Laser Hair Risks: What Are They?

I have heard horror stories about people ending up scarred by laser hair removal and even overdosing on the numbing cream used pre-treatment. What other risks don't I know about, and how can I make sure this doesn't happen to me?

Doctor Answers 3

Avoiding bad laser hair outcomes

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The easiest way to avoid or at least reduce your risk for complications associated with laser treatments is to know who is performing your procedure and their experience. Always ask:

  • how many of these procedures that they have performed?
  • who trained them in this procedure?
  • what complications they have seen?

It is normal to have a certain degree of complications with any procedure but your practitioner should be able to not only reduce your risk for these complications but should also be able to treat them if they do occur.

The most common complications are:

  • skin irritation
  • minor burns
  • suboptimal results

The more major complications can include:

  • severe burn
  • contour irregularities
  • even death (from lidocaine toxicity).

The fact that a complication can occur from even the most minor procedure underscores the importance of knowing the background of your physician or physician extender.

Laser Hair Removal Risks

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The only side effect you can really get from laser hair removal is a burn.  A burn can occur for one of three reasons. 1 - Your skin was sun tanned (easy to prevent - don't go for a laser hair removal treatment when you are tan).2 - Your skin was too dark for the laser you were treated with (make sure your doctor has experience treating dark skin.  Better yet make sure they have more than one laser for laser hair removal.  The best laser for dark skin is the long-pulsed ND:Yag laser.)    3 - The energy setting on the laser was too high for your skin type (this is where experience comes into play)  You should only have laser hair removal performed by an experience physician.  Find out how many lasers they have. Do they own or rent the lasers?  How long have they been using lasers?  Trying to find the lowest price may also get you in trouble.  Get a recommendation from a friend who has had a good experience.

As far as lidocaine toxicity (from numbing creams), this is extremely rare.  There were one or two well publicized cases a few years ago.  Both cases involved large surface areas (both legs) covered with a high percentage lidocaine cream and occluded (wrapped with plastic wrap). This was a gross misuse of these products, and the results were tragic.  If you are treating a large surface area (such as a back or legs) you should probably not use a numbing cream (and certainly not apply it under occlusion).  But for one small area like a face or underarms, you will not have a problem (we use it routinely).

Todd Minars, MD
Miami Dermatologist

Risks of Laser Hair Removal

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The most common side effects of laser hair removal treatments are:

  • Blisters
  • Burns

The easiest way to avoid these complications is to know the type of laser that is most well suited for your condition. We are not talking about the brand name, but the type. The three most common types of lasers for hair removal are:

  • Diode (light skin)
  • Alexandrite (light skin)
  • Nd:Yg (dark skin)

Another key factor in avoiding side effects is the experience of the practitioner. In general we search for a practitioner that has at least several thousand procedures performed and avoid one that uses IPL as this is suboptimal technology for permanent hair removal. More treatments are required with IPL and is has a higher possibility of side effects and lower %'s of hair removed.

As for the toxicity of the numbing cream, make sure your practitioner limits the size of the area in which it is used (no larger than the face for our practice) and also has an Epi pen at the office. He/She should also not let you take the numbing cream home, but rather have it applied in the office.

Harold J. Kaplan, MD
Los Angeles Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.4 out of 5 stars 7 reviews

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.