About 20 million American women remove facial hair at least once a week, according to research conducted in the late 90s by pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb. Fortunately, there are several options to remove unwanted hair — ranging from hair removal creams to waxing. From one hairy woman to another, you know removal creams range from stinky wastes of time to smelly semi-useful products. Shaving takes time every day and can cause razor bumps and ingrown hairs. And waxing, tweezing, or threading is cruel and unusual punishment.

So what can a hairy gal do to get that silky smooth hairless skin? One viable option might be laser hair removal.

Laser hair removal (LHR) is a medical procedure that uses a pulsating beam of light to remove unwanted hair. The laser goes through the skin to the hair follicle to stunt future growth.

“The goal of laser hair removal is to target the melanin in the hair follicle, which is the pigment in the hair follicle,” says Sailesh Konda, MD, a dermatologist and assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine. “The energy in the laser builds up to coagulate hair follicles so they are unable to produce new hair.”

So it sounds simple. You find someone to zap your hair at the root and no more hair, right? Well, Dr. Konda says there are several factors to take into account in considering LHR, including when you should start.

“Hair grows in different phases. The growing phase — anagen — is the time that we want to effectively target,” he says.

Hair growth occurs in a three-phase cycle — anagen (growth), telogen (dormant), and catagen (death). When hair is in the telogen phase, the laser cannot identify the hair. Unfortunately, hair growth doesn’t occur all at once. That’s why Dr. Konda says it’s important to space out treatment to every four to six weeks.

But it’s important to note, while seeing a doctor who specializes in hair removal might be ideal, it’s also going to cost you. LHR is not covered by health insurance, so you’ll be paying out of pocket. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (yes, they perform LHR too), the average cost of laser hair removal was $289 per session.

…Many laser hair removal businesses strictly use aestheticians. Dr. Konda says the aestheticians are competent to perform the procedure.

Those planning to start laser hair removal should not wax, pluck or thread hair within three weeks of the treatment. This is because waxing or plucking removes the entire hair shaft, not just the surface hair. Patients should shave the area the night before or morning of the procedure so the laser can more effectively target the hairs.