Laser hair removal can give you permanent hair reduction, but it doesn't achieve permanent hair removal. While this may sound disappointing, it's not all bad news, as laser hair removal can successfully lead to fewer hairs that are lighter and finer, and thus become easier to manage. With the right course of laser hair removal treatments, and follow-up sessions as required, you can successfully reduce unwanted hair – but, it would be wrong to describe the results as permanent removal that means hairs will never grow back.
Laser hair removal can give permanent hair reduction, provided you follow a quality course of treatment from a professional clinician. You can also achieve permanent hair reduction from home laser hair removal devices, though their strength and effectiveness tends to be less pronounced than the equipment used by professionals.
It's crucial to understand this difference between permanent hair reduction, and permanent hair removal. Furthermore, the success you'll have with laser hair removal will be influenced greatly by your skin tone, hair colour, and the coarseness of the hair in the area you're treating.
Do not rush into laser hair removal without fully understanding the results you're likely to get
Laser hair removal can cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds – do not rush into it without fully understanding the results you're likely to get.
In this guide, we'll explain what kind of results you can expect from laser hair removal, and how long those results may last for. We'll also examine various accredited clinical studies into the effects of laser and IPL hair removal, to help explain the results they found, and what these may mean for your own chances of successful hair reduction.
In this guide:
Permanent hair removal vs permanent hair reduction
"Permanent hair removal" is a dream result for anyone dealing with unwanted hair on their body or face. With the wealth of clinics, salons and home devices offering laser hair removal or IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) treatments, you may think we're living in a boom time of permanent hair removal possibilities.
"Permanent hair removal" is a dream result for anyone dealing with unwanted hair on their body or face. The reality is a little less revolutionary.
The reality is a little less revolutionary. Laser hair removal and IPL can indeed lead to successful and permanent hair reduction, but this simply isn't the same as true permanent hair removal. Let's break these down:
Permanent hair removal: defined as a treatment leading to hair that will never regrow, even in a finer or lighter form
Permanent hair reduction: defined as a treatment leading to sparser, finer, and/or lighter hair that regrows more slowly and can be managed with less frequent future removal (whether that's shaving, plucking, or additional laser treatments)
Laser hair removal and IPL can indeed lead to successful and permanent hair reduction, but this simply isn't the same as true permanent hair removal
Is permanent hair removal possible? Yes, with electrolysis. But, this is a highly targeted treatment, tackling a single hair follicle at a time. Electrolysis on a large area such as your legs or back would likely prove so time-consuming and expensive that few consumers would choose to go down this route.
So, if laser hair removal can only offer a permanent reduction, and not permanent hair removal, is it still worth the expense? Yes – but, read on to make sure it's still right for you.
How long does laser hair removal last?
Laser hair removal can give you successful hair reduction that lasts for months or even as long as two years. But, we'd caveat this with a few key cautions:
People with light skin and dark hair will typically see the best results from laser hair removal
You will need multiple sessions (typically no fewer than 6 sessions, over 3 months)
Areas with coarse, dense hair may require additional treatments
Follow-up sessions are commonly needed, and you may need to budget for this
Laser hair removal can give you successful hair reduction that lasts for months or even as long as two years
Of course, the question you're likely now asking is what happens after two years? Does your hair suddenly start sprouting back, as dense as it was before you began treatments. No – if you followed the correct course of clinical or home laser hair removal treatments, then you'll likely have seen a permanent reduction in the hairs on the area you're treating. When regrowth does occur (after months or years, depending on your own experience) then the hairs will likely be finer and lighter.
As ever, no two individuals will see the exact same results. The success of laser hair removal, and the persistence of the hair that returns, is greatly influenced by your skin and hair type.
Does laser hair removal work for everyone?
Unfortunately not. Both laser and IPL hair removal are better suited towards people with lighter skin tones and darker hair.
If you have dark brown to black skin, it's possible a clinician will advise you against beginning a course of laser hair removal at all. If they are happy to treat you, then a responsible clinician will ensure that the laser settings are weaker, so as not to target the melanin in the skin. This can mean that you'll see less impactful hair reduction due to the more cautious treatment.
