The other week, I got a call that my third laser hair removal appointment was canceled. No surprise there; I hadn’t planned on going anyway due to the pandemic. I’m immunocompromised, so my hairy upper lip isn’t exactly a priority these days, meaning it’ll be a few more months before I get zapped again. However, I’m only halfway through my treatment series: the recommended amount of appointments for my skin tone and laser is at least six — if not more. So, what’s the deal? Could I wax in this window of downtime, or would I be sabotaging the work of the laser? Would I be OK waiting several months before resuming my treatments?
I’m not alone in this dilemma. There’s a huge list of treatments, from PRP for hair loss to lasers that treat hyperpigmentation, that require multiple sessions to see the best results. If, for some reason, you can’t stick to the recommended timeline for your respective treatment, what should (or can) you do to ensure that you do eventually see results? Aesthetics treatments aren’t cheap by any means, and potentially having to repeat a session can be prohibitively pricey. To determine which treatments’ results — if any — won’t be messed up by a few months’ break, we consulted with the experts, who broke it down for us.
Will my aesthetics treatment series be ruined by taking a big break in between appointments?
In general, going a few months in between treatments should not make or break your results — and that applies to the majority of aesthetics treatments, including laser hair removal, microneedling, IPL to target hyperpigmentation, and more. “The way we schedule things for patients is mostly just because of convenience, safety, and downtime,” says Kate Zibilich Holcomb, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New Orleans, Louisiana. Basically, the recommended interval between treatment sessions exists for two reasons: giving your body (and the treatment) time to deliver results, and making sure any wounds have fully healed.
More specifically, when it comes to lasers for hair removal, interrupting the series doesn’t typically make a difference. That six to eight week pause in between sessions is designed around the hair’s anagen, or active growth, phase. By giving hair a chance to grow back in this window, you’re setting yourself up for success: “The treatment is much more effective if it’s done during this phase of hair growth,” notes Sue Ellen Cox, MD, a board-certified dermatologic surgeon in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. That’s because if you zap your hair while it’s growing — rather than dormant or shedding — you have a much better chance of reducing future growth.
That said, this isn’t something to stress about too much: “In true clinical practice, if a patient has had at least two treatments and then they waited even a year, they still usually have less hair than what they had when they started,” says Dr. Holcomb. Regardless of when you book your treatment, the laser is still designed to destroy the follicle and hinder future growth.
For one treatment in particular, waiting a long time between sessions is actually a good thing. “Often, the longer you wait with tattoo removals, the better the patient does,” says Dr. Holcomb. “There seems to be this reparative mechanism where the body goes and cleans up these little bits of pigment that we went after.” So, you could have a tattoo removal treatment done and find that it’s even more faded (and therefore easier to treat) after several months. As it is, Dr. Holcomb doesn’t recommend doing another session any sooner than two months afterwards.
OK, but are there treatments that won’t end in great results if I do take a break?
For some treatments, extending the time between sessions will deliver ho-hum results. We’re not saying you’ll see nothing, or you’ll be disappointed — but rather, the results may not be as good as what you would have seen with treatments done closer together. These tend to be laser resurfacing and collagen-stimulating treatments — procedures with little downtime, but cumulative results. “When resurfacing the skin with lasers that take little or no time to heal, such as the Clear + Brilliant® laser, repetitive treatments done two [to four] weeks apart are more beneficial,” says Dr. Cox. “Stacking the treatments allows for a gradual building of collagen and elastic fibers, which is additive.” The improvements in tone and texture may be more noticeable if the treatments adhere to this timeline — but again, you’ll still see results even if you pack extra time in between sessions.
In the case of PRP for hair loss, though, the lines are a little more blurry; of all the aesthetics treatments out there, this is the only one with results that could be negatively impacted by a huge break (but your mileage may vary). Still, you’re not totally out of luck. “If you had a treatment and then you weren't able to come in for three months, it's probably not going to revert completely,” says Dr. Holcomb. “It's just probably not going to help hasten the outcome.”
It’s important to note that when you get a PRP treatment for hair loss, it requires continual maintenance anyway (since hair loss doesn’t just go away). “No one should be getting PRP and assuming they're going to be able to stop it at some point,” she adds. Of course, there’s nothing you can do about it in circumstances like this, with most dermatology offices temporarily closing their doors.
So what should I be doing right now to preserve my results?
One thing you can control when it comes to skin treatments, no matter what, is to apply ample sunscreen. Think of it as protecting your investment. If someone were in the middle of a series of treatments for sun spots, and then spent every afternoon outside for the next few months, “they might not see the full results if they're not being mindful about protecting [their skin],” Dr. Holcomb explains. “It happens in the summer with laser hair removal. With each treatment, you're supposed to increase the energy.” But if you don’t wear sun protection and end up getting a tan, it throws off the timing, since the settings can’t be as aggressive when skin is tan.
The bottom line? “Even if you had a single treatment from a series, it is not a waste,” insists Dr. Cox. “You’ll still experience some effects.” Worst case scenario, you may need to tack on an extra session, but talk to your doctor to get specifics about any questions. However, rest easy knowing that of all the things you can worry about right now, this doesn’t have to be one of them.
Discover more at-home skincare content:
- Microneedling, LED Light Therapy & More Professional Treatments You Can Try at Home
- 10 Models, Executives, and Influencers on How They Practice Self-Care at Home
- Here’s How to Adjust Your Skincare Routine When Social Distancing
Dr. Sue Ellen Cox is a paid Allergan® consultant.