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Laser Hair Removal for Hidradenitis Suppurativa: What To Know

Posted on December 06, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Imee Williams

Some people with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), a chronic inflammatory skin condition, may choose to pursue laser hair removal as a secondary treatment to avoid shaving and exacerbating their skin condition or to improve HS lesions. Many clinical studies indicate that laser- and light-based therapies are also effective in relieving symptoms in mild and moderate HS (i.e., Hurley stage 1 and Hurley stage 2).

These therapies might help some people go into remission. However, it is important to note that laser hair removal does not cure or prevent HS. This article provides evidence behind this treatment option and the health care benefits and risks associated with laser hair removal.

What Is Laser Hair Removal?

Laser hair removal, or laser hair reduction, is a safe and effective treatment option to remove unwanted hair, improve skin lesions, and increase the production of collagen. There are different types of laser and light therapies used depending on a person’s skin tone and hair thickness. Laser hair removal can be used on most areas of the skin except on the eyelids, eyebrows, or surrounding areas.

Laser hair removal has been safely and effectively used to treat HS symptoms in the underarms, neck, and groin. This may help HS as the laser directly targets the hair follicle, which plays a big part in the development of HS lesions.

Pros and Cons

The use of lasers for hair removal is not suitable for people with severe HS (i.e., Hurley stage 3) or individuals with blonde or gray hair. It is most effective for people with a lighter skin tone and dark hair because the laser targets melanin. However, there are options for people with darker skin tones.

Laser hair removal is also not a permanent treatment, and follow-up sessions are needed to maintain results. The number of treatments varies per person, and the outcome of laser hair removal depends on the color and thickness of hair. Hair will grow back between several months to a few years. When the hair grows back, it appears thinner, lighter in color, and there tends to be less of it — making it more of a laser hair reduction rather than removal. Laser hair removal or reduction treatment does not cause severe side effects and is less painful compared to surgery.

If you are considering laser hair removal, the American Academy of Dermatology Association highly advises consulting with a board-certified dermatologist who has experience with laser treatments on people with HS. Avoid using at-home laser hair removal treatments. At-home laser treatments are extremely harmful and may cause burns, scars, permanent skin damage, and worsen your HS symptoms.

Types of Lasers for Treating HS

The type of laser used depends on the severity and stage of your HS and your skin tone. The main types of laser for treatment of HS include:

  • Carbon dioxide laser — Studies have found this laser can produce long-term remissions in people with Hurley stage 1 and Hurley stage 2.
  • Long-pulse Nd:YAG laser — This approach penetrates skin more deeply and is most effective on darker skin tones, thicker hair, and Hurley stage 1 and Hurley stage 2.
  • Intense pulsed light — This treatment uses light pulses of varying wavelengths to damage hair follicles. It’s effective on darker skin tones and those with Hurley stage 1 and Hurley stage 2.
  • Alexandrite laser — This type of treatment is effective on lighter skin tones and people with Hurley stage 1 and Hurley stage 2.
  • Diode laser — This approach is effective on lighter skin tones and individuals with Hurley stage 1 and Hurley stage 2.

“I have had three sessions of laser diode treatment in my underarms. Just after two sessions, my hair nearly disappeared. Let’s see how they will be working for my HS,” wrote one MyHSteam member.

Benefits of Laser Hair Removal for HS

Hair grows from a root in the bottom of hair follicles. When an intense beam of light targets the hair follicle root, it will create heat and damage the hair follicles, stopping hair growth. A clogged hair follicle and the inflammation of the follicle are key elements to the development of HS. Researchers have found that laser hair removal treatments for HS have both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. They have the potential to reduce the frequency of painful HS flare-ups by:

  • Decreasing the number of hair follicles
  • Decreasing the bacteria load
  • Decreasing sebum production (secreted by sebaceous glands)

Risks of Laser Hair Removal for HS

Risks of side effects vary with an individual’s skin type, hair color, and treatment plan. It is important to follow your dermatologist’s instructions for both pre-and post-treatment care. This will greatly reduce your risk of side effects.

In general, side effects are mild and last between one to three days. “I had laser hair removal in both of my armpits. Most of my hair follicles were removed. The healing process was quite painful,” shared one MyHSteam member. “Make sure your dermatologist is experienced with HS.”

The most common side effects of laser hair removal include:

  • Discomfort
  • Redness
  • Swelling

Applying ice on the affected area can help minimize discomfort or pain. Your doctor may also prescribe a steroid cream to reduce inflammation. Other side effects have been reported such as blistering, crusting, scarring, infections, cold sores, and skin pigment changes. However, these side effects are rare and likely occur if an individual had sun exposure before or after their treatments. Speak with your dermatologist if your symptoms worsen and last longer than three days.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association suggests the following post-treatment tips:

  • Avoid direct sunlight on the affected area
  • Do not use tanning beds for six weeks after treatment
  • Apply sunscreen (with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 30) daily on the affected area
  • Do not use a chemical peel on the affected area
  • Avoid waxing or shaving the affected area

Costs for Laser Hair Removal Treatment

Typically, people will need two to six sessions to remove hair completely, and follow-up appointments are required for maintenance. The interval between treatments will vary depending on the location of HS.

Laser hair removal is considered a cosmetic procedure, so insurance will not cover the cost. Costs range from $350 to $900 per session, depending on the area of the body and the type of laser treatment used. The Nd:YAG laser is typically more expensive, but it requires fewer sessions. More research is being done to establish if this treatment is cost-effective considering the costs and duration of treatment of other HS treatments.

Key Takeaways

Laser hair removal can be a beneficial add-on in both treating and preventing the recurrence of HS lesions when used in the early stages of the disease. However, it is not suitable for every person with HS. It is not recommended for people with Hurley stage 3 because laser hair removal tends to be more painful and the lasers cannot penetrate scar tissue.

Speak to your doctor if laser hair removal treatment may be a helpful option for your HS. Look for a dermatologist with expertise in laser treatments who has multiple lasers so treatment can be tailored to your skin tone.

Talk With Others Who Understand

You don’t have to feel isolated or alone. On myHSteam, the social network for people with hidradenitis suppurativa, more than 23,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with hidradenitis suppurativa.

Have you tried laser hair removal? What was your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by posting on myHSteam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
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.
Imee Williams is a freelance writer and Fulbright scholar, with a B.S. in neuroscience from Washington State University. Learn more about her here.

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