Laser Hair Removal

My best friend Bernice is wearing her bikini. I lost that battle two years ago. But I can still wear shorts -- the old gams still have a little tone. And the maintenance isn't too terrible, hair-wise -- my thighs don't show their light blonde fuzz. All I really have to fight with are my lower legs, which sprout dark stumps of hair every other day. If I go more than two days without shaving, husband Patrick starts calling me Jungle Jane. I've been thinking about ditching the razor. I knew plenty about bikini waxing and thought it'd be even easier to get the same treatment down below the knee. Not so, said Stephanie at Beehive Waxing Salon in Carlsbad (760-729-5200). "Personally, I think the lower leg is the worst thing in the whole world to get waxed," she said. "It's like the pain of a migraine. The upper leg and bikini regions don't bother me, but the hair on my lower leg is coarser, because I've been shaving it longer. When you shave, you trim all the hairs to the same level. With waxing, you pull out the root. Each hair follicle regenerates a new hair at a different rate, so the new hair comes in more sparsely. That way, it gets easier with each new waxing, which you should do every three to four weeks. If you get your lower leg waxed and wait two years to get it done again, it will be the same level of pain as the first time" -- all those equally long hairs coming out at once.

Like other waxers, Stephanie spoke well of No-Scream cream. "My clients say that the cream [ $17 for 1 oz.] gives a 60 to 80 percent pain reduction if applied 45 minutes before the appointment." Beehive Waxing Salon charges $35 for lower-leg waxing and $80 for full-leg with bikini.

I thought about monthly waxing appointments. I thought about something more permanent. I paid a visit to the La Jolla office of American Laser Centers (858-202-1808; www.americanlaser.com ) and spoke with clinic manager Kay Love about laser hair removal -- er, reduction. (Love told me that's the official term.) "Laser hair reduction is the hottest thing out there right now," she told me. "I can hardly get people booked. The technology has improved since the beginning -- it's quicker and more affordable, and it's not as painful as it used to be. The laser doesn't go any deeper than the root of the hair, so it doesn't damage anything else."

She explained the procedure: "We shave the area first, because you don't want hair on the surface of the skin. You want the energy of the laser to go for the root, to kill the hair follicle. We mostly use a diode laser -- it's the most effective, because it goes after melanin. So, it works best on a client with light skin and dark hair. If someone has light hair, we have a radio-frequency laser that heats up the hair shaft and breaks it down to the point where it can't grow hair completely. With the diode laser, however, it's permanent hair reduction, because it's more effective at killing the follicle. Hair is reduced up to 80 percent, depending on a person's genetics."

If someone has darker skin, they'll need more treatments, "because with them, we have to use a really low level of energy for the laser." (This is where skill comes most into play, says Love -- "calculating the skin type, making the right call for the settings. You have to be a registered nurse to use the laser.") "Still, I have African-Americans come in for facial hair removal. Some of them get ingrown hairs that cause acne and mess up their skin. The laser treatment will break down the hair enough to solve the acne problem."

But as Love noted, even if you're an optimal candidate, not all the hair is removed, because hair grows in stages. "There's an active stage, and you have to capture the hair in the active stage. We time the treatments as closely as we can with what we've calculated the active stages to be. If you had your underarm hair reduced today, you'd come back in ten weeks -- that's when the next cycle of hair would be up." Legs get 11 weeks; facial hair gets 7 weeks. "Underarms usually take six treatments, one every ten weeks." And, she says, "you'll still need some touch-up. That's why we offer a two-year guarantee -- so you can get the touch-up."

What about the pain? "It feels like a light rubber-band snap or a warm, prickly sensation. Women who tell me they've done waxing say that this is nothing compared to waxing. And if I broke down how much you pay for this versus waxing, this is cheaper in the long run. The package cost for legs is $4000 , which covers all expenses and comes with a two-year guarantee. But no one pays the full $4000 . Every time you refer a friend, we discount your package $250 . If you referred eight friends, it would cost only $2000 . And until the end of June, we are offering a 25 percent discount off any treatment area -- we offer a different promotion every month."

Afterwards, I spoke with assistant manager Clarissa Torres to get a little more detail on the treatment. "Before we start, we make sure the client isn't on any medication that would make them sensitive to the sun -- like acne medication or antibiotics. That's because the laser acts like the sun. For two weeks before and after treatment, you must stay out of the sun or use sunscreen of 60 SPF or higher. If you don't, you could get blisters."

The most popular regions, said Torres, were "the bikini region and then the underarms or the chin. Legs take an average of six treatments, maybe seven. There are some stubborn areas, like the knee and shin. The ankles are sensitive to treatment sometimes, so we may go to a lower setting. Depending on the size of your legs, each treatment takes one and a half to two hours. The treated area is going to be a little dry and sensitive, so we put on an aloe vera lotion afterwards."

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