Is laser hair removal permanent?

Many of the claims you hear make it sound like a round of IPL and laser hair removal treatments will rid you of unwanted body hair for good. But is that true? Is laser hair removal permanent?

What the experts say

Let’s look at a few examples. First from the website of Courthouse Clinics, an aesthetic Medispa in the UK offering laser hair removal. They don’t say too much about permanency. They say lasers are the “alternative to razors and epilators for permanently reducing unwanted hair, anywhere on the body” and that’s about it.

Sk:n,  another well-respected aesthetic Medispa in the UK says things like:

  • A simple “long-lasting results”
  • A slightly ambiguous “permanent hair reduction”
  • And a precise “The results are permanent.”

The last is a pretty decisive statement, and it’s just what we want to hear. We’re left thinking we’ll have super smooth hair free legs forever. No more hassle. Awesome.

With the word “permanent” we interpret it as one thing, but it really means something different. It’s misleading, and it can make us feel we’ve been sold a false promise. Why is that?

Permanent hair removal vs permanent hair reduction

The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) coined the term “permanent hair reduction” in an attempt to curb over-enthusiastic marketing claims. Unfortunately, their definition of ‘permanent’ isn’t what we’d expect. Here’s what they say:

“Permanent hair reduction is defined as the long-term, stable reduction in the number of hairs re-growing after a treatment regime, which may include several sessions” FDA

They go on to explain what ‘stable reduction’ actually means…

“The number of hairs regrowing must be stable over time greater than the duration of the complete growth cycle of hair follicles, which varies from four to twelve months according to body location.” FDA

What does this mean to us?

Well, let’s look at your legs. Beautiful. Your hair growth cycle here takes around 12 months. That means you’d need to see a consistent reduction in hair for 1 whole year after your treatments. And for your upper lip it’ll be around 6 months. So, the word “permanent’ here doesn’t necessarily mean forever.

The FDA adds further explanation.

“Permanent hair reduction does not necessarily imply the elimination of all hairs in the treatment area.” FDA

So there’s no guarantee all hairs are removed either. This is why you’ll hear claims like “65% hair reduction after just 3 treatments”. Designed to hook you in, these claims often create unrealistic, damaging expectations and confusion.

Manufacturers must be able to prove their devices meet the FDA definition of ‘permanent hair reduction’ if they use it to promote their machines. Most have clinical or user trials to prove this, and so they use the word permanent. You’ll find statements like “it gives permanent results” or “the results are permanent”. The full and helpful definition of this is often in the small print or hidden away in the FAQs section.

So what should you expect then?

What results should I expect?

Some people get great results fast and others take more time, but results aren’t instant. You may need several more treatments than the brand device promises. And you may never get to totally hair free. The results don’t last forever either because new hair follicles will start growing all throughout your life. You may need regular top ups, or go weeks or months before needing one.

But if you’ll be happy with much less shaving and plucking, avoiding the agony of waxing and epilators, experiencing finer, softer, lighter and slower hair regrowth, AND you have the patience and dedication to get there, then you’ve probably already decided to give it a go!

“In general, the goals of laser hair removal must be realistic. It is rare to see 100% total clearance of all treated hairs in this area. In general patients need to understand that the purpose of treatment is to decrease the amount and thickness of hair in the treated sites. Younger treated patients must also understand that they will continue to grow “new” hairs for decades. Thus periodic re-treatments will be required.”
American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery

From our research on home use devices, some user reviews report seeing results after just one of two treatments. Most took longer to see the same results. The following summarised feedback comes from the customer reviews:

  • Softer, lighter and slower hair regrowth – no stubbly regrowth!
  • Patchy areas where hair has stopped growing
  • Any regrowth is much less noticeable than with other methods of hair removal
  • You can shave less frequently
  • Visible results sometimes from as early as 3 treatments, but most users reported needing several treatments
  • With patience and perseverance, you’ll see your results improve with time
  • You’ll need less frequent top up treatments the longer you’ve been using the device
  • If you stop using it altogether, new hair will grow back in

Please be aware that for some people both professional and DIY  laser / IPL hair removal simply doesn’t work. The reason why is not known. This small percentage of people are termed ‘non-responders’ and there’s usually a few among the user reviews who, despite using their machines continually for several months, don’t unfortunately achieve the expected results.

In conclusion: is laser hair removal permanent?

To sum it up, it’s really important to have realistic expectations of laser and IPL hair removal. Make sure you fully understand the context around the word ‘permanent’ when it’s used to sell treatments and devices. They cause ‘permanent hair reduction’. But this doesn’t mean all you need a round of treatments to rid you of all hair, and then you’ll be hair-free forever.

Everyone’s results are different too. How your hair reduces and how long it stays that way are particular to you.

“Most patients require a series of treatments over time. Some see long-term results that may last for years. Others may require multiple treatments over time to maintain their degree of hair loss. It is not possible to determine in advance how many treatments will be required or how long they will last.”
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS)

In my opinion, it’s clearer when brands market their devices accurately as a way to reduce your hair growth (amount and thickness) with continued use. Just don’t use or believe the word permanent – make it clear from the start.

Read more in this section: About laser and IPL hair removal

  1. What is IPL and laser hair removal?
  2. How does laser hair removal work?
  3. Laser hair removal at home vs professional treatments: which is best?
  4. Is laser hair removal permanent?
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