People with types I-IV skin on the Fitzpatrick scale (see below), generally have the best chances of success with laser or IPL hair removal – especially if they also have dark hair that is being targeted. For those with skin types V-VI, laser and IPL hair removal isn't impossible, but much weaker settings must be used.
Fortunately, technological advances in laser and IPL machinery means that the treatments are no longer out of reach for people with Types V-IV skin. A study titled "Laser Treatment of Dark Skin – An Updated Review" (Sona Shah & Tina S. Alster – Citation), notes:
"Recent technologic advancements have provided viable treatment options to achieve clinical outcomes that were previously only attainable in patients with lighter skin tones."
However, these advances have not, so far, filtered down to consumer-level devices. Home IPL and laser machines are typically only suitable for users with skin Types I-IV.
Similarly, if you have light skin but very light hair (blonde, red or grey) then laser may not help you achieve permanent hair reduction. Dark hair is best for absorbing the heat from the laser, which leads to disruption of the follicle and prevention of future growth.
Does laser hair removal work straight away?
Not visibly – if you are hoping to see dozens of hair follicles dropping from your skin on the day of a treatment, then you'll need to temper your expectations. Laser hair removal, and IPL, both have a gradual impact, and you'll see the most success of all by following through a course of several treatments over months.
In the immediate aftermath of a laser hair removal session, you may notice some redness around the treated areas – this is perfectly normal. In the days to come, hairs that have successfully been treated by the laser will begin to drop out. However, this is not yet a guarantee that they won't ever grow back.
Studies have noted some differences, too, in the immediacy of laser hair removal vs IPL hair removal treatments. Let's quickly examine one such study, titled, "Comparison of hair removal efficacy and side effect of neodymium:Yttrium-aluminum-garnet laser and intense pulsed light systems (18-month follow-up)" (Georgina Zita Szima, Eszter Anna Janka, Anikó Kovács, Blanka Bortély, Edina Bodnár, Irina Sawhney, Éva Szabó, Éva Remenyik – Citation). In this clinical study of 38 participants using either IPL or laser hair removal, both systems were found to be effective in the long run, but showed differences in impact from the earliest treatments:
"There was significant hair reduction after each treatment on the Nd:YAG-treated side. The hair reduction became significant after the third treatment with IPL. Comparison of the efficacy of the two devices on each visits showed no significant difference."
The good news? Despite this initial observed difference, wherein IPL required more treatments to have an effect, both systems proved effective for long term hair reduction:
"Eight months after the last treatment, there was significant hair reduction both on the Nd:YAG and on the IPL-treated side, and there was no difference between the efficacy."
This is why a course of treatments is essential. Laser hair removal isn't a "single-hit" process. Most clinics and salons will recommend at least six treatments, and more typically eight, in an area to reach satisfactory levels of hair reduction.
When will you first see results from laser hair removal?
You will typically need to wait three months from your first treatment before you see visible hair reduction – and, this presumes you've had a course of treatments over those months.
While some visible reduction may be apparent after even one session of laser hair removal, the true impact can only be known with subsequent hair regrowth cycles.
Returning to that same study mentioned above, "Comparison of hair removal efficacy and side effect of neodymium:Yttrium-aluminum-garnet laser and intense pulsed light systems (18-month follow-up)", we can examine clinical observations on when laser and IPL treatments first had most noticeable effects on participants:
"Initially, there was no significant difference between the numbers of hair follicles. There was significant hair reduction after each treatment on the Nd:YAG-treated side. The hair reduction became significant after the third treatment with IPL."
The study ultimately found that there was no long term difference in the efficacy of laser hair removal and IPL – both were found to be effective eight months on from the last treatment. But, in both cases, it was necessary to follow the full course of treatments in order to see hair reduction.
Let's manage expectations here – after your first laser or IPL hair removal session, don't expect life-changing results. A single treatment may lead to some hairs dropping out, but plenty more will continue to grow as they would have been in a different stage of their growth cycle. Follow up treatments will be needed.
Clinicians tend to recommend not fewer than six treatments to get successful hair reduction from laser.
How long does hair removal take?
Typically, you'll see successful results from laser hair removal in 12 weeks (three months).
But, laser hair removal simply isn't "one size fits all". Depending on your skin colour, hair colour, the area you are targeting and how coarse and dense your hair is there, it may take longer to see satisfactory results.
