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BEAUTY LESSONS:

FUZZ-FREE
 FOREVER

From lasers to IPL, a complete primer on the ins and outs of long-lasting hair removal.
Written By FIORELLA VALDESOLO
Consider it one of beauty’s greatest ironies—the immeasurable time, money, and effort we devote to styling the hair on our heads is matched only by the time, money, and effort we spend ridding ourselves of the hair on our bodies. As much of the country begins to see more sunshine creeping into the forecast, parts of the body that have spent months under cover (and, admittedly, often entirely overlooked) are getting ready for their first big reveal. 
We consulted with a panel of experts to outline the pros, cons, and how-to’s for the current crop of permanent (or close to) hair removal methods to invest in before your seasonal swimsuit debut. Invited to a last-minute pool party and in a time crunch? Take a look at our companion article on how to get fuzz-free in a flash (hint: you’re probably shaving wrong). In it for the long haul? Read on below for the latest on forever hair removal.
Probably the most ubiquitous long-term hair removal technique, laser works by targeting the pigment at the root. It is highly effective, and with various types of lasers on the market, there is generally a beam to suit every skin type. Below, a dossier of some of the leading lights.  

ALEXANDRITE, DIODE: “These are the two gold standards right now for permanent hair removal, but they are only meant for people with light skin and dark hair [the contrast is key so the laser doesn’t accidentally target the skin],” says dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe.  

YAG: This long-pulsed laser is ideal for darker complexions because its energy levels are deliberately lower. The treatment process will take longer, but the reduced energy ensures the laser is safe and won’t target the pigment in the skin. 

MIRASMOOTH: Currently FDA-approved for underarm hair only, this new color-blind laser was originally developed to treat sweating (an added bonus), and its microwave technology has proven particularly powerful. To wit: One hour-long treatment gets rid of 70 percent of hair growth. “In the past we had no way of treating someone who has a dark skin tone or blond, gray, or red hair, so this is very cutting edge,” says Bowe, who adds that the company is currently developing the technology for other areas of the body.
STAYING POWER
While the overall number of treatments and maintenance will depend on the person (and her hairs), dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi estimates that with most lasers a total of three to five sessions a month apart are usually necessary for lasting results, with the possibility of yearly touch-ups afterward. For those using YAG, more treatments will be necessary (Bowe says to plan on between 10 and 12). If you’re lasering with a beach vacation in mind, Tanzi suggests starting the regimen a good three months in advance of your trip for best results.
PAIN LEVEL
Moderately unpleasant but fleeting. Most describe the sensation as that of a warm rubber band snapping against the skin, followed by heat and a blast of cold air. The Alexandrite, Diode, and YAG all have very effective cooling (read: soothing) devices, and the upside of laser is that it is quick. “It all happens literally within a second,” says Tracey Garcia, a hair removal specialist at Spruce & Bond. “You will feel tingling and some heat, but the pain won’t linger. It’s not like waxing, where you are sensitive and tender afterward.” Tanzi adds that the pain can also depend on the quality of the hair follicle. “If you have really thick hair you’re going to get a lot of heat absorption, so it can hurt more initially, particularly in the first few treatments,” she says. When using the Mirasmooth, Bowe numbs the area entirely with local anesthesia, so her patients don’t feel a thing.
PREP
Tanzi likes to use a topical numbing cream pre–laser treatment to help curb the pain. Garcia says pain relievers like ibuprofen are okay, but advises steering clear of Tylenol, which, in her experience, can increase the potential for bleeding.
POST-TREATMENT
“Expect a lot of redness and black bumps, like stubble that doesn’t grow out, after the first treatment,” says Tanzi. “But after a couple of weeks that all falls out, so by the time you’re ready for your second treatment a month later it looks better.” Garcia doles out similar after-care advice for laser and waxing: no working out, no immediate exfoliation, and no extra heat to the area from saunas, steam rooms, or scalding showers.
AT-HOME FOR TOUCH-UPS
Fear not the DIY laser. Among the newest crop of at-home devices, pros frequently name-check Tria as a favorite. Tanzi likes to recommend using these in tandem with in-office treatments. “They work really well, but because they are small they can take a long time. Unless you have a tremendous amount of patience they are kind of tedious, so I would suggest using them just for touch-ups,” she says.
  • ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALISON HUTCHISON
Intense Pulsed Light, or IPL, uses a broad series of wavelengths instead of the concentrated light of laser, and “essentially does the same thing” as its hair-banishing cousin, says Tanzi. “They are both using light, which gets absorbed by the hair root, heats it up (which is why it hurts), and kills the root, preventing the hair from coming back or making it grow much thinner. Laser technically is just one wavelength of very concentrated, very bright light. IPL is a series of wavelengths, but it is also very bright. Generally people like one or the other—for most they can be interchangeable.” IPL is a newer addition to the permanent hair removal roster (it is better known as a technique for correcting hyperpigmentation), and there is a lot of contradictory information out there, but IPL veteran Dr. Francesca Fusco of Wexler Dermatology assures it’s “safe and effective when used properly and on appropriate candidates.” (More on that below.) 
PAIN LEVEL
Comparable to laser—rubber band snaps or electric zaps. Consult with your derm to make sure your skin-to-hair contrast is right for the treatment (fair skin and dark hair is ideal, as the device targets pigmentation). “Since the wavelength that is absorbed is not as focused, there is more chance for collateral damage like a burn or discoloration,” says Bowe, particularly in patients with darker skin. Fusco adds that, for the same reasons, IPL should “not to be used on areas with acne or on tanned or self-tanned skin.” 
STAYING POWER
Ideally permanent, or close to it, after a series of treatments (every three weeks and then every four weeks, per Fusco). She also explains that “thick, coarse hair responds faster than lighter, thinner hair.” Long-term occasional touch-ups may be needed. 
PREP
Don’t wax for up to six weeks previous: The root of the hair needs to be present so the device can target it. But do shave the day before, or you will end up with singed hairs and less-than-optimal results. Let your doctor know if you are taking antibiotics or acne medication, Fusco advises, as “Accutane, tretinoin, and tetracyclines make skin extremely photosensitive and can predispose you to burns.” And, she adds, as with waxing, “premenstrual time is when everything hurts more, so avoid potentially uncomfortable procedures during this week.”
POST-TREATMENT
SPF and business as usual. Cool compresses and a soothing chilled moisturizer are Fusco’s go-tos for calming sensitivity.
AT-HOME FOR TOUCH-UPS

A host of DIY IPL devices like the Luma Rx and Remington iLight Pro Plus (both boast the FDA’s stamp of approval) offer a budget-friendly (albeit slower and much more tedious) alternative to office visits. They’re less potent than their in-office counterparts, so you will probably need more treatments to achieve the same results, but they are also safe (built-in sensors tell you if there are any areas to avoid) and wallet friendly. And, Fusco reports, “I have many (shy) male patients who appreciate being able to use these devices in the privacy of their own homes.” 

HOW IT WORKS: “Electrolysis is the insertion of a fine needle into each individual follicle, then using a pulse of electricity to cauterize the capillary that feeds the hair,” explains Mariola Barczewska, an esthetician at hair removal mecca Haven in NYC. “This destroys the papilla so it doesn’t regenerate, permanently eliminating the hair.” 

IDEAL FOR: Spot treating small areas with a few hairs—especially fair, red, or gray ones. “If you have a couple of stray hairs in a small area, like around the nipple or jawline, it’s great for electrolysis,” says Bowe. “It doesn’t make sense for big areas of body hair because it’s more expensive, more time consuming, and more painful than laser.”
STAYING POWER
Permanent after a few sessions. “You need a number of treatments to see effects for the thick, coarse hairs especially. But it’s great because the color of the hair doesn’t matter,” Bowe offers.
PAIN LEVEL
High. “You are literally doing one hair at a time, so it can be extremely painful. And if you don’t go to someone very skilled, you could end up with these bumps in the skin that are actually tiny little scars,” warns Tanzi. 
PREP
A numbing agent can help take pain down a notch.
POST-TREATMENT
Barczewska suggests warm compresses to help heal the area and hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation.

FUZZ-FREE 
IN A FLASH

Need a quick fix before that late-night dip in the hot tub? The Violet Files has the download on hair removal in a time crunch.