The first time I shaved my legs, I was so young that I was sharing a bath with my best friend. We nicked my mum's razor and took off all the thin blonde hairs, never to be so fine again. After that, I took a break from shaving (and stealing) until my early teens, but fast-forward 15 years and if left for more than a day or so, you'd be forgiven for mistaking my ankles for cacti.
I'm fair-skinned with mousy brown hair and fair hairs on my arms, but a lifelong love affair with the razor means my leg hair is fast-growing and dark. I'm not one of those people who can leave it a few days and have barely-there hairs; it prickles on tights and can be clearly seen from eye level. Epilation and waxing are great longer term solutions for a lot of people but because I struggle with ingrown hairs, which can be annoying, laser seemed increasingly like the best option. I spent quite a bit of time in the summer thinking about having it done; I play a lot of sport, and thought it would be so much nicer to bare my skin when it's warm without the bristle. And before we go there, it's not about 'male approval' or 'societal norms' – my boyfriend couldn't care less. It's my preference.
So I decided to take the plunge. For anything like this, I always do my research and steer clear of deals – for laser hair removal there are some scarily cheap prices out there. It's a treatment, like lip fillers, that can be performed by unlicensed clinics, so prices do vary as a result. I wanted somewhere professional and definitely licensed so decided to book six sessions with the Harley Medical Group (HMG) on my lower legs. According to the expert I spoke to, "after six treatments you can expect to see around 90% permanent reduction in hair, which means you will never have to worry again", which sounded good to me.
I also did some research into the types of machines they use as they all behave a bit differently. The Soprano Ice Laser machine promises three things: it's fast to operate so great for large areas, is "virtually pain-free" and can be used to treat naturally tanned skin. Fresh from a holiday in Italy and impatient to get started, this seemed like the one for me. I tracked it down at the Wimbledon branch of HMG.
Before undergoing the treatment, I quizzed Kate Whitling, non-surgical manager at HMG on the procedure. These were my most pressing questions:
Why is laser hair removal (LHR) better than waxing or epilating?
"Laser hair removal is a rapid, yet gentle and pain-free way of removing unwanted hair effectively with long-lasting results. It also offers an effective solution to ingrown hairs with no more irritated skin and red bumps! Almost all parts of the body can be treated; the most common areas for women are the face, neck, bikini line, under arms, arms and legs."
How much does it cost per session?
"This depends on what area of the body you are having done. Prices start from £58 for underarms, £155 for the bikini line and £230 for half a leg. Most parts of the body can be treated, so if you’re interested in finding out how much it would be for a specific area, you can go onto the Harley Medical Group’s website and use their pricing tool."
Does it hurt?
"We advise patients that they may feel some discomfort during their treatment. The sensation is often likened to snapping an elastic band against the skin. However, many patients report the treatment to be much more comfortable than they had expected and those who have waxed previously often say the pain level is more tolerable."
Can you get LHR on tanned skin?
"The Harley Medical Group can treat both darker skin types and suntanned skin (natural tan and fake tan) at any time of the year. Previously we would only treat tanned skin once it had faded, which was limiting for our clients. We have undertaken extensive research and consequently developed a new treatment technique. By changing the wavelength of our laser, we can avoid the top layers of your skin which means we can safely continue with your treatments without having to wait for your suntan to fade."
Does it matter what colour your hairs are?
"The Harley Medical Group uses advanced lasers to be able to treat all skin tones and most hair colours. As the technology has advanced, lasers with adjustable wavelengths have been developed, making it safe to use laser hair removal on darker skin tones as well as being able to target lighter hair colours.
"This said, laser hair removal technology still favours pigment so we find that grey and blonde are less responsive but it's always worth getting an expert opinion. A laser beam is targeted at and absorbed by the melanin in the hair and the hair follicles beneath the surface of the skin. The heat generated destroys the follicle and prevents further growth, leading to hair fallout."
Is it permanent?
"I usually advise that you start to see results after the third treatment and then after six treatments you can expect to see around 90% reduction in hair growth. Results will vary depending on hair type as well as site, colour, phase of hair growth, hormonal influences and natural skin colour, among other variables."
