A barely-there bikini requires serious hair removal
No matter how toned the thighs, or how taut the stomach, nothing can ruin the appeal of a red-hot, skimpy little Brazilian two-piece like an ungroomed bikini line. For those who are sensitive to shaving and depilatory creams, or simply can’t be bothered with standing waxing appointments, laser hair removal seems nothing less than a gift from God: Zap unwanted hair away while enduring relatively little pain, and keep it away for good. Genius. In theory.
But the parameters for exactly who lasers work for are rather narrow: “Laser light is attracted to pigment,” says Bruce Katz, MD, director of the Juva Skin & Laser Center in New York. “If you’re blond or gray, you won’t get as good a response, because you have very little pigment in your hair.”
On the other hand, the melanin in darker skin can absorb too much of the laser’s light, which can result in blistering and possible pigmentary problems. “The more color you have in your skin, the more it burns, and the more chance you have for discoloration,” says Sundae Parascandola, a licensed aesthetician at Juva. “The laser can either take away or add pigment, so you’re left with lighter or darker spots that take six months to a year to fade.”
The worst skin to laser is tan skin. Shyama Patel, a New York-based writer whose skin is already the color of dark chocolate, went under the gun for the first time with a mean Hamptons tan. “I went in September, after I had spent the entire summer in the sun. The laser burned the hell out of my test-patch—I had scabs and blisters for weeks,” she says.
“The pigment in the cells of sun-exposed skin has been activated, so those cells are more prone to pigment problems,” says Fredric Brandt, MD, a dermatologist with practices in Miami and New York, and beautyscene’s own resident expert. Those taking light-sensitive medication, like Accutane, are also more sensitive to laser light, and risk burning.
Now a new generation of lasers, like the Nd: Yag and Alexandrite, has been designed to target the hair follicle more specifically, and comes equipped with cooling tips or cryogen sprays which are safer for dark complexions—but the experts emphasize that there are still risks.
So who does laser hair removal work for?
“The best candidates are those with light skin and dark hair,” says Brandt. But even these lucky few should not expect to walk out of a laser appointment with instantly thong-ready skin. “Hair grows in three growth cycles: growing, resting, and ending. To be effectively treated, hair needs to be in the anagen, or growing stage,” says Brandt. “Resting hair isn’t affected by the lasers, so you have to go back to target hairs that have moved into the anagen phase.”
“Hair removal won’t become permanent unless you complete an entire regimen—at least four treatments followed by touch-ups every eight months,” says Cindy Barshop, owner of Completely Bare, the upscale laser spas in Manhattan and Scarsdale, NY, which count Howard Stern among their now nearly-hairless customers.
As for the promise of permanence, most doctors admit that the term is used rather liberally where lasering is concerned. “Lasers the FDA have termed ‘permanent’ mean permanent hair reduction, not permanent hair loss,” points out Brandt. “After one treatment you should see some permanent degree of change: When hair grows back, there should be less.”
But at close to $150 a pop for the bikini zone, and $1200 for each leg ($600 for half-leg), is “less” hair really worth it? “I went three times and it definitely grew back, but not as much, and not as thick,” says Catherine Hart, a fair-skinned, raven-haired New York magazine editor. “I don’t lead a Beach Blanket Bingo lifestyle, so I don’t have to be supervigilant about it. If I were a bathing suit model or a stripper, I’d keep going until it was completely gone. For now, I wax once a month, and it’s cheap.”
“If you can spend six hundred bucks for the summer, it’s worth it,” says a redheaded, porcelain-skinned laser veteran. “But don’t be fooled—it’s coming back.”