Razors vs. Lasers: My Adventure in Laser Hair Removal

Razors vs. Lasers: My Adventure in Laser Hair Removal

As I said in our roundtable back in May, I’ve had a facial hair problem all of my adult life. It is a pretty significant source of anxiety for me, so once I found a laser removal solution I was willing to try, I decided to chronicle my experience for posterity and for other women

As I said in our roundtable back in May, I’ve had a facial hair problem all of my adult life. It is a pretty significant source of anxiety for me, so once I found a laser removal solution I was willing to try, I decided to chronicle my experience for posterity and for other women who are curious or considering laser hair removal.

Preparation

Let me begin with the important stuff: There’s a lot of prep you have to go through for laser hair removal. A lot. Since concentrated beams of light are being pointed at your body parts, there are liability concern and rightfully so. Pew-pew coolness aside, laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Better living through modern science!

The medspa I chose, Nyah, was selected for three reasons, in order:

  1. I found a Groupon for unlimited hair removal on 1, 2, or 3 places. I chose one, figuring I could get another Groupon later, but it turns out that they only allow one Groupon ever during your time as a client. This is apparently the norm for laser hair removal places. One discount ever. The other thing to keep in mind for a service like this: you pay for the Groupon (or Living Social or other discount) at the discount rate. You tip your technician as if you were paying full price. I freaked out over that briefly until I realized the tip was by-the-visit and not one lump sum.
  2. Good reviews. I cannot stress enough how important it is to do the research when it comes to the reviews. I had looked at a couple of other Groupon and Living Social deals, deciding not to make the purchase after hitting a threshold of too many unfavourable reviews to suit me. Even with the unfavourable reviews, read carefully. Not every one of the reviews is in good faith; we saw at least a few that were obviously people trying to squeeze free sessions out of salons by complaining on Yelp and other review sites. Pay attention, and read between the lines to make sure you’re not letting a greedy freebie grabber turn you away from an otherwise good looking place. Nyah has almost uniformly positive reviews, and it doesn’t look like they nuke bad reviews as some places do. That was important to me as someone who is antsy and anxious about new experiences.
  3. It’s about equidistant between my home and my work, which made it convenient to get to without disrupting my commute.

May 30: Waiting

The spa doesn’t even let you jump right into the process, no matter how eager and ready you are! The technician re-explained everything on the pages and pages of disclaimers you have to go through even to set up an appointment, because they know people will TL;DR it in the Internet age of Twitter, Instagram, Plurk, and short attention spans. After the re-explanation, I got a test spot done on my arm and one on my neck. The former was to make sure I didn’t have a bad reaction to the laser, and the latter to make sure I wasn’t so sensitive that it would be unpleasant or  prohibitively painful for me in the area I wanted worked.

After the ten to fifteen minute introduction to laser hair removal I got the bad news. The laser was only going to work on my dark hairs; the laser doesn’t even “see” grey or blonde hairs. I’ve been going grey since age nineteen, and so the hairs that come in on my face are sometimes grey. Unfortunately, nothing for that. With that, my introduction was over, and I had to wait two agonizing weeks for my first real appointment when they’d be lasering the whole area along my chin and jawline.

barbasol_jurassic

“Men’s” shaving cream with Jurassic World promo!

Why agonizing? Because once you begin laser hair removal, you cannot remove the hair from the target area in any other way than by shaving. No tweezing, plucking, sugaring, depilatory cream, threading, sandpapering, or anything except shaving. Nyah’s otherwise thorough pages and pages of disclaimers didn’t explain why to my satisfaction, but since the tweezer has been my go-to method for decades, I needed to know why, because tweezing is not just a habit, but a part of removing the hair for the sake of my anxiety. I Googled until I found an explanation: anything that removes the hair from the follicle will mean the laser has nothing to act upon. That would make the session less productive at best and a waste of time at worst. So, with an understanding of why shaving was necessary, I skipped the pink tax, went to my local Target, and purchased a package of “man” razors and a can of Barbasol (Geek alert: Jurassic World promo!).

I reiterate: those two weeks were agonizing. Part of the reason I tweezed the facial hairs was that they would become ingrown, sometimes infected, if I didn’t. The other reason is that they are completely different in texture from the rest of the hair on my body. They are thicker, more coarse, and almost pointy, so I can literally feel them growing; that’s a singularly unpleasant sensation. Not to mention how icky it is to see a pimple wasn’t really a pimple, but an ingrown hair that finally made it past the skin and is now two inches long. UGH!

As the days went by, I could see the hairs growing back uniformly rather than one at a time as I found them by the tweezers. I had to really concentrate to avoid the urge to tweeze, giving in only when I found a grey since I knew those wouldn’t get zapped anyway. I spent way too much time trying to avoid nervously rasping my fingers against the new growth.

Spider-Man Sunscreen

Spider-Man Sunscreen for kids and geeky adults alike!

Finally, the two weeks were up. I had to run and get sunscreen because sunlight and laser light interact and can cause hyperpigmentation—a darkening of the skin caused by an increased amount of melanin. I picked up a spray bottle of kids’ sunscreen with Spider-Man on it. I am a geek girl.

June 13: First Session

I arrived early. I had a little bit of a wait and there was some juggling of appointments that needed to be done because of different people needing different machines for different target areas. I found out from the receptionist they have numbing gel. Twenty bucks for a small tube, no bigger than a tube of Neosporin. But it was worth it to me to avoid pain, so I bought it and applied it.

My first technician was a cheerful black woman named EJ who was bubbly and friendly and who put me at ease very quickly. She examined the target area for a minute or two, had me lay on the table, and gave me protective goggles. Maybe two minutes of “CLICK! ZAP! WHIRR!” and I was done. Alas, she only works Fridays and Saturdays so I wasn’t able to work with her regularly. Weekend appointments go first and fastest!

I also found out from the technician that since I had only done the Groupon for my one area, the jawline, I could add my neck (where I also have unwanted hair) for only $99. That’s actually way lower than I feared it would be, so I prepared to do that on my next session.

My job schedule allows me to get an appointment before I go in for work and keep to the recommended timetable which for the face is every 4 weeks or so. My next appointment was a Monday, so I had a different technician. That’s not bad though; it meant I had a chance to get to know the staff. I had Saturdays down as my preferred day, but Nyah was booked solid straight through to August on weekend days. I always consider it a good sign when a business of any kind has a large client base and is crowded. The inconvenience is nothing compared to the feeling of confidence I get from a place with a loyal following.

After the first session, I could feel the stubbly edge of new hair already as I do every evening, but that’s normal. Part of the process is that any hair that was in the follicle at time of treatment will still have to come out as if it were growing, even as the follicles are destroyed.

So two more weeks of reminding myself “shave and only tweeze the grey ones!” Also, I had to shave every two days. Every day was a bit too much. I had to press too hard to get to the hair which can lead to cuts. But more than two days, and I feel like the whole world is seeing the dark, coarse hairs I don’t want showing.

July 13: Second Session

I applied the numbing gel to my neck, and a quick ten minutes later, I was done. This technician was more thorough in applying the laser than the first one I encountered, and I realized the drawback of applying coherent light beams to facial hair: burning hair stinks.

But the results were much better! I could go almost five days before the hair bothered me enough to shave; and the laser, despite being told otherwise, seems to be catching the grey hairs, too! I am still getting a few growing to full length, but the rest of the grey hairs were turning up short at the same rate after a session as the dark hair! I am hypothesizing, but I think when I plucked the grey ones, they had a chance to grow back grey again — or dark. That being the case, if a grey hair is replaced by a dark hair, the laser will catch it next time. The technician was surprised to hear my grey hairs seem to be diminishing too, but they were pleased that I seem to be getting unusually good results.

But I’ve been keeping to every 4 weeks and my next session was in August. I figure by Halloween my chin and neck will be hair free. If not, the Groupon was for unlimited for an entire calendar year, so if it goes into 2016, so be it.

August 12: Third Session

I didn’t even bother with the numbing gel. It was the same couple of minutes of ZAP-CLICK-WHIRR and a tiny bit of heat-pain that felt almost like it was enough to burn me, but was gone before it got to that point. I still have a couple of the really coarse hairs that spike up at the edges of my jawline, and a couple on my neck, but on the whole, the hair that is growing in is much finer. The ones that most bothered me on my chin were the first to stop growing back which was a great source of delight to me.

I also found myself paying attention to the laser spas I heard on the radio or saw on TV. Nyah doesn’t advertise in that way; they don’t seem to need to. I have never heard an ad on the radio or seen one on TV for them; but as I said earlier, their salon is crowded every time I go, no matter what day it is. I’m not sure what that says about Nyah, but it probably says something good if the occasional Groupon and word of mouth are enough to fill up their salon every single day.

I’m thinking of asking if I can also add my upper lip like I added my neck, now. I’ve always had a little hair there, and as I get older, I’m occasionally finding the odd extra long, extra thick or extra dark one at the corners of my mouth. Now that I know the face lasers work and work well, it’s not a hard decision except for what it’ll do to my wallet if it’s not an easy add-on.

September 10: Fourth Session

The technician asked me if there was any place I thought she missed. I said that I didn’t think she’d missed any, but that the edges of my jaw and the center of my chin seemed to be the worst places for the most coarse hair still returning. To my delight, she said she’d make sure it went in my file so any other technicians would know to target those areas explicitly. She said that she really couldn’t go over an area more than once, because once a follicle has taken the laser, doing it again isn’t really going to do any good in the same session.

Final Thoughts

I’m getting the results I want, if not as quickly as I’d hoped. I’d recommend the experience to anyone who’s dealing with unwanted facial or body hair and is willing to endure a tiny amount of pain for what looks to be a permanent solution when all is said and done.

Just remember: watch for the deals, do your research, read the reviews, and Google any questions you still have after your consultation. Then for best results stay within the prescribed time-frame as close as possible.

An important consideration for some people considering laser hair removal: I’m black and as such, my skin can tend toward keloids. I have not encountered any on my chin or neck during these four treatments, nor have I encountered any of the distressing side effects that often make the news or the blogosphere.  The only things I have done by way of aftercare has been to apply aloe if the skin is still feeling tender afterward and to apply sunscreen. Other caveats from the spa include no really hot showers, workouts, or anything that will raise the temperature of your body for 24 hours. That means pretty much “do not make a dash to your car and work up a sweat in Atlanta, walk calmly to your air conditioned car.” So there’s not a lot of concern for doing something that will scar or mess up your target areas.

Also, at another educated guess, the spas are more crowded during the spring and summer months because “swimsuit, sundress and sarong season.” I’m in Atlanta, where the weather doesn’t get fall or wintery until February on many occasions; I won’t have a real way of testing if the crowding at my chosen medspa will diminish until the weather actually does get cold enough for sweaters, long pants, and tights. I’m not sure if it’s a question that staff will readily answer as I overheard it in conversation in the waiting room, but if you can find a laser hair removal place where their laser machine is already paid for, you will definitely get a better deal from your Groupon or Living Social discount.

Once the entire calendar year is up, I’ll be able to give an update on the process. They say four to six visits is usually enough, but I plan to keep going until I’m absolutely satisfied with the jaw (and nail as many of those sometimes grey follicles as possible) and neck.

Once you’ve paid for the coupon and however long it lasts or however many visits it covers, you will need to tip for each visit. Nyah suggests a tip amount for each area. I have been tipping a uniform $20 every time. It’s a touch more than recommended, about what Groupon suggested given the total value of the visits before discount, and I only have to do it once a month, so it’s not a painful bite out of my budget. Your mileage may vary of course, but forewarned is forearmed.

I think I can confidently predict that by the time my calendar year ends in June, I will be able to toss out the razors and the majority of the tweezers I have squirreled away at home, work, and in various bags. Best of all, I’ll be able to save the effective-but-smelly Magic Shave cream for the rare occasions I need it for legs or armpits only!

Thank you, Charles Townes and friends!

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