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For Women Only: Best Choices for Hair Removal

Laser/Pulsed Light

How it works: A technician destroys the roots with strong beams of light.  "Laser hair removal really is the most effective way to have long-term hair reduction," says dermatologist Cameron Rokhsar, MD. "It's as permanent as it gets."

Best for: Laser and IPL (intense pulsed light) work anywhere on the body. It's best for women with dark hair and light skin. It won't work on white hair and doesn't work well on blond hair either.

How long it lasts: It may take between 6-12 treatments to see results. You may need to go back every 6-12 months for a touchup.

Possible side effects: Swelling or redness. Because there's also a chance of burning and scarring, it's best to have laser treatments where there's a doctor on staff, Pariser says.  

Electrolysis

How it works: A trained expert places a tiny needle inside each hair follicle to destroy the root with an electric current.

Best for: Because it takes a long time, it's best for small areas like the upper lip or chin. Women with white or blond hair who can't get laser or IPL may see results from electrolysis.

How long it lasts: You'll likely need treatments every 1-2 weeks until the hair is mostly gone.

Possible side effects: Redness, swelling, and scarring

Over-the-counter creams

How it works: Depilatory creams or lotions dissolve proteins that make up hair.

Best for: Legs, underarms, and bikini area. There are special formulas for the face, but they sometimes don't work well on coarse hair.

How long it lasts: A couple of days to a couple of weeks.

Possible side effects: "They work by dissolving the hairs," Pariser says. "But they also can dissolve the skin if left on too long or [if] your skin is too sensitive." To avoid problems, follow directions carefully.

Prescription creams

How it works: Vaniqa is a cream you rub on every day. It doesn't remove hairs, but it slows down how fast they grow and makes them come in finer and softer.

Best for: It's often used together with laser or shaving, Rokhsar says. "It gives you a little more time in between treatments."

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