How often do you have to top up?
"As each hair will be in a different part of the cycle, on average between 10-20% of the hairs will be affected with each treatment and then every 6-8 weeks the treatment should be repeated to target the next cycle of hairs.
"For the reasons above, how many treatments an individual will need is dependent on the individual’s response. A qualified practitioner at the Harley Medical Group can assess carefully and depending on these variables give a more accurate view of likely overall response, treatment intervals and number of laser sessions required."
Can you do it at home?
"There are IPL devices that you can use at home, however clinic lasers are much more effective and targeted and the results are likely to last much longer."
Does it matter what machine is used, and which is the one to look out for?
"There are many different types of laser hair removal machines and systems in use today. They are all different, but work with the same principles behind them. The Harley Medical Group uses advanced lasers to be able to treat all skin tones and most hair colours.
"The Soprano Ice Laser is the latest in laser hair removal technology. This innovative laser comes with three key benefits: it provides faster treatments, making it preferable for large areas such as the legs and back. The treatment is virtually painless thanks to the cooled laser tip which cools as it treats. The Soprano Laser can safely treat naturally suntanned skin.
"Multiple clinical studies have proven the treatment to be the safest method of laser hair removal for all skin types, including dark skin whereby melanin is significantly more sensitive to the heat used in laser treatment."
Are there any areas of the body or type of skin that are unsuitable for LHR?
"There are very few areas that we can't treat! Generally, if there's hair, we can treat it. We are more careful about how close to the eyes we treat (we don't treat below the eyebrow line)."
What are the side-effects?
"A little redness but it dissipates quickly. If our aftercare advice is followed there are little or no side-effects. There is very little if any recovery time for the treatment. For 24 hours after your treatment, heat treatments, saunas and direct sun exposure should be avoided and it is recommended to use sunblock on exposed areas."
Are there any cons to LHR?
"It depends on what you consider a con. Obviously, you will need to invest some time as it takes multiple sessions to see results, however after six treatments you can expect to see around 90% permanent reduction in hair, which means you will never have to worry again.
"I highly recommend doing your research and going to a reputable provider, in order to ensure that you are receiving the best quality of care and treatment and avoid any problems. Laser treatments in the UK are no longer regulated by law, meaning with many clinics there is no one checking the quality and performance of the lasers being used or the training and ability of the individual using the laser. This is not the case at the Harley Medical Group and we are proud to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission or the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales."
So, onto the treatment and things I learned during the process. Firstly, make sure you come prepared. Most reputable places will give you a consultation or call prior to your first treatment, but if not make sure you shave 12-24 hours before the appointment; there shouldn't be visible regrowth but anything too fresh could spark irritation. I shaved the night before. Because I'd heard the usual horror stories people scare you with before any appointment, I came equipped with ibuprofen and aloe vera gel for afterwards, in case it hurt. However, I couldn't believe how painless the process was. It gets a bit hot and prickly on the bony bits but really, honestly does not hurt. In fact, I lay back and almost fell asleep.
After the appointment, you're advised not to come into contact with any heat for 24 hours, which includes baths and showers, and getting sweaty – and definitely avoid a sauna. The practitioners advise that if this were to happen, the underlying heat from the laser would rise and you'd feel a strong burning. Avoid shaving that part of your body for another two weeks, and in this time exfoliate three times a week at least. I found gloves best for this, as you can really work the skin; the idea is to encourage the hairs to fall out (never to return again).
What now? After six sessions, the hair on my legs has disappeared. It's weird to remember what it was like having to shave so often. During the third or fourth session you might be able to see any patches that haven't been worked so thoroughly by the laser, so keep a note of these areas and get them properly covered in the final sessions. So far I haven't had any issues with regrowth, and am so happy with the results. You won't be completely hair free though, there's very small fine hairs that aren't noticeable unless you're looking very closely. Also, you'll find there's no visible hair follicles which makes a marked difference as I could always see these even after shaving. Ingrowing is a thing of the past too, the roots are dead so can't produce hairs. I'd recommend the treatment to anyone wanting a lot more time and a lot less hair; it's definitely worth the expense.
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