Laser Hair Removal: Before and After

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Some of you reading this blog may have seen entries in the past talking about my experience with laser hair removal. After 30 treatments, I'm "done" and here are the results.

I did laser hair removal because my beard was so thick and coarse that I was having all nature of problems. I'd get really bad ingrown hairs if I let it get too long so my dermatologist told me I'd always have to be clean shaven or suffer the consequences. I destroyed pillowcases and the necks on my shirts. Since I had to keep it shaved anyway, I figured, why not get it removed?

Here are the links to the various blog entries from the treatments I documented: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 26.

I didn't keep a timeline of photos after each treatment because... well, I didn't really think about it, to be honest. I did do before and after, though, so here's that.

Before the treatment, you can see my beard in any picture. Here's me in my wedding photo:

Jennifer and Travis Illig: October 14,
2006

That's clean-shaven. Still a pretty dark beard line. I got some photos three treatments in that were closer, to see how the progress was going:

Left side, three treatments
in.

Right side, three treatments
in.

Front, three treatments
in.

You can see there's a little bit of "patchiness" in the chin and a little on the sides. You can also see a couple of my famous ingrowns.

I got some pictures after four treatments in, too, to see if there was a difference across treatments:

Left side, four treatments
in.

Right side, four treatments
in.

Front, four treatments
in.

You'll notice that between treatments three and four there wasn't much change. It seemed that way for quite some time in the beginning. At that point we were using the Dermo Flash IPL (intense pulsed light) - it was good for thinning things down, but isn't quite as effective at getting the thicker, coarser hair like I have in my beard. It was still important to do this, though, because using a laser to start (we tried a little in my first treatment) with was so insanely painful that anything to reduce the amount of hair that would be hit eventually by the laser was a good thing.

In the fifth treatment I resumed use of the actual laser (a MeDioStar) and it hurt like hell, but started getting better results. In later treatments, I think around the #18 time, we started alternating between a MeDioStar laser and a Syneron eLaser which shoots not only laser at the hair but also a pulse of radio frequency.

I ran for 30 treatments and here are my results:

Left side, after 30
treatments.

Right side, after 30
treatments.

Front, after 30
treatments.

You'll notice that the sides and neck are pretty well clear, but there's still some lingering around my lips and chin. The upper lip is the most painful area to get, so we didn't focus as much on it as we probably could have. You also can't get too close to the lips because you don't want the laser hitting them. The chin was a stubborn area to begin with because the hairs are so plentiful and are at their thickest/coarsest there.

After about 26 treatments I started seeing diminishing returns so I decided after the end of my 30th I'd call it "good enough." I don't ruin shirts anymore, it doesn't look patchy at the end of the day, and I'm free of ingrowns. Basically, success.

Notes based on my experience to people considering getting laser hair removal:

  • Prepare for the long haul. The clinic might sell you treatments in bundles of six or something, but you will probably need more than that, particularly in areas you have more hair and/or where the hair is coarse.
  • It hurts a LOT. I can't understate this. You may hear people tell you "it's like a rubber band snap." The Dermo Flash IPL is actually like that - a quick snap and you're done. (For me, about 10 quick snaps and you're done.) On the other hand, it's only really effective on the thinner hair, so if there's any significant amount of hair, you'll probably need something stronger like a laser. Lasers hurt really bad. I've heard of guys who have full back tattoos and have had laser hair removal and they said the laser hair removal hurt more. I don't have any tattoos so I can't vouch for that, but I think that says something. I can't express it in words, really. It's not like any other kind of pain I've experienced. Particularly in early treatments when there's a lot of hair, it's instant-eye-watering-please-I'll-tell-you-anything-just-stop kind of pain. Once you get further in, it eases up, but some things still hurt. My upper lip makes me wince just thinking about it.
  • It only works well on dark hair. The basic premise of the thing is that the laser heat is drawn to the hair pigment. The heat transfers down through the hair and cooks the root. If you have blonde hair on light skin, you're kind of hosed because there's not much pigment for the heat to be drawn to. If you have dark skin, the heat can't really differentiate between the hair pigment and your skin pigment. What this means for me is that areas where my beard was "salt and pepper" is now just "salt" - I have a few spots where there is some thick, coarse white hair. Laser hair removal will never get that.
  • Once you start, you're committed. This is more for the folks doing visible areas like the face, but it's good to be aware of. When the hair starts coming out, it's not necessarily "even." There were points where my beard looked a little like a zebra pattern because the hair was coming out in odd swatches. This lasted for around 15 treatments in the middle of my full series of treatments. Had I decided to quit, I'd have a really weirdly growing beard that you'd even notice when it was shaved. Once they start removing hair, you're committed to the whole procedure, as long as it takes, because if you quit before the hair's all gone it'll be weird.
  • You will not end up hairless. You will still have to shave. I did not fully realize this at the outset, but I can see that it's somewhat unavoidable. The combination of diminishing returns as I neared the 30th treatment and the white hairs in my beard that weren't going to be removed anyway means no matter what I do, I'm still shaving. I have to assume that's the case for anywhere - it'll thin the hair down a lot, maybe enough that you don't have to shave as often, but you'll still have to shave.

Given all that, would I still do it? Yeah, I think I would. I like being able to look down and read a book in the evening without giving my own neck a rash or pilling up my shirt. I like being able to lie down and roll over without hearing a sandpaper noise that indicates my face is destroying another pillowcase. Just go in informed and knowing that it's not going to be six months of pain-free treatments and you'll be fine.

Note: I get a lot of comments on my laser hair removal entries that are spam, people trying to sell laser hair removal, or people telling me that their laser hair removal clinic would have done a better job. I will delete these non-constructive comments, so please save us all some time by not leaving them.

UPDATE 2/27/2012: I get a lot of questions about how I've fared since I wrote this entry nearly two years ago so I'll answer them here:

  • Have I had any regrowth? A bit, but not a ton. My cheeks and neck are still really clear, just like in the photos. If I've had regrowth, it's been in my lip/chin region, which, as you can see, didn't come clear anyway.
  • Do I have to shave? Yes. I've always had to shave, even immediately following treatment. You won't end up hairless.
  • Does it look patchy? Not as long as I stay shaved. Again, you don't end up hairless, so you will have to keep yourself shaved. When I'm shaved you'd never notice that I had anything done at all except that I don't have that super-dark beard line I used to have. When I wake up in the morning it is a little patchy looking, but not too bad. I wouldn't go a full day or more without shaving, though.
  • Does it look feminine? Not from what I can tell. Like I said, it just looks like I've shaved. Shave your own face and decide if you look feminine. That's your answer.
  • Would I do it again? Yes. I can't tell you how much of a pain it was to be tearing up my shirt necks and sheets and such with the beard I had. Not having to deal with that has been worth it.

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