With clinical laser hair removal, you'll rarely be recommended having a single treatment (other than a safety patch test). Instead, a clinician will recommend you pay for a course of treatments (typically six, though this can often be eight) so that hairs in different stages of their growth cycle will all be targeted across the series of appointments.
How long does home laser hair removal last?
Home "laser" devices (which, in fact, are almost always IPL devices) can give effective permanent hair reduction that last months after your final treatment. It's recommended you complete a full course of treatments (around six, over a three month period is typical), and follow-up sessions may be required to manage subsequent growth.
Clinical and salon-based laser hair removal and IPL treatments have an edge on home laser or IPL devices. Trained clinicians are able to safely operate equipment that is far stronger than the products sold to consumers. This can lead to more impactful results in a clinic than you can achieve at home.
This isn't to dismiss the effectiveness of home laser hair removal and IPL machines – they, too, can help you achieve permanent hair reduction. But, you'll need to be additionally patient with them, and build in sufficient time to follow the recommended course of treatment and correct settings for your hair and skin type.
An informative clinical study was conducted on 20 female participants (aged 23 to 60) who used a home IPL machine under controlled test conditions ("Low-Energy Intense Pulsed Light for Hair Removal at Home" Michael H. Gold, MD, Amy Foster, RN, and Julie A. Biron, BS – Citation). The study found a positive impact on hair reduction one month and three months after the study ended:
"Overall hair reduction was 78 percent at the one-month follow up and 72 percent at the three-month follow up"
Most reassuringly, the study found the devices to be overwhelmingly successful, with all but one participant observing a positive reduction of unwanted hair: "Of the 20 female patients who completed the clinical trial, 19 (or 95% of the subjects enrolled) noted reduction in hair removal as a result of participation in the clinical trial."
Crucially, all participants in the above trial were expected to complete six distinct courses of treatment – though only 15 of the original 20 achieved all six. Though results were diverse between participants, the trial observed a consistent improvement in hair reduction as each treatment was conducted and results were monitored.
Translation? If you wish to do home IPL or home laser treatments, be patient and see through the recommended course of treatments. Results may last months beyond the final treatment, but you won't see the complete picture of success upon finishing your first session.
Clinical laser hair removal can be more effective than home devices, due to the quality and power of the machines involved. But, don't underestimate the human factor – with a good clinic, you'll be dealing with a trained expert who can advise on the correct approach for your skin and hair. This is the most critical thing of all.
Tempted by home laser or IPL hair removal? See our round up of the Best Home Laser Hair Removal Devices
What happens when you stop laser hair removal treatments?
Let's say you followed all the right steps – you took a consultation from a trusted laser clinic, and signed up for the recommended course of treatment for your skin and hair type and target body area. Three months on, you should now be seeing a visible hair reduction. If you did nothing more at this stage, then the hair would likely remain sparser, finer, and slower growing in that area, even a further three months down the line (that is, six months after you began the process).
But, the hair won't all be gone.
Three to six months after you begin a course of laser hair removal, it's highly likely that you'll still see some unwanted hairs.
Three to six months after you begin a course of laser hair removal, it's highly likely that you'll still see some unwanted hairs. They may be sparser, lighter, and slower to grow – making them easier to manage with shaving, plucking or waxing.
Your clinician will likely recommend follow up treatments – either immediately after your initial course is complete, to target persistent hairs, or, scheduled some months down the line, to help manage regrowth.
What you do at this stage is largely in your own hands. With a reduced hair count, or with finer, lighter hairs that are slower to grow back, you may be happy to stay on top of regrowth by shaving or waxing. Alternatively, you may choose to keep going with laser or IPL treatments.
Just remember, permanent hair removal (ie completely hairless skin with zero regrowth) is not achievable with IPL and laser treatment. Instead, a permanent reduction to the density, coarseness and darkness of your hair is the likely result, and one you may be very satisfied with.
Verdict: is laser hair removal worth it?
Our goal here isn't to put you off getting laser hair removal – we want to arm you with the facts so you can make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed.
Laser hair removal can indeed lead to joyful results – long lasting reduction of unwanted hair, freeing you up from the need for frequent shaving or waxing. What it won't do is guarantee you hair-free skin for life. Think "reduction, not removal" and you're less likely to be disappointed.