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Is Laser Hair Removal Safe on Skin With Psoriasis?

Medically reviewed by Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Sarah Winfrey
Posted on May 23, 2023

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.

What Is Laser Hair Removal?

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.

During a laser hair removal procedure, the practitioner will use a handheld instrument that emits a laser against your skin. A practitioner may apply a numbing cream or cooling gel to reduce discomfort. (Adobe Stock)

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.

What Are the Risks of Laser Hair Removal?

Anyone who chooses laser hair removal faces a few risks, regardless of whether they’re living with psoriasis. These include:

  • Skin irritation or discoloration — Following the procedure, the skin on the treated area may swell, turn red or purple, and feel painful or uncomfortable. This usually lasts one to three days after treatment.
  • Blisters, infections, and scars — These usually result from an unskilled or inexperienced practitioner, as the laser shouldn’t be affecting the skin, only the melanin in the hair follicle. If the blisters burst, you can get an infection in the raw skin, which can lead to scarring.
  • Changes to skin color — The treatment may lighten or darken your affected skin. This often reverses with time, but the changes can also be permanent. Be sure the laser being used is appropriate for your skin color before getting treatment.

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.

Are These Risks Different on Skin With Psoriasis?

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.

Tips To Make Laser Hair Removal Safe for Skin With Psoriasis

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.

Find a Practitioner Experienced With Psoriasis

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:

  • Avoiding exposure to the sun
  • Letting your hair grow for at least four weeks
  • Staying away from tanning cream or anything else that might make your skin dark
  • Stopping certain medications

Find Out the Laser Type

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.

Try a Test Spot

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.

Follow the Practitioners Post-Procedure Instructions

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.

Talk With Others Who Understand

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.

Have you tried laser hair removal while living with psoriasis? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on May 23, 2023
    All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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    Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here
    Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here

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