does not put my mind at ease. There are places where a rubber band snapping me might be tolerable, like my legs or underarms, but nowhere included in the Brazilian area. What have I decided to do?

 I have been considering this for a few years, but kept delaying partly due to the cost and mostly due to the pain. I finally decided to at least go for a consultation to find out more last November. I wanted to have the hair removed on my legs and underarms and included a full Brazilian. The legs and underarms were mostly because “going au natural” just isn’t my thing. I hated the thought of not shaving every other day or enduring the shaving rash resulting from shaving without a steady stream of hot water. The Brazilian is mostly to prevent chafing after hours on a bicycle seat. More practical, I guess.

 The consultation made me feel more at ease and the price had decreased a fair amout in the few years since my friend had hers done. The package for all the areas I wanted was $3000. That was a lot, but I was expecting closer to $5000, so I was pleasantly surprised. After meeting the owner of the salon, talking with the nurse, and talking through the process with the technician, I was feeling more at ease about the pain…until tonight. All I can think about is that this is going to be 2 hours of pure agony and I have a pit in my stomach, but I am still really excited at the prospect of throwing out my razor in a few months.

 January 11, 2012 – Visit #1

Finally 5:45 p.m. arrived and it was time to start this process. The room had calming music and what looked like a massage table. I somehow doubted that this would be a relaxing experience. I was right, but it wasn’t as bad as I had built it up to be.

 She started with the Brazilian which I was happy about because not only was I anticipating that to be the most painful, but I knew it would be the most awkward. It was definitely the most awkward, but tied with a few other areas for the most painful. Even the cooling gel applied before the laser couldn’t dull the pain in some areas. I found that in areas where the hair follicles are highly concentrated (bikini area) as well as areas where the bone is very close to the skin (ankles) the pain is most intense.

 I agree that the sensation is like snapping a rubber band, but only in the less sensitive areas. It felt more like a needle sticking you or the feel of a clump of hairs being plucked out in the more sensitive areas. For these really sensitive spots, the technician counted down from three before each laser zap to prepare me. Each zap made me flinch, even when I knew it was coming. She had explained before starting that there are recommended ranges for the strength of the laser depending on the hair type and skin color. The higher the setting on the laser the more it hurts, but the more effective each treatment is. It is a very delicate balance and occasionally the technician would turn down the strength when the pain seemed too extreme.

After the Brazilian was done, I thought it would be all downhill. As it turned out, it was more like rolling hills with a few mountains sprinkled in. She started on the front of my thighs, which was relatively painless. The inner and outer thigh area and lower leg area was uncomfortable, but very bearable. The ankle area, from about 4 inches above the ankle bone down, was excruciating. She did the “countdown to zap” for most of that area. Finally both legs were done and I just had the underarms to go. Now I felt like I could relax a little as I didn’t think I had many nerve ending and not a high concentration of hair follicles. Oops, wrong again. Not as bad as the ankles, but definitely very painful. Fortunately, the underarms are small areas, so they were done fairly quickly.

 Now that I was really done, a sense of relief and exhaustion swept over me. Not knowing which areas would be more painful than others, I think I had every muscle in my body tensed for the 90 minute procedure. I felt like I had just done a really hard workout and was feeling nauseous. My quads, hamstrings, shoulders, back, etc. were all feeling spent. I was surprised to see my skin looking normal except for the bikini area where the follicles were red and a little inflamed, which was a normal reaction.

 January 12, 2012

I woke up this morning initially confused as to why my whole body ached. Oh, yeah, I spent 90 minutes with every muscle in my body contracted. Yep, my muscles are sore, but my skin feels fine. Now I just have to shave normally, no plucking or waxing, and wait for a few weeks to see if I can see any changes in hair concentration. Yesterday was only the first of at least six treatments, but my friend said that she saw noticeable changes after the first visit.

 January 15, 2012

The hair follicles on the bottom half of my legs and in the underarm area, are still red, but they are not painful, so I’m not worried. The technician said it would take a few days for all the inflammation to fade. Hair growth still seems unchanged.

 February 5, 2012

Tonight I really noticed a difference in the amount of hair on my lower legs. I usually shave Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so by Sunday night, I am pretty stubbly. Today, I still had stubble, but it was noticeably less concentrated and shorter. Yeah, progress.

 February 21, 2012

Tomorrow is treatment number two. I think it is going to be pretty similar to the first one and I’m starting to feel anxious again just writing this. Is it worse to walk in knowing what to expect or not? I’ll let you know tomorrow.

 I was instructed by the technician to shave tomorrow morning so the full energy from the laser goes to killing the follicle, not to any excess hair above the surface. After a few more treatments, I will stop shaving so the technician can see where the hair is still growing. This will be exciting, but for now, I just need to focus on getting through tomorrow.

 February 22, 2012 – Visit #2

After spending an hour under the laser, my verdict is that the bad areas were worse and the not so bad areas were better. With each subsequent visit, more hair follicles die and stop growing hair, so the technician turns up the power on the laser to treat the ones that are still growing. The pain comes from the laser hitting the hair follicle and the stronger the laser, the more intense the pain. Most of the pain was more like being stabbed with a needle than being snapped by a rubber band; more intense.

 So, the Brazilian area was again very painful. The upper leg and most of the back of the lower leg were only slightly uncomfortable. There were a few spots on the outside and back of the upper leg that were quite painful and the ankles were again super painful. The underarms were more of the same with some spots quite bearable and some spots really hurting. I have a feeling this trend is going to continue for future visits, but we’ll see. I’m still supposed to be shaving for the next few visits, so it will be a while before the vast majority of hair follicles are dead and there are just a few straggler hairs that the technician will want to see.

 Now I’ve been home for several hours and the hair follicles on my ankles are stinging. It feels like the shaving rash after a really rough shave. The hair follicles are red as they were last time, but the technician said the redness should subside in no more than three days. More than that might indicate that she is using too high of a setting on the laser. We’ll see how we feel tomorrow.

 February 23, 2012

The redness subsided quite quickly this time, which is nice since I am leaving for Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in a week. I have to make sure I keep suntan lotion on so my skin doesn’t get too dark since the best results come from light skin and dark hair. Hopefully I’ll be able to get away with less shaving than every other day.

 March 12, 2012

We’re back from the Caribbean and I’m tan, but it should fade by my next appointment. I definitely notice the lesser density of hair follicles than when I started, but not a significant difference from after the first treatment. There is still a long way to go, but I was able to go 2-3 days between shaving without horrible stubble.

 April 04, 2012 – Visit #3

Another hour and a much different experience than my second treatment. I think when I told Alicia, the technician, that I didn’t notice a huge difference between my first and second treatments that she decided to crank up the laser. I think I was able to count on two hands the number of laser zaps out of about 250 that didn’t make me cringe and maybe only one or two that didn’t hurt. I just kept thinking how nice it will be when I don’t have to shave anymore. Until then, yikes, that hurt. It was also quite sensitive for a few hours afterwards. It wasn’t like a sunburn, but more like a needle prick or cut in the skin.

 April 05, 2012

There was still a few inflamed follicles when I got up; however, by the end of the day, they were all back to normal.

 May 16, 2012 – Visit #4

After the last visit, I did start noticing a big difference. Instead of shaving every other day, I was consistently going three days between shavings. The hair that was growing was finer, softer, slower-growing, and patchy. There were some areas with no hair. It’s really exciting to see results.

 As was the case for visit #2, I had my period again, which she said causes greater sensitivity during the procedure. This will be the case for every even numbered visit…great.

 As usual, before she started, she asked what progress I was seeing. I described above and she said that was exactly what she was hoping. Tonight’s visit was very similar to visit #3, but significantly more painful. She turned up the laser, as she usually did. It was about as much pain in several places as I could tolerate. There were several areas that on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being painless and 10 being intolerable that were at a 9. These included the Brazilian, front and sides of upper leg and the whole lower leg. The underarms were about an 8 and the back of the upper leg was about a 4. It was a bit more of a burning sensation this time and still sensitive for a few hours afterwards. She also warned me to be religious about wearing sunscreen on the treated areas. The fronts of my upper legs were starting to tan from biking and running. If they get too tan it would be very easy for her to burn the skin, not just the hair follicles, since the treatment works through color contrast.

 As I left, she said I should see a huge improvement after this treatment, so we’ll wait and see. I sure hope so, because I endured a lot of pain as demonstrated by my sore jaw from clenching my teeth and chomping on my gum and my aching shoulders and back from being tense for an hour.

 May 17, 2012

My whole body was sore the next day from the tensing for most of the treatment yesterday. There were lots of inflamed follicles in the bikini area and lower front of my legs when I woke up, but they were all back to normal by the evening.

 June 27, 2012 – Visit #5

After the last visit, I saw a lot less hair and what I did see was slower growing, less dense, and softer. My underarms were nearly hairless with some hair on the upper part still remaining. My bikini area had less hair, but still plenty of unwanted hairs and my legs had strips of no hair up the shin bone and on the inner and outer lower leg but also still plenty of hair. I was shaving my legs an average of 1-2 times per week and underarms no more than once per week. Much improved, but not quite there yet. Also, I have been religious about applying SPF 50 sunblock to my legs if they are exposed during daylight. Not many sunny days in Seattle yet, so it hasn’t been too bad.

 This visit was quite similar with regards to pain as the last one; however, those strips on my legs and my lower underarm that didn’t have hair hurt a little less than the rest of the lower leg and upper underarm, respectively. The pain was intense like last time and I know I will be sore tomorrow.

 June 28, 2012

Same feelings and follicle redness as after the last treatment.

 August 15, 2012 – Visit #6

I saw some improvement after the last visit, but not the dramatic changes that Alicia had indicated I would likely see. My underarms are about the same level of hair, but maybe slower growing; it’s hard to tell. My bikini area is nearly hairless except for a thin vertical strip running up the front. My legs still have a fair amount of hair and it doesn’t seem to be significantly less than the last visit. No shaving a few days before this visit so Alicia can really see where the hair is still growing.

 Alicia was surprised to still see the strips on my legs instead of patches. She turned the laser to the highest strength, went slower, and changed the laser style to have more power in the same size laser area. It seemed like increasing the number of pixels on a screen to strengthen the image / laser. The pain was just like last time.

 As I left, she said that she would provide one more session free of charge to ensure I had satisfactory results.

 August 16, 2012

Same feelings and follicle redness as after the last treatment.

 September 6, 2012

My bikini area still has a few hairs in that strip, but noticeably fewer than before the last treatment. My underarms are completely hairless. My legs still have strips of hair similar to what I had before. We’ll see what Alicia has to say in October.

 October 01, 2012

Last shave before my next visit. Alicia wanted to see ten days of growth so she could see exactly which areas need more attention.

 October 10, 2012 – Visit #7

Before tonight’s visit, I am noticing that my bikini area has a fairly solid vertical strip and two horizontal ones; kind of a weird pattern. My underarms have a few stray hairs but barely noticeable. My legs have quite a bit more hair on them than I expected. My upper legs have some random hairs, but the lower legs have quite a bit. It seems there is the same amount or maybe even a little more than before my last visit. We’ll see what Alicia has to say tonight.

 Alicia was pleased with the underarms, fairly pleased with the bikini area and upper legs, and a little disappointed with the lower legs. She again used the same settings as last time, but instead of moving vertically up the leg, she moved horizontally across the leg to ensure she wasn’t missing vertical strips. The pain was intense and felt a bit like being punched in the stomach when she did the ankle areas and bikini area.

 She again has scheduled me for another session free of charge to ensure satisfactory results and is expecting significantly less hair at our next visit. This time I have to not shave for 14 days beforehand.

 October 11, 2012

The follicles where there was still hair were quite red, but where there wasn’t’ hair anymore looked normal.

 December 05, 2012 – Visit #8

I last shaved 14 days ago and the amount of hair is more than I expected but way better than before. I can easily go a week without shaving and two if required. The hair that remains is softer and definitely much sparser.

 Alicia was pleased with everything except wanted there to be less hair on the lower legs. She used the same settings, moving vertically along the leg and being very careful not to miss any areas. The pain was the same as for visit #7 for areas that still had hair.

 She scheduled me for a final checkup for March 6th, three months from today to see if the final results are acceptable to both of us.

March 06, 2013 – Final Consultation

Two weeks of growth is still more hair than I hoped. Alicia said that my results are average and what she would expect with my skin color and hair color. She said many salons typically prescribe eight treatments of laser hair removal. This salon defaults to six, though as I experienced they can add more treatments to obtain expected results. She offered me one more lower leg treatment free of charge. She said it might reduce the amount of hair another 10%, but there will not be any further dramatic reduction.

 April 04, 2013 – Visit #9 – The Final Visit

Alicia had left the salon and I had a different technician. After looking at the hair that remained, she indicated that more treatments would provide little improvement. The majority of the hair that remained would not be eliminated by more treatments. Laser hair removal works best on dark hair. She noted that the remaining hair was fairly light and didn’t provide enough contrast to be killed by the laser. This treatment was similar to the eighth visit, both in technique and pain.

April 18, 2013 – Final Thoughts

It is two weeks after my final treatment and time to decide if all the money and pain was worth the results. Overall, yes; more so in some areas than others.

The Brazilian was definitely worth it and this was the area where it was most effective. Most of the hair is gone with maybe a dozen remaining hairs. I’ve already noticed on some of our shorter cycling trips over the past few months that there is less chaffing and it is easier to stay clean.

The underarms were definitely nice to have done, but not a necessity. I never had much hair under my arms, but still shaved frequently to prevent the visible stubble, especially in summer. Now I barely have to think about shaving them as there is only about a half dozen hairs remaining.

The legs were worth it, but I wish my results were such that I didn’t have to shave at all. The remaining hair and thus stubble, is lighter and softer, so I don’t have to shave more than once a week to still feel good. With occasional hotel stays and Warm Showers stays, having access to hot water once a week is fairly likely. Also, because the hair is softer and thinner, I can dry shave, just to take the majority of growth off, without intense razor burn.

So, while I will still need to shave on a weekly basis, I certainly won’t have to figure out how to shave in camp every other day to feel good.

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About Us

We're Doug & Kristin Walsh, a couple of Washingtonians who love to travel, both abroad and in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. We set off to travel the world in 2014, primarily by bicycle. We're back home now, but the travel bug continues to be fed every chance we get.

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