Fairfax member Glen Baird says he finally decided to take action about his back hair, because of urging from his kids. “I didn’t really care,” Baird says, but wanting to appease his family, he opted for laser hair removal and selected Reveal Medspa on Fairfax Corner East Avenue. Baird says he paid $3,000 for six treatments — advertised as painless — designed to destroy hair follicles with heat and reduce regrowth.
Baird says Reveal scrapped its “pain free” laser after four sessions, adding that while it didn’t cause him pain, it didn’t remove hair either. “It was a total waste,” he says. Baird underwent three more treatments at Reveal with a conventional laser — one session thrown in for free for his trouble, he says.
Despite the additional treatments, Baird says he only saw slight results. “I’ve still got a ton of hair on my back,” he says. “Looking back, I think my hair growth is just as much now as it was before I got laser treatment.”
He gave Reveal, which closed in 2012, an F grade. Former Reveal owner Paul Amoruso says the first laser used on Baird “was less predictable,” but notes that results vary in any medical treatment. Three other closed Reveal locations in the area got an overall low grade. But Amoruso says most of the 330,000 treatments done by Reveal went very well, and that every measure was taken to improve Baird’s outcome.
Medalase Aesthetic Centers has since opened in the same location and also provides laser hair removal. The new center is co-owned by Zain Mobed and Reveal’s former medical director, Dr. Shannon Ginnan. Mobed says that while he’s hired other former Reveal employees, Medalase shares no financial ties with Reveal owners and runs business differently; it doesn’t advertise “painless” laser hair removal. “Our practice is doc-owned now. The doctor is more involved with patients,” Mobed says.
Since the FDA first approved the use of lasers for hair removal in the ‘90s, experts say technology has advanced, with a focus on reducing pain and side effects, such as burns, and yielding better results. Despite these improvements, Angie’s List members in the Washington, D.C., area still report mixed results whether selecting laser removal for underarm, bikini line or chest hair. Some lauded razor-barely-needed-now differences while others endured pain without results. Regulation and training for the treatment differ throughout the region, and experts warn big promises or cheaper options may yield poor results.
Theresa Caputy, a registered nurse with 10 years of experience in laser hair removal who owns highly rated Skintelligence in Vienna, says be wary of places that promise to get rid of every hair. “There’s not a machine out there that does that,” she says.
The FDA says no laser manufacturer has permission to advertise “permanent removal” of hair, allowing instead only “permanent reduction” in some cases. “You’ll have some hair grow back, but it will just be less and finer,” Caputy says.
Virginia, where Caputy practices, doesn’t regulate laser hair removal, leaving it to consumers to do their own homework on the training and experience of potential practitioners. That may be an electrologist, a professional trained in using electric current to remove things like moles and individual hairs, who also receives training in laser hair removal; a dermatologist; or someone without medical experience and limited exposure to lasers. By contrast, Maryland only allows physicians, certified nurse practitioners, registered nurses and physician assistants to perform laser hair removal. In the District of Columbia, the Board of Barber and Cosmetology requires 1,200 hours of training to become a licensed master esthetician manager, an experienced skin care professional who can perform laser hair removal. “A consumer should check that the salon is licensed with a Cosmetology Specialist Salon Owner license, and that a Master Esthetician Manager is performing the service,” says Sheldon Brown, the district’s barber and cosmetology board administrator. “Ask about training, years of experience performing the specific service and for client referrals.” Medical providers trained to operate lasers in a clinical setting may also perform laser hair removal in D.C.
For her treatment, Vienna member Tracey Redfern went to highly rated dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, a private practice dedicated exclusively to advanced laser skin treatments.
“To me, there’s no question that when you’re talking about lasers, you want to go to someone in the top of the field,” Redfern says. She was so happy with results from three bikini line laser hair removal treatments, costing $500 each, that she paid $400 for underarm treatments and $750 for laser hair removal on her legs. “When you find the right doctor with the right tools and the right atmosphere and the right results, you want to go back for more,” Redfern says. She experienced no side effects and puts the discomfort she experienced on par with waxing. “Women are used to a certain amount of pain for beauty,” she says. “It’s minimal.” Experts agree that laser hair removal treatments typically cause some discomfort and are skeptical about “painless” claims.
Tanzi says while treatments are becoming safer, she still sees more side effects for laser hair removal than any other laser treatment, including blistering, burning of skin, or discoloration. For safety and effectiveness, she says people should go to a medical doctor, or at least a site with medical supervision.
Rhonda Schueller, director of highly rated Laser Electrolysis Center in Arlington, argues that some physicians trade on their medical degrees to use the treatment as a moneymaker, but lack the experience that non-medical laser operators may have. She trained in electrolysis — a better alternative for those with fair hair — before learning to perform laser hair removal. However, both medical and non-medical providers agree experience is key in finding the best site for laser hair removal. “What I would look for in a center is someone who has a lot of experience,” Schueller says.