Read This Before You Get Laser Hair Removal

If you’re considering zapping off your body hair, you’re probably wondering about laser hair removal pros and cons. Actually, let’s back up first—if bod-hair removal is your thing (it’s totally OK to grow it out, by the way), there are plenty of temporary options at your disposal. You’ve got the classic quick (and short-lived) shave, depilatory creams (that typically smell like wet dog mixed with gasoline, if we’re being honest), and slightly more long-term hair removal methods like waxing (no pain-free picnic) and its less ouch-inducing sister sugaring, both of which leave you with smooth skin for a number of weeks.

On the flip side, there’s electrolysis, which produces even longer-lasting results than laser treatments. Electrolysis uses a super-fine needle to kill each individual hair follicle via an electric current. If you’re thinking that sounds painful and time-consuming, you’d be right.

And that brings us to laser hair removal, a popular semi-permanent option that damages hair follicles to minimize hair growth. While its zaps (often described as feeling similar to a rubber band snapping against your skin) aren’t exactly comfortable, the treatment is effective for many people. Here’s how it works: The laser focuses on the melanin (pigment) in hair follicles, burning the hair all the way down to the root, causing damage that discourages future hair growth. Keep in mind that because laser hair removal targets melanin, certain types of lasers may not be compatible with certain skin tones and hair colors (more on that soon).

Not sure if the procedure is right for you? We’re here to answer all of your, um, burning questions about laser hair removal pros and cons—from concerns about your skin tone or the safety of bikini laser hair removal, to how to use at-home laser hair removal devices (which are definitely having a moment right now). Before you sign up for your first session (which will be one of many) or add a DIY device to your cart, let’s break down the pros and cons of laser hair removal treatment.

First of all, is laser hair removal safe for all skin tones?

It can be, but no matter your skin tone, it’s crucial to vet your laser hair removal provider (see some specifics on which boxes to tick below) to avoid unwanted side effects, Geeta Yadav, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Toronto, Canada, tells SELF. If you have melanin-rich skin, you’ll have to ask more questions about the type of laser that’s being used during the treatment. (Laser hair removal typically caters to people with dark hair and fair skin, as the stark contrast between the skin pigment and hair is what the laser can more easily recognize and target.) “For example, some providers use IPL (intense pulsed light) technology for hair removal, which targets melanin to destroy the hair follicle after repeated treatments; these devices can cause hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation in deep skin tones,” explains Dr. Yadav. (Hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation are darker spots and lighter spots on the skin, respectively.)