Doctors and practitioners are salespeople, too.
They are trying to sell you something that will cost you a lot of money. They have to make payments on a laser costing tens of thousands of dollars. That's a lot of sales they have to make.
Doctors are not perfect.
Doctors can also be fooled by marketing hype-- they are bombarded with advertisements for lasers. Laser sales reps take them to lunch or to a sports event and chat about how great their system is, and how much money they could make. Doctors hear rumors and believe them, too. I know of several good, trustworthy physicians who bought SoftLight machines when they came out, believing they were permanent. Physicians can also be too busy/lazy to read more than an abstract of a clinical study. I am constantly amazed at how trusting some people are of physicians, taking their word as gospel.
Some laser technicians are unqualified and could damage your skin
It's safest to go to a physician, preferably a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. Your procedure is likely to be safer and more effective when done under medical supervision. Unqualified prctitioners have been known to cause serious skin damage on unsuspecting clients.
Can you afford it if you have no long-term results?
Laser doesn't work for everyone. Be willing to write off the time and money you are going to spend. This is vital. Some people are willing to take a chance on unproven technology, and we all benefit from these people. There are a few lucky people who have enough disposable income to try procedures that are still being perfected, even though they may end up with nothing to show for it. If you cannot afford to risk your time, money, or complexion on unproven methods, you need to think seriously about whether laser is right for you.
Calling for information
If you learn about a laser practice from a print advertisement, keep a copy of the ad (put the date and where it ran on the ad). If you hear something on TV or radio, note the date, station and program, along with any claims. If you try to get a refund later, you'll need this information.
Get some information over the phone
Most places will not give much information over the phone, especially prices. This is not because they're evasive, but because they want to see you before discussing treatment options. Take notes. Get the name of anyone you talk to and note the date. You should get the following information over the phone:
- Brand and model of laser used and how long they've used it at their practice
- Number of clients they've treated
- Name and specialty of doctor who supervises treatment
- Also, ask if consultation and test patch are free.
Set up a consultation
Ask who will be consulting with you during your appointment. Insist on consulting directly with the supervising physician.
Set up a test patch
You should make sure the test patch is done by the same person who will be treating you.
- Ask what their medical or technical training is.
- Ask how long they have been using this particular machine, and how many clients they've treated.
- Ask how much hair growth you should have before the test patch is done.
- Also ask if there is anything else you should or should not do to your skin before coming in.
During the consultation
Check out the office
Is it clean and organized? Are the workers clean, too? Is everyone there professional and courteous? If not, you should look elsewhere.
Here's a list of questions to print out and take with you: Consultation form
Get a test patch done
Always ask for a test patch before signing up for treatment. Ask how much a test patch will cost and make a note of it. I would strongly urge you get this done in an area others won't see.
Make them prove their claims
Ask for clinical studies that prove their claims, especially if they tell you it is permanent. They will say you wouldn't understand. They will say it's too technical. They will hand you sales materials and promotional literature. They will hand you a copy of a fashion magazine article. Insist on getting a hard copy of a recently published clinical study about their laser results.
Talk to clients (if possible)
Ask to talk with clients who used the same laser and same practitioner who are done and happy. Clients should be at least 6 and preferably 12 months past their final treatment, unless you are only interested in maintenance treatments. Note: This option is not always available, as many clients of hair removal want to keep their visits private. That's why it's best to get a personal recommendation from a friend or loved one-- most practitioners do not have clients on hand who are willing to speak about their satisfaction, and no reputable practitioner will divulge any information about clients without first getting client permission.
Meet the person who will give you treatment
Try to get a doctor, not a technician. Get all the answers you require from the doctor who will be performing the procedure. If the doctor has a technician perform treatment, insist on finding out the credentials of the person who will be treating you. Ask if they have personally been treated by that particular machine. Ask if they felt any pain, how long did it take for their hair to fall out, did they have any side effects, and how long did it last.
Check on pain relief
If you are concerned about pain or especially sensitive to it, ask them if they have pain relief available if you need it. If they try to tell you it's painless, be very suspicious.
Usually, laser costs are determined by body area. The larger the area, the more the cost. Your costs might be higher if you have thicker unwanted hair. There's usually a base cost for a single treatment of a body area, but they will usually suggest multiple treatments. Usually, these treatment blocks are at a reduced rate per treatment compared to the single treatment price.
Discuss treatment schedule
You should find out:
- How often you'll need to come in
- How long each treatment will take (subsequent treatments may require less time)
- How many treatments in total you will need before you won't need to come in any more.
Ask about office policies
You should also find out:
- Office days and hours
- Policy for missed appointments
Ask about post-treatment
Find out what to expect after you've been treated:
- Ask how long it will take for the hair to fall out (it often takes a few days).
- Ask if you will need to do anything special to your skin after treatment.
- Get a written list of possible side effects and the doctor's assessment of your skin type.
- Ask how long it will be before you can clear any new growth or regrowth.
Get it in writing
In addition to getting answers on your Consultation form, get a written guarantee of any results they promise. If they are willing to promise permanent results in writing, you may be able to get a refund if you aren't satisfied.
Take your time
Don't let them rush you. If you don't get all your questions answered to your complete satisfaction, they don't deserve your trust or your money.
Get more than one consultation
Every laser place is different. If you have more than one option near you, you should check all of them out before committing.
Do not sign up for treatment at the consultation! Wait to see how your skin responds to the test patch, and take home the info you get to do more research.
Read what you sign
Again, don't sign anything on the spot. Take it home and look at it. Carefully read any waivers or disclaimers you are required to sign, and keep a copy for yourself. Most clinics will require clients to sign an "informed consent" form, meaning you know the risks and don't care. Clients should read forms very carefully to ensure that they are not waiving their legal rights in the event of any complications, either short-term or long-term. If in doubt, get legal advice.
Keep written records
If at all possible, pay with check or credit card, not cash. Every time you pay, get a written receipt with your payment that describes the terms of your agreement and number of treatments you will receive. Have them sign and date the receipt. Some clients have been able to get in writing that they will continue to get treated for free if they still have hair after their last session of their agreement. Push for a deal like this, rather than a few treatments and you're on your own.
Understand the contract
Beware of multi-treatment deals, especially ones requiring payment in advance. It makes it difficult for you to stop in the middle if you become dissatisfied with them, and if you aren't satisfied, it's harder to get money back once they have it. Ask them to give you a money-back guarantee in writing. Treatments typically are sold in packages of 2 to 6, over a period of one year. Multiple treatment is a tricky thing-- all hair removal methods require multiple treatments over time. However, it is difficult to discern the difference between regrowth and new growth, and this confusion can be used to fool consumers into coming back for treatment after treatment, until they finally run out of patience or money.
Wait until you've had at least three test patches done, and wait 12-14 days after they've been done to make sure it works, before deciding which method and company you'll choose. If you're still unsure, get more test patches done, even with the same people if necessary.
During full treatment
Make sure they use eye protection, on you and themselves. Lasers can cause serious eye injury.
Give them feedback
Don't be afraid to tell them to stop if it hurts. You might be getting overtreated, which can lead to injury.