Laser hair removal can be an effective way to get rid of unwanted hair, either for an extended period of time or permanently. For people with skin conditions like psoriasis, the procedure may seem especially appealing, as it means not having to use shaving products that may irritate their skin or worsen a flare-up. However, laser hair removal also comes with risks for anyone — and more so for people with psoriasis.
Members of MyPsoriasisTeam sometimes talk about laser hair removal. “Has anyone had laser hair removal? I have inquired, and the beautician told me it often helps but I’m a tad wary to try as I also get the psoriasis that forms on damaged skin!” shared one member.
If you are asking this question, it’s important to understand how laser hair removal works and what the risks are so you can decide if it’s an option you want to pursue.
At its most basic, laser hair removal uses a concentrated beam of light to remove unwanted body hair long term — and sometimes, for good. The light gets absorbed by the hair’s melanin, or pigment. The body converts the light energy to heat, which damages the hair follicles, where hair grows. This limits or prevents the growth of hair in that area.
At the start of a session, the practitioner will clean the area they’re going to treat. They also may apply a numbing gel, which can take 30 minutes to an hour to work. During the procedure, everyone present needs to wear protective eyewear.
The laser comes from a handheld instrument the practitioner holds against your skin. Some devices have a cooling device on the tip, or the practitioner may also apply cooling gel, which can reduce the risk of side effects.
You may feel discomfort during the procedure. It may feel like your skin is being pricked by warm pins or snapped by a rubber band.
Most people need between two and six laser treatments to achieve maximum results. Additionally, the procedure rarely stops hair growth entirely or permanently, so more treatments may be necessary later on. The time between treatments varies depending on the area being treated.
Anyone who chooses laser hair removal faces a few risks, regardless of whether they’re living with psoriasis. These include:
Additionally, there may be a very small risk of developing psoriasis after laser hair removal. There are only a few known cases of this occurring, but it’s something to keep in mind, particularly if you have family members who live with the condition.
The risks mentioned above are the same for skin with or without psoriasis. However, some people with psoriasis have an added risk, due to something called the Koebner phenomenon. This occurs when an area of skin that was previously free from psoriasis lesions develops psoriasis after an injury.
For instance, someone with psoriasis may not experience psoriasis on their legs until they scrape them during a fall. If psoriasis develops on the scraped areas after they are damaged, the person is experiencing the Koebner phenomenon.
Some people with psoriasis never experience the Koebner phenomenon, while others face it regularly. “I have Koebner’s, and when I get cut or one of my joints is hurting … Bam! I get psoriasis in that spot every time.”
Another said, “I recently had a cold sore on my upper lip and somehow had a flare-up of psoriasis in that same area. I was very confused as to what was happening, until I read about the Koebner response.”
If you experience the Koebner phenomenon or aren’t sure if you do, be cautious about trying laser hair removal or any other elective procedure to your skin. After all, you don’t want to trigger a psoriasis flare-up or worsen symptoms in locations from which you want to remove hair.
Some people consider getting laser hair removal worth the risk of a Koebner response. This is especially true for individuals who’ve found that they can’t tolerate other hair removal methods, like waxing, shaving, plucking, or using hair removal cream. These methods might worsen psoriasis or cause other problems, like ingrown hairs. The decision is up to you and your dermatologist.
If you have psoriasis and you choose laser hair removal, there are some things you can do to give the treatment the best possible chance of working for you without complications.
If you can, find a dermatologist or certified laser practitioner who has worked with people living with psoriasis. They’ll know how to assess you to make sure you are eligible and how to treat your skin gently so you have a lower risk of experiencing Koebnerization. The practitioner should look over your medical records, talk about any past hair removal experiences you’ve had, and make sure you understand what the process will involve and what it can do for you.
They may also be able to give you more specific preparation and post-laser instructions that worked for skin with psoriasis before. These should include:
Ask what kind of laser the practitioner is using. Some people who live with psoriasis say the laser actually helps their condition. Although there is not yet research to back this up, it may occur because the laser acts as light or laser therapy, similar to what is sometimes prescribed for people with psoriasis.
Once you find out the type of laser, you can ask your doctor if it might be helpful for your skin to be exposed to that light. Different skin tones and hair color may require different lasers, but the lasers used for hair removal usually are different from the UV light used to treat psoriasis.
Before you subject any large area of your body to laser hair removal, it’s a good idea to try it on a small test area first. This will give you the information you need to determine whether it is likely to be safe for you to continue treatment or whether it is going to trigger or worsen psoriasis.
If you do undergo laser hair removal, make sure to follow your practitioner’s aftercare instructions. These will include avoiding sunlight as much as possible and using sunscreen whenever you do go into the sun — even for a brief period of time. Avoid tanning beds, sun lamps, and other tanning equipment, too.
Applying a cool compress may help with any swelling or discoloration in days following the procedure.
Follow any additional instructions your doctor or dermatology provider gives you. They may be specific to your skin, your hair, or the laser process they use. Be sure to contact your doctor about any concerning symptoms after laser hair removal.
MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 117,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
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