Is at-home laser hair removal worth a try?

In recent years, laser hair removal (LHR) has become one of the most common cosmetic procedures in the United States.

If you’re tired of tweezing, waxing, or shaving, it might be time to try laser. Keep reading to learn more about how the process works and what kinds of machines are available for home use.

The hair growth cycle

To understand how LHR works, you first have to understand how hair grows.

Human hair grows in cycles, but not all hairs grow in sync. That means that at any given time, you have hairs in all parts of the growth cycle.

Phase 1: Anagen (“active phase”)

Rapid cell division causes a new hair to form and eventually push the older hair out. On average, hair grows about 1cm per month during this phase. Body hair has a much shorter active phase than scalp hair, which is why our body hair is so much shorter than the hair on our heads.

Right now, most of your hairs are in the active phase.

anagen-catagen-telogenPhase 2: Catagen (“transitional phase”)

At any given time, roughly 3% of your hairs are in the catagen phase. This is a short, transitional period where hair stops growing. During this time, the outer root sheath will shrink and attach itself to the root of the hair, forming what is called a “club hair.”

A “club hair” is a fully keratinized hair. It is no longer growing and it has a hard root. It will eventually fall out. You know you’ve pulled out a club hair if you see a tiny bit of hard, white material at the end of it.

Phase 3: Telogen (“resting phase”)

During this time, your hair follicle is resting and the club hair is completely formed.

At any given time, between 6 and 8% of your hairs are in this phase. This phase lasts much long for body hairs than it does for scalp hairs.

It is normal to shed between 25 and 100 telogen hairs each day (from your scalp).

How does laser hair removal work?

LHR sends a tight beam of light into the skin. The melanin in dark hair automatically absorbs this light, and the hair follicle is damaged.

The goal is to damage the hair follicle so much that future hair growth slows down or stops.

The procedure can be done professionally or at home (this article covers at-home devices only). LHR is commonly used to remove hair from:

  • Face
  • Neck
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Genital area
  • Arms and armpits
  • Fingers and toes
  • Legs

For LHR to be effective, hairs need to be exposed to the laser during the anagen phase.

The light from a LHR devices depends on melanin, which is it doesn’t usually work for people with blonde, grey, or red hair.

LHR can be dangerous for people with dark or tan skin because the melanin in their skin will absorb the laser. This can cause burns. It’s also important never to use a hair removal laser on a tattoo.

There are a few machines designed to be safe on all skin and hair types, but the majority of them will only work on individuals with fair skin and dark hair.

Benefits & Side effects of laser hair removal

The main benefit is, of course, hair removal.

Another benefit is the speed of treatment. Small areas (like the upper lip) can be treated in less than 60 seconds. Larger areas like the legs or back can take an hour or longer.

Keep in mind there is no such thing as “permanent” hair removal. Continuing treatment will slower hair growth and in most cases lead to thin, sparse hair that is easer to manage. These results can last for months or years.

Studies show that up to 15% of people simply do not respond to LHR.

Side Effects:

  • LHR can be painful
  • Breakouts after treatment
  • Swelling/redness after treatment
  • Temporary lightening or darkening of skin
  • Hair shedding

Rare side effects:

  • Greying
  • Blistering
  • Scarring
  • Increased hair growth

“Permanent” hair removal at home

The following three products were ranked as 2017’s best at-home laser removal machines. They are all appropriate for men and women.

8117ouDnJ1L._SY679_All three are considered “portable” laser hair removal machines, but only the first model is cordless. They all weigh less than 2 pounds.

Tria Beauty Laser 4X

This device is constantly at the top of the list for at-home LHR systems. The Tria 4X is similar to professional LHR machines in that it uses a diode laser, not IPL, to remove hair.

For this reason, the Tria tends to be more painful, more expensive, and more effective than other at-home machines.


The details:

  • Sells for about $450
  • Available in several colors
  • Fast treatment times
  • Digital display
  • Little to no side effects
  • Professional results
  • 6 pounds
  • Automatic lock if skin is too dark
  • Cordless
  • Intensity modes: 5
  • 90,000 flash capacity
  • No replacement cartridges
  • Runs 40 minutes on full charge

According to reviews, you should notice a significant reduction in hair growth after 2-3 months of treatment.

71sCIAGj4eL._SX522_Warning: The Tria 4X can burn you if you don’t follow instructions. Wear eye protection during treatment, and make sure to read all instructions before you begin. Do not use more frequently than recommended.

#2 Remington iLIGHT Pro Plus Quartz

The iLIGHT system uses IPL, rather than a laser. It consistently outperforms similar devices due to its use of a quartz light instead of an ordinary glass bulb.


The details:

  • Sells for about $400
  • Available in 3 colors
  • Automatic lock if skin is too dark
  • 30,000 flash capacity
  • Replacement cartridges can be purchased for $75-$100
  • Intensity modes: 5
  • 5 pounds
  • Corded
  • 2 year warranty

Effects are slower to come with this device than with the Tria, but you’ll notice the iLIGHT is less painful and a tad less expensive. The iLIGHT features a larger treatment head than the Tria, making it better for big areas (like the chest) and worse for small areas (like the bikini line).

61knOryMk7L._SX522_#3 Philips Lumea Comfort

The Philips Lumea is another IPL system, meaning it is less painful and less effective than the Tria.

It has a “slide and flash” mode for easy use on large areas, and a “stamp mode” for use on small areas like the bikini line. It is significantly less expensive than the other two products.


The details:

  • Sells for about $200
  • 200,000 flash capacity
  • No replacement cartridges
  • Intensity modes: 5
  • Skin sensor
  • 1 pound
  • Corded

Laser technology

Intense pulsed light (IPL)

Intense pulsed light (IPL) technology is a light-based treatment that does not use a true laser. Instead, a filter is placed over a bright light to cancel out all wavelengths except the one absorbed by melanin.

IPL is also used to treat age spots, hyperpigmentation and telangiectasias. According to dermatologists, no IPL device can effectively remove blonde hair or minimize wrinkles.

IPL is far less painful than an actual laser. Treatment recovers little to no downtime.

True lasers

For obvious reasons, commercial laser hair removal machines can use stronger lasers. These include the diode laser, the ruby laser, and the alexandrite laser.

The industry’s newest laser is the Nd:YAG laser (sometimes called “Yag”), which is also used to remove tattoos.

This laser is widely considered the best and safest option for people with darker skin. Treatment with Yag lasers tends to be more painful than other treatments.

Click here to read my previous article on LHR, in which I cover a couple of different at-home devices.

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