Laser Hair Removal May Trigger Herpes Symptoms?

I am interested in getting Laser hair removal done, but a source mentioned that it can cause break-outs for people who are carriers of Herpes virus although without recent breakouts. Is this accurate and if so, why? Is it not mentioned during the initial consultation when discussing risks?

Doctor Answers 4

The Incidence of Triggering an Outbreak Not High

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When discussing laser hair removal of the upper lip, the majority of consulting physicians would ask about a history of fever blisters, or herpes simples (HSV). While the incidence of triggering an outbreak may not be high, it should be part of the discussion and one should have prophylactic medicines if one has outbreaks on a regular basis. If one develops this post laser hair removal, the person should know about it and treat it quickly.

Laser hair removal is performed in a lot of places. A board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon would ask these questions – this is our field and we are the experts here – and people going to a non-medical office would have no idea what we are talking about and how to even think about having treatment for HSV given.

Nashville Dermatologic Surgeon
3.9 out of 5 stars 17 reviews

Laser Hair Removal and Herpes

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Any laser procedure or similar mild trauma (like wind chapping, sun exposure, or chemical peel) can irritate sensory nerves in the area, enough to create a herpetic outbreak. Doesn’t always happen by any means, but it’s probably a good idea to pre-treat those patients with a strong history of herpetic outbreaks with an anti-viral medication like valcyclovir to prevent an outbreak after treatment.

Bobby Buka, MD
New York Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 7 reviews

Cold sores and laser hair removal

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Even if no one ever has had a cold sore, they may have been exposed to the virus. The virus is kept in check by our normal immune responses. If the immune system is depressed because of fatigue, severe illness, stress, heavy alcohol consumption, sunburns or other traumatic episodes or medical conditions, the virus may work itself from the nerve ganglion through the path of the nerve to where the nerve supplies the skin with sensation. You may feel the tingling for a day before the cold sore breaks out. If you have any laser, the stress to the skin could be a precipitating factor to encourage the cold sore to develop. Not all physicians recommend an antiviral medicine for you to take, but if you have a history of cold sores in the area of laser hair removal, it is not a bad idea to consider taking a medication to help reduce the chance of you developing the fever blister.

Ronald Shelton, MD
Manhattan Dermatologic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 39 reviews

Usually Laser Hair Removal does not cause cold sores.

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Thank you for your question.

In general, laser hair removal around the lips and chin does not usually cause a cold sore breakout. When discussing laser or facial procedures that may lead to a cold sore eruption, the rule of thumb is this: if the treatment does not damage / break / destroy the surface of the skin, the risk of a herpes breakout is low. If the epidermis / surface is damaged, then the risk of herpes reactivation is higher.

That being said, laser hair removal does not generally lead to a cold sore breakout. Ablative laser resurfacing or chemical peeling may have a higher risk of causing a cold sore breakout and prophylaxis would be best applied in these situations.

Hope this helps!

Don Mehrabi, MD
Beverly Hills Dermatologist

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.