Have you ever seen the Musee Platinum advertisements on the subway and wondered if their laser hair removal offers are too good to be true? Over a year ago I mentioned that Raku and I were going to try laser hair removal, and I'm only now getting around to writing up the experience. It was really hard to find any information at all in English, and when I searched on line, so much of what I found was for Singapore, not Japan so I hope this will be helpful to other people.
We made our first appointment at a salon called Vitule that was having some enticing special and had high hopes that were quickly dashed. Although Raku had given them advanced warning when she made our appointments they were deeply flustered when we arrived unable to read Japanese and refused to help us with the paper work. After a few awkward moments we were asked to leave pretty rudely. So, don't go there. We did more online research, and finally decided to try again at Musee Platinum - the most common hair removal salon in Japan - this time taking an extra Japanese friend to help with the reading, even though Raku speaks Japanese. At the time they were having a special for unlimited sessions of underarm treatments for 500 yen. Even if it didn't work, what was there to lose?
The initial appointment is simply to do the paperwork, and from there they will schedule the first treatment for a few days later. We were told the sign-up would take about an hour, which we thought was an overestimation, but with all the translation it actually took a little over two hours! Make sure you've got plenty of time when you schedule an appointment. We were given a little orientation and explanation of different packages we could get for different body parts. They use an IPL (intense pulsed light) method that they estimate takes about four full years to fully remove hair. After one year they say the hair will be much thinner and straighter, and after two less than half of the original hair will remain. They schedule treatments three months apart, so you can expect four treatments a year. We were disappointed to hear that it would take so long, but for so little money we decided to try anyways.
When we signed up they were concerned about my hair color and if the treatments would work on me. IPL works by targeting hair follicles that are a different color than the surrounding skin. I assured them that although I dye my hair blonde the natural color is a medium ash brown, and agreed to take the risk. They allow you to cancel at any point and will refund all of your money minus the cost for the sessions you've already received, which seems very fair.
Once we had selected the treatments we wanted to sign up for we were given tablets and left to do the paperwork on our own. You don't have to speak Japanese yourself for the treatments, but it really is essential to have someone come to help if you won't be able to speak and do the paperwork for the initial appointment.
After the sign up we were excited to come back for our first appointments a few days later. When you arrive they'll take you to a little cubicle where you put your belongings in a cabinet and change into their outfits (a tank top for armpits, or a towel wrap thing for legs or bikini treatments). Once you're all done you lie down on the table and they cover your eyes first with a tissue, then a pair of plastic sunglasses, and finally a towel to protect them from the light. It's funny to lie there unable to see anything, and sometimes I couldn't help giggling, which the technicians found hilarious. First they spread an icy cold gel onto your skin (this is where the giggles usually happened) and then they have a device that looks sort of like the handheld scanner at a checkout line, and they zap you about twelve times in each armpit. It's the weirdest feeling, I had worried it would hurt, but it just felt like tiny (cold!) pricks, and I could still see brightness flashing through my very protected eyelids. Even though I couldn't always tell what they were saying the technicians were very helpful getting me to position my arms in the right way or turn slightly if necessary. Afterwards they scrape off the gel and put icepacks on your skin and let you rest for a few minutes to cool the skin further. All in all it's a very quick procedure. They tell you that showers are fine, but no baths for 24 hours and not to visit an onsen for seven days afterwards.
Between one and two weeks after the procedure your hairs are supposed to fall out, and then regrow slightly thinner. The reