There are several potential side effects of laser hair removal treatments. Because laser hair removal treatments involve thermal (heat) energy to destroy the blood vessel at the root (base) of the hair follicle, an expected reaction is redness (erythema) and follicular edema (small red bumps) where the hair is coarsest (dense). Erythema (redness) usually resolves within minutes but can last up to 24 hours.
Follicular edema is a term that refers to swelling of the hair follicles in response to the heat energy of the laser. We often call this swelling as “ant bites”. These small red ant bites usually appear shortly after a treatment (or during) and resolve anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of days. It is important not to shave until the follicular edema has resolved as this might cause further irritation to the skin. Some patients benefit from using hydrocortisone cream to resolve the follicular edema. Cool compresses will also help. Be certain that your practitioner educates you on pre and post treatment care.
Redness around the treated area and follicular edema (ant bites) are normal side effects of a good laser hair removal treatment, but some of our patients do consider them to be side effects.
Picture of Follicular Edema immediately after laser hair removal. Notice redness and “ant bite” bumps.
Less common side effects of laser hair removal treatments include blisters or burns. Blisters or laser burns can occur for a number of different reasons:
- Improper fluence – too much laser energy.
- Incorrect technology – using a laser not designed for a specific skin type.
- Too much tanning – the tan competes for the laser energy.
- Improper cooling – patient pulling away, laser malfunction or incorrect contact with skin.
- Other unknown factors – even with everything right, sometimes unexpected results occur.
To mitigate or lessen the chance of having one of the more severe and unintended side effects of laser hair removal occur, it is important to find an experienced practitioner with the correct lasers for your skin type. To help you with the questions to ask and how to find a quality laser hair removal practitioner, read our blog on the questions to ask during your laser hair removal consultation.
Lori Haney, RN, MEP-C
Certified Medical Laser Safety Officer