What Men Need to Know About Laser Hair Removal

Muscular man on paddle board in tropics
Muscular man on paddle board in tropics Colin Anderson / Getty Images

The best way for super-hairy guys to groom their body hair? Sure, you could shave, trim, and wax. But have you ever considered laser hair removal?

We consulted with some of the most trusted experts to answer every question you’ve ever had about nixing your unwanted hair.

What Is Laser Hair Removal and How Does it Work?

“Laser hair removal is a procedure where a specific beam of light bypasses the epidermis and targets the follicle, disabling the reproductive cycle of the hair without hurting the skin,” says Chris Karavolas, owner of Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal in New York City. “As the follicle gets destroyed, the hair shaft becomes weak and limp, and eventually—with pre-prescribed periods of treatment—that follicle dies and no hair grows.”

Science jargon aside, the laser’s light is absorbed by the pigment in your hair; that light is converted into heat, delaying future hair growth, according to the Mayo Clinic.

How Can Laser Hair Removal Help Athletes?

“I deal with bodybuilders who don’t want any hair on their body,” Karavolas says, because it helps enhance muscle definition.

“We have a lot of cyclists who do their legs and lower bodies, too.” A lot of body hair can cause added chafing and irritation when combined with tight cycling kits, sweat, and long ride times in the saddle. It also makes putting on compression tights, foam rolling, and massages easier and pain-free, since the hairs won’t get caught or tugged. Karavolas also sees plenty of swimmers. “If they can save one-tenth of a second by having less hair and break a record, then that works for them,” he says.

Plus, it saves any athlete loads of grooming time. There’s no need to shave and prep their bodies before a race or competition, and it eradicates any risk of cuts and nicks from getting infected in a locker room or pool.

Why Is the Average Guy Getting Laser Hair Removal?

1. Excessive Body Hair/Aesthetics

Laser hair removal is appealing for men who are uncomfortable with excess hair on their back, chest, stomach, or all over. And let’s clear up a misconception: Laser hair removal doesn’t have to leave you looking like a hairless fitness model (unless you want it to).

“A lot of guys treat their chest, not because they want to get rid of their hair completely, but they like to thin it out—they want it to be finer and sparser,” Karavolas says.

Most often, Karavolas sees men for their backs and chest. It helps men feel more confident in their skin.

2. Hygiene 

Another misconception: Having a lot of body hair doesn’t mean you’re less hygienic. It’s just that some guys find manscaping helps them relieve irritation. Some might do it to reduce bushiness and any itchiness that can be intensified by hair in the summer months. Some guys just have really hairy butts, too. The stark contrast from a fairly hairless back to a carpet-clad bum warrants some men to get laser since shaving your cheeks is just plain cumbersome.

And yes, laser hair removal is plenty common in men. For Karavolas’ facility, about 40 percent of clients are men.

3. Easier Facial Grooming and Ingrown Hairs

The third most popular area Karavolas treats is guys’ mugs.

“A lot of guys want to have less hair to make shaving easier, especially if they get ingrown hairs on their neck,” Karavolas says. “Laser is the only way to effectively treat a condition called PFD, pseudofolliculitis barbae,” he adds. Clusters of inflamed, red, or dark bumps will appear around hair follicles from shaving. Essentially, they’re ingrown hairs that grow in all sorts of directions, which can leave scars.

“Even after two sessions the ingrowns can disappear, and the skin comes back to its natural condition,” Karavolas says.

Laser hair removal is also beneficial in patients with recurrent folliculitis—inflamed hair follicles that can appear as small, white-headed pimples.

Pretty much anyone who can’t tolerate shaving and waxing is an ideal candidate for laser, says Terrence Keaney, M.D., founder and director of SkinDC in Arlington, VA.

4. Balding or Bad Hair Plugs

Karavolas estimates 5 percent of his clientele does their head. Might sound strange, but some guys would rather treat their head than have sporadic balding, while others might want to get rid of botched hair plugs that just don’t look right or irritate them. 

How Much Does Laser Hair Removal Hurt?

With the advent of new lasers, it doesn’t hurt—a lot. Of course, it’ll depend on your pain tolerance, but for the most part, it’ll feel like a pin prick or a rubber band snap.

“We have the Synchro REPLA:Y Excellium 3.4 by Deka Laser, which really makes the treatment quite manageable, but if you do find it very painful, you can use a numbing cream, which’ll take the pain down considerably—perhaps to the tune of 50 percent,” Karavolas says. The Syncro is arguably the best laser on the market because of its uniform beam profile. While it’s less painful, it also has a very big spot size and gives near-permanent results.

Here’s one blessing: It hurts less than waxing—about 40 percent less. And you won’t get any of the ripping or damage that waxing can cause your skin.

“Laser bypasses the epidermis, so it doesn’t damage the skin; it actually stimulates collagen.”

How Many Treatments Do Men Need to Get?

“A man’s back or chest will need six to eight treatments spaced roughly two months (six to eight weeks) apart to see visible results,” Karavolas says. “We can only say the client will get permanent hair reduction, not permanent hair removal, because what happens is one follicle dies, but there might be another one next to it that may regenerate itself.

“Hair grows in different cycles so at any given time—and this varies by individual—30 to 60 percent of the hair is in the anagen growth stage, but the rest is in a dormant or dying stage,” Karavolas says.

The laser is killing hairs in the growth stage; and the ones that are dead will shed after a few weeks. So by the time you go to your next appointment, the hairs that were in their growth stage are now in their dormant or dying stage. Overall, if you follow all the rules and get your treatments in the recommended timeframe, men can see anywhere from 50 to 85 percent permanent hair reduction.

What Should Men Know Before Their First Laser Hair Removal Appointment?

1. Shave

You should shave the area you’re getting treated before the appointment. If you don’t, the technician or dermatologist will trim or shave the area for you. (If that seems mortifying, heed our advice and shave beforehand.)

“As the beam travels through the hair shaft, a lot of energy is being absorbed,” Karavolas says. “You want to have short hair so when the light goes through it, there’s enough left to hit and damage the follicle.”

2. Stay Out of the Sun

The reason people often get laser hair removal in the winter is because you don’t want to have sun exposure on the area you’re treating for roughly three weeks before your session.

The reason is two-fold: Because the laser works best on light skin and dark hair, you don’t want your skin to be tan and hair slightly bleached from the sun. This also means you can’t use self-tanners before your appointment. What’s more, you don’t want to risk damage to your skin.

3. You’ll Discuss Your Ethnicity to Determine the Right Laser 

There are lasers that work best for light skin, and others that are better suited for dark skin. The ideal candidate is someone who has fair skin and dark hair follicles. People with red, very blonde, and white hair won’t see results from laser hair removal and shouldn’t be treated.

People with fair skin will fall under skin type 1, 2, and 3, Karavolas says, which will respond best to an Alexandrite laser. “It has a short wavelength (755 nanometers), which is easy on the skin, and effective on light hair.”

Those who have olive/dark skin will fall under skin type 4, 5, and 6 (4 being Indian, 5-6 being African American, Karavolas says).

“We would use a wavelength that bypasses the epidermis and has a long pulse, like the Nd:Yag laser; it has a wavelength of 1064 nanometers and is very safe on the skin.”

4. It’s Pretty Quick

Getting your chest done will take about 15 to 20 minutes, whereas the back will take about 30 minutes to complete. Your technician will draw a grid to ensure the entire area gets treated, then apply a soothing cream or aloe to alleviate redness and inflammation. It’s kind of like having a mild sunburn.

5. You Can’t Work Out Post-Treatment

There are actually quite a few things you need to hold off on after your appointment.

“Because you’re injuring the skin temporarily, you want it to heal before you go into excessive heat because it can cause more swelling and discomfort,” Karavolas says. After 48 hours, you can go in the sun, hit up a sauna, go in a hot tub, and work out.

What You Should Look for in a Laser Hair Removal Center

Reputation and the type of lasers used are your two main concerns.

“There are some providers who use something called IPL, Intense Pulse Light, but that gives out a scattered beam of light that doesn’t bypass the epidermis, making it potent on the skin but not giving permanent results for hair removal,” Karavolas says.

Do your research. You want a place that has solid reviews.

That said, be wary of Groupon deals.

“Basing medical treatments based on price (i.e. choosing the lowest priced procedure) often results in patients being treated by inexperienced providers or with inferior lasers,” Keaney says. “I recommend looking for a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in cosmetic and laser procedures: Education and experience are more important than a cheap price.”