Here's the dirt. The good, the bad and the painful of cosmetic procedures.
Debra D. Bass, 37
There are many ways to remove hair from inconvenient areas, and I have tried everything I can think of at one time or another - waxing, cream depilatories, electrolysis, shaving and threading.
I finally opted for an expensive laser hair removal regime because I vaguely remember hearing good things about the procedure, but I find it odd that I can't remember from whom. I did some research online, and I knew it wasn't a miracle cure, but because I had exhausted every other option and still wasn't satisfied I figured, "Why not?"
However, I wanted to err on the side of caution. Because I'm black with a cocoa complexion, I didn't want to experiment with any visible regions of the body.
I decided on my underarms because it's just such an annoying area for hair growth, and I don't do that Julia Roberts no-shave thing. It's exponentially more annoying because there's always a hair shadow under my arms after I shave because the pigment of my hair is so much darker than the light tan skin of my underarms.
I signed up for a regime of five laser treatments. It was a promotion of buy three, get two free. But in the end, I received six treatments, because it wasn't nearly as effective as I'd hoped, and the technician decided to switch lasers for the final treatment.
Because of my complexion, my practitioner at Face and Body Day Spa in Brentwood, Mo., recommended a diode laser to begin with because it has been FDA-approved for all complexions. The technical explanation is complicated, but this laser has a better chance of distinguishing flesh from hair in darker skin.
When that wasn't satisfactory, we switched to an intense pulsed light (IPL) laser, which has a slower pulse that can target darker hair even if the skin has pigment, but it's typically for lighter complexions with dark hair.
What it was like - The diode laser was quick and painful. It took less than five minutes per underarm. She started by shaving the region and then applied a lubricant to help cool the skin and allow the tip of the laser to glide smoothly. She applied the roughly quarter-inch square laser tip to small regions and pressed a trigger. It felt exactly like you'd imagine the initial burst of sticking your fingernail in an electrical socket. It took about 10 to 15 zaps per underarm. The IPL laser was much less painful, but not painless. It was a sharp sting like a bee, instead of an electric jolt. And it seemed to produce the same results.
Results - I still shave my underarms at the same frequency that I did before my treatments, which ran from September 2006 to August 2007, but it seems like there's less hair there. There are three things you should know: 1. Pain is fleeting. The laser was the kind of pain I remember abstractly, but it doesn't give me nightmares. I also bought a topical lotion that numbed the laser minutely. 2. Lasers only work on hair in the active growth phase, so that means roughly a third or so of your visible hairs at a time. It's generally recommended to have three to six treatments. Treatments can be spaced out from four to eight weeks or more depending on the area, so if you pay up front make sure it's an operation that will be around in a year or so. 3. Nothing is 100 percent permanent according to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. But lasers are said to have the most long-lasting results and in select cases people boast of being hairless in treated areas. However, I asked seven women who tried laser hair removal, including three who sit within shouting distance of my desk, and all seven said that it didn't have satisfying results.
Cost - About $120 to $250 a treatment depending on the area targeted. Package deals of four to six treatments usually offer a better price that can lower costs from $85 to $125 a treatment.
Would I do it again? - Yes. I can't tell if I'm a masochist or an optimist, but if I discovered a newer generation of laser with better results for my complexion, I'd do it. And apparently, I'm not alone, the ASAPS reports that laser hair removal is the second most popular nonsurgical cosmetic procedure responsible for 1.28 million appointments in 2008.