Risks in hair removal pain management

Whether cheap and easy methods or more powerful topical anesthetics, there are certain minor risks associated with hair removal pain management. The most common problem with pain management is that it turns off the body’s ability to tell if you are being overtreated during a hair removal procedure. Topical products have additional risks which are outlined in their package inserts.

However, several methods of dealing with hair removal pain have far more serious risks, up to and including death.

Should be avoided:

Topical anesthetics used on large areas

Not recommended:

Prescription painkillers (potentially dangerous)
Injectable anesthetics (potentially dangerous)
Combinations of medications (very dangerous)

Deadly combinations

Perhaps the most dangerous thing to do is combine drugs, especially if you have not used them individually before. Prescription drugs should never be combined with alcohol or other prescription and over-the-counter medications. The results can be lethal.

On 19 February 2000, 20-year old Jonathan Briese of Virginia died from an allergic reaction to pain relief medications during a laser hair removal procedure. Dr. James J. Donohue IV reports he had given Mr. Briese the following:

Xanax, (a brand of the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam)
Lortab, (a brand of the pain reliever hydrocodone)
a topical anesthetic cream applied to the back

In response to this tragic event, I have compiled a list of pain reduction methods you should avoid, especially in combination.

Should be avoided

Alcohol: should be avoided


impairs ability to gauge overtreatment
thins blood
impairs driving
dangerous in combination with pain medications

Although some consumers have written suggesting this, others find alcohol actually makes it worse. Like aspirin, alcohol thins the blood, and it can increase the amount and duration of bleeding/bruising, so if you have other options, you should rely on those.

I do not recommend the use of alcohol for hair removal pain management. If you do decide to use alcohol, don’t drink and drive to your appointment, or combine alcohol with pain relievers or tranquilizers.

Topicals over large areas: should be avoided


impairs ability to gauge overtreatment
dangerous in combination with pain medications
can cause severe allergic reaction
use on a large area can reach toxic levels of drug absorption

Topical preparations are generally a very good option to reduce hair removal pain, but it’s important to be careful when using them on large areas like the back or legs. Do a test with the product on a small area, then wait a few days before undergoing a procedure using a large dose. If you have a noticeable skin reaction to the test dose (itching, blistering, skin color change lasting more than a few hours), you should not use the topical over a large area.

Not recommended

Prescription pain medications and tranquilizers: not recommended


impairs ability to gauge overtreatment
potentially addictive
impairs driving
dangerous in combination with pain medications

Although some people are able to get prescriptions for hair removal pain management, this is probably excessive. Some readers have written to me about using prescription drugs such as Vicodin, Lortab, Percocet, Percodan, Lorcet, Ultram, or Paracetamol or generic equivalents such as codeine, dihydrocodeine, dextropropoxyphene, etc. Some have used a prescription tranquilizer like Valium or Xanax. This is probably excessive and potentially dangerous.

First off, a prescription drug may interfere with your ability to drive. If you are driving a car to and from hair removal, prescription medications should be avoided.

Most importantly, prescription drugs can be habit-forming. As Amy points out in a letter, “Opiates are highly addictive and should be used only for the express purpose for which they were prescribed.”

S___ writes that she was having difficulty bearing electrolysis: “I finally asked my doctor for a prescription for the pain. He wrote me a prescription for Vicodin ES. I began taking them regularly for electrolysis. Then for back pain. Then for neck pain. Then to get a buzz… I knew that hydrocodone, or Vicodin, was habit forming, but in my ignorance I thought that I could deal with it. I couldn’t. What made matters worse was the fact that I was completely ignorant of the side effects associated with opiates, especially coming off of them. I found myself in the most profound depressions after each electrolysis session.” Her addiction spiraled downward into a suicidal depression. Fortunately, S___ stopped short of the overdose she had laid out for herself, and was able to get help to overcome her addiction. Don’t put yourself in danger of addiction just to deal with hair removal pain.

I do not recommend using prescription pain medications for hair removal. Try a topical anesthetic– it should be plenty.

Novocaine/lidocaine injections: not recommended


impairs ability to gauge overtreatment
dangerous in combination with pain medications
dangerous unless performed under direct medical supervision
extremely dangerous when administered by unqualified personnel
extremely dangerous when self-administered

While very effective (to the point of overkill), this method is difficult to find. Some people have worked out a deal with a dentist or doctor to get shots of anesthesia before their electrolysis or laser appointments. However, the American Dental Association sent a letter to all dentists in 1999 stating they did not recommend this procedure. In some states where electrolysis and laser is regulated, this is illegal.

In 2000, a method that was advertised by Allied Health Association was packaging a J-Tip compressed gas injection system with prescription anesthetics. This was being marketed to unqualified personnel and should be avoided unless used by qualified professionals.

Some consumers have written to me about self-injecting anesthesia prior to hair removal. Self-injection of anesthetics is extremely dangerous and can be fatal if the anesthetic is injected directly into the bloodstream. I do not recommend using injectable anesthetics for hair removal unless done in consultation with a medical professional.

If you still decide to use one of these methods

If, despite these warnings, you plan to use alcohol, injectable anesthetics, prescription drugs, topicals over a large area like the back or legs, or a combination of medications:

Do not combine drugs.

 Do not drive to or from a hair removal procedure under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

 Ensure the practitioner is qualified to administer drugs and knows how to handle an adverse response.

Ensure that the facility has proper resuscitation equipment and an emergency response plan.

If you have a reaction to a pain reduction method

If you begin to feel nausea, excessive itching or rash, heart rate increase, slowed breathing, or lightheadedness, you may be having an allergic reaction. The physician on duty should be notified immediately and emergency response should be undertaken. In the event of vomiting, loss of consciousness, or stoppage of heart or breathing, 911 should be called immediately.

Pages in this section:

What’s it feel like?

 Risks in hair removal pain management

Factors that affect pain

Over 30 pain reduction tips

EMLA application tips

Other topical anesthetics