Laser hair removal: my personal experience in Korea

THE PROBLEM

Annoying, unwanted hair. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used razors, sugaring, pumice stones, and tweezers to remove body hair. Ancient Greeks even burned off their public hair. Renaissance paintings depict women with no public hair at all, and today, we are inundated with spas and clinics that offer all kinds of hair removal methods.

I graduated from an Esthetician academy back in 2006, equipped with the latest knowledge back then about getting rid of unwanted hair. I learned at my academy that laser treatments could be painful. For example, if the laser didn’t have a definitive target because the patient’s skin was too dark, the laser could burn the skin, rather than target the hair root. A colleague of mine at the time was undergoing laser hair removal treatments, and one day, she came to class and showed a few of us girls her bikini area and how burnt her skin was from her latest treatment. This experience highlighted for me both how tricky it can be to find the right hair removal method, and also the lengths to which women go to to get rid of unwanted hair.

I became interested in electrolysis treatments, but I learned that these treatments were also complicated because the process itself requires a skilled technician who really knows what they’re doing.  Electrolysis works by targeting individual hair follicles at exactly the right angle in order to successfully shock the hair root, preventing the hair growing through again. The challenge was to find a experienced electrolysis technician with happy client reviews. At the time that I was interested in this treatment, hardly anyone, it seemed, used this hair removal method, so I had trouble finding a recommendation for a technician in my local area.

Most recently, I moved to Korea. Korea has a reputation for being the number one country in the world for providing plastic surgery. Many of these plastic surgery clinics offer laser hair removal and other minor treatments, including botox, fillers and so on. Since my esthetician days, laser hair removal has advanced considerably, for example, the manor of applying the laser to the skin area no longer requires that the hand-piece of the laser machine touches the client’s skin surface. But, it seems that still today it is much easier to find an appropriate treatment if you are the “ideal” client. That is, that your skin is fair, and your hair is dark. The laser can target your hair follicle easier when the hair pigment really stands out from the pigment of the skin.

RESEARCH, AND HOW I FOUND MY CLINIC

In late 2016, I came across a dialogue thread in a Facebook group dedicated to expat women in Korea who share tips and experiences. Contributors  recommended particular clinics which offered laser hair removal services, and one comment caught my eye. A friend had posted that she attended a clinic called You&I Skin Design Lab, (henceforth referred to as You&I) located near Seollung station (Bundang line), and that she was pleased with the results of her treatments. The location was convenient for me to get to, so after privately messaging my friend for further details, I decided to pop over to the clinic to scope it out.

card info

MY FIRST TRIP TO THE CLINIC

The reception area at You&I seemed orderly and professional, and there were numerous receptionists at the front desk. One of them spoke some English, so I inquired about the type of laser the clinic technicians use for their treatments. I also asked about treatment prices. I then returned home and researched their laser machine to find out if this type of laser would suit my skin and hair type. Fair skinned with largely dark hair, I happen to be the ideal candidate for many laser types. You&I use Apogee+, which apparently received a Choice Awards prize back in 2005 for the number #1, hair removal system. On further research, I learned that Apogee+ is a type of Alexandrite laser system, which works best on fair skin and dark hair. Thus far, everything I was learning pointed to an effective treatment.

 

Epogee
The Epogee+ Alexandrite laser machine, used at You&I – image taken from the You&I client pamphlet

I asked my Korean friend Sue to phone the clinic and book me my first appointment. They asked her for my name, contact details, and a list of treatments which I intended to have on my first appointment. They explained that I could pay for the treatments when I arrived. They also asked that I arrive a little early, and that I shave the treatment areas the day before (or just prior to) the treatment. Apparently, not all laser clinics ask for payment upfront. I wonder if payment upfront is a standard Korean practice for these kinds of treatments.

 

A LITTLE BACKGROUND TO HOW HAIR WORKS

I began my treatments in December, because I had heard that winter is a great time to get laser treatments done. You cannot tweeze between treatments, and most definitely cannot wax. This is because tweezing and waxing remove hair from the root. The laser needs to catch the hair in the early anagen stage. The anagen stage is the hair within the hair shaft (pore) that sees active growth and is nourished by blood supply. Since the laser targets the hair down to the follicle, if you remove the active anagen hair from the root, there’s no point getting your laser treatment done because there’s no root available to target.

 

hair follicle image
Image showing how Epogee+ disrupts the blood supply to the anagen hair, creating a dormant hair follicle – image taken from You&I client pamphlet

 

The only method of hair removal allowed between laser treatments is shaving, because shaving does not remove the root from the hair follicle. However, shaving must be kept to a minimum between treatments, because shaving stimulates more hair growth and thus exacerbates the laser treatments.

The clinic encourages clients to book at least five sessions and stager these sessions. After staggering my first four treatments a month apart as the clinic suggested, I later learned, after consulting with laser expert, Alia Hawthorne, that treatments should be eight weeks apart, as treatments a month apart do not provide adequate opportunity to catch the hair in the early anagen stage.

Each hair follicle (or pore), may have up to three hairs that grow from the same root. So, while one hair may be poking through the surface of your skin (the visible hair), another may be halfway up, within the hair shaft, and the newest anagen hair may be within the hair root itself. The third (telogen) phase may mean that the hair folicle is dormant for up to three months, and this is precisely when laser to that follicle won’t be effective. The aim of laser treatments is to eventually catch the three hairs at the optimal point (the anagen stage) when they can actually be targeted by the laser.

MY FIRST TREATMENT

When I first entered, reception staff at You&I asked me to pay for my treatments before receiving my first treatment. They confirmed what Sue had initially booked for me over the phone: bikini, upper and lower legs, and underarms. I agreed to pay for five treatments of each service in advance (around 790,000 won).

After paying, I was whisked into a doctor’s office, and she asked whether I had had any laser hair removal treatments prior. She explained that usually, five treatments are sufficient for under arm and bikini areas, however legs usually require follow up treatments. She also explained that laser treatments never remove hair one-hundred percent. She emphasized having realistic expectations of the treatment outcomes, and then checked with me that I had shaved the treatment areas very recently. Thereafter, she decided I was ready to receive my first treatment.

I was shown into a small, private changing room, asked to remove all clothing and wear the clean gown provided. I placed my clothing and belongings into a secure locker with a pin code. When I emerged, I was shown to a treatment bed close by, and before being asked to lie down by an assistant technician, I caught a glimpse of the epogee+ laser machine.

It hummed and sounded like it was gearing up. Soon, the assistant returned, put ice packs on my soon-to-be-lasered bits, and left. Initially, I was surprised at being expected to endure ice packs on my skin, but interestingly, my body soon adapted and I no longer felt uncomfortable. Presumably, this was to numb the pain.

After waiting about ten minutes, the doctor and assistant appeared, and after very quick introductions, googles were placed over my eyes and treatment began immediately. The doctor held the laser hand piece a few inches above my skin and began to move it back and forth, a little like the motions of a vacuum cleaner.

Sometimes, I could feel the laser penetrating my pores and these produced tiny pin-prick sized shocks of pain, similar to being waxed, where the root is pulled from the hair follicle, however the laser sensations were no-where near as painful as the pain of being waxed. The pores that were receiving these pin-prick sensations were indeed the pores that were successfully targeted in this particular session. If you don’t feel any pain, that is because the laser is not working.

The hand piece should apparently be held at a ninety degree angle in order to successfully target the hair follicles. The experience lasted about 20 minutes, which I was very surprised about. I wondered how a technician could adequately target my hair follicles in an optimal manner in such a quick sweep. I later learned that Alia spends about two hours performing the same treatment to maximise results.

Over the following two sessions, I added a couple more treatments to my package, including belly and feet, with the result that I probably paid around 1m won for five treatments. Thus, each session totalled about 200,000 won, or $200 US.

TREATMENT PRICES

  • Upper and lower leg: 484,000 won
  • Bikini: 264,000 won
  • Underarm (on promotion): 42,900 won
  • Belly: 88,000 won
  • Feet: (I cannot recall)

DR. OH

On my third treatment visit, I asked reception staff about botox treatments, and they explained that they had three different options. I asked what were the differences between them, and the receptionist explained that she’d book me in to have a consultation with Dr. Oh who would answer all my questions.

About fifteen minutes later, I was shown in to Dr. Oh’s office, and she asked me how my treatments were thus far. I explained that I came from an esthetics background, and that I felt that because I had blocked several treatments together (underarms, legs, and so on), that my treatments were being rushed and that some individual areas were not receiving the attention that they should. I knew this because I could feel nothing, no hair follicle pain, for large sections of the treatment. Every time I could feel prickling pain, I knew the laser was successfully targeting that hair root.

I pointed out that when I used to wax clients, I would have them turn on their side to ensure that I waxed the sides of the legs accurately. Thus far, I noticed a difference in the results between the easily targetable front and backs of my legs, while the sides were somewhat neglected and I could see a difference in hair return. I added that I had asked the laser technician on my previous visit, to go back over areas I felt she had missed or scanned too quickly which produced no pain.

Dr. Oh thanked me for my observation, and drawing these details to her attention. She explained that she would personally oversee my treatment that day, and make sure I was satisfied with the laser application. I thanked her, and then we began discussing what the clinic offered in terms of Botox treatments.

Later, Dr. Oh did indeed perform my laser treatment. Irrespective of whether I decided to purchase a Botox service, she made me feel like a valued client. I wanted to leave a review, praising her for how attentive she was, however, because I don’t speak Korean, the website was difficult to navigate, and I couldn’t locate a customer review section.

MY OVERALL IMPRESSION OF YOU&I

Generally, when I wait in reception, I see staff rushing around. It suggests to me that the staff are really busy and I wonder if they are overworked. This could explain why I felt my treatments were rushed, until I pointed it out to Dr. Oh and she began taking care of my treatments. Having said that, I don’t know if things would be less visibly busy if I visited another clinic. Koreans tend to work longer hours than westerners.

On my fourth visit, Dr. Oh once again did my laser treatment. I was pleased to see her and grateful that she was in charge of my treatment. I still have another treatment to go, and I have deferred this appointment to stagger it two months from the previous one. Her diligence in taking care of me has certainly improved my overall impression of the clinic.

MY RESULTS

I’ve had four treatments over the last four months thus far. As my initial discussion with the Dr. predicted, treatment has been most effective on my underarms and bikini. I suspect that this is because all the hair is dark and thus, easier to target. I’d guess that hair in these areas has already been reduced by fifty percent. Unlike these areas, not all the hair on my legs is dark. I’d guess the results so far have reduced hair up to forty percent, and this is possibly due to the lack of consistent dark hair. Also, the area is much larger and it’s easier for the laser technician to miss spots or apply the laser too quickly. I also wonder whether the hand piece is consistently held at the ninety degree angle, in relation to the target to work effectively.

I suspect that after summer passes, I’ll have a much better idea of just how effective these treatments have been in the long term.

WOULD I RECOMMEND LASER HAIR REMOVAL TO ANOTHER PERSON?

If my treatments have been effective long term, this investment will have been a great use of my money. For now, I can travel to India for two weeks without bringing a razor with me. I don’t have to feel self conscious about not having shaved the day prior if I wear a skirt. I can wear skirts every day in summer!  I never have to go through the ridiculous pain of waxing ever again. Let’s hope that these results are long-term, and that with the arrival of my next anagen hair phase, I won’t be disappointed.

You&I Skin Design Lab PROS

Pricing for legs, bikini and underarms was reasonable. The clinic is clean, clients see the laser technician on time, and the Epogee+ laser machine is effective for light skinned, dark haired clients.

You&I Skin Design Lab CONS

Technicians rush your treatments, so you will have to ask the technician to go over areas that they have missed or skimmed too quickly. The technicians oblige and are professional. They want to keep their clients happy with the treatments. I still feel that the sessions are too short, and I have walked away from sessions where I’ve felt little pain, meaning that the laser has not targeted the anagen hairs effectively.

Overall, I look at the five treatments as a whole, and thus far, I’m fairly pleased with how I’ve been treated and the results I’ve received.

 

Finally, a big shoutout to Canadian laser consultant and specialist, Alia Hawthorne, who helped me define accurately the process of hair cycles and how laser works.

Check out Alia’s various clinics located in Canada on the following social media sites:

 

Disclaimer: All the opinions presented here about You&I Skin Design Lab are my own. I received no endorsements to promote them.

 

Keep learning!

July 2017 update: I will be writing a follow-up article shortly to report on my current results, and any further laser hair removal treatments pursued using the Alexandrite Epogee.

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Do you have any observations about laser hair removal treatments? Can you clarify any information I have presented here, or have anything to add about Alexandrite laser machines? Please like, share and comment below!

 

See more articles by travelandtash:

Decrypting K-POP’s SM Town at COEX Samsung, Seoul

Manipulation, heartbreak and recovery: my story

Korean traditional medicine: my first experience

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Laser hair removal: my personal experience in Korea”

  1. Wonderful detailed post about getting this done in Korea. Lol…honestly I’m always surprised how many laser clinics there are here, because so many Koreans are basically hairless. 😉 My hubby had an experience with laser on the back of his neck where the doctor definitely burned skin and didn’t do much else…it’s so important to go someplace where they know what they’re doing, and this clinic sounds pretty good, despite the few cons you mentioned. And the price also sound incredibly reasonable… do you know if it’s possible to request Dr. Oh to do your sessions? That sounds like the ideal solution…

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    1. Yes Shelley, I’ve talked with a few Korean friends, and everyone seems to not need this kind of treatment. It really seems like a western problem! That’s unfortunate about your hubby. It’s definitely best to get laser done when your skin is palest, namely in Winter when you have no tan. I suspect you can actually ask for Dr. Oh when booking the treatments. She was very accommodating, and her English is good too.

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  2. Laser hair removal is super expensive, isn’t it! The prices are about the same as back home. I’m surprised so many people do it through medical tourism. I think it’d be really beneficial. I definitely would rather not have to shave every so often!

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  3. Shaving is such a pain!! I’d definitely be interested in getting laser hair removal when I can afford it – so it was interesting to read about your experience and learn more about how the process works! Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Your post reminded me of a very painful treatment that I received here in Daejeon, while envying my Korean girlfriend’s treatment of her armpit hair. I booked myself for 5 appointments (totaling 50,000 I believe). But I only lasted 2, maybe even 1.5. It hurt so friggin bad that I called it quits and never returned to the clinic again. It was like sticking your arm pit in the open fire – not pleasant by any means!

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  5. The older I get, the less I worry about hair hahaha I’ve often wondered how the laser removal works though just because it’s something I don’t know about and this post is very detailed about it all so for that it’s interesting. Thank goodness you found a good place too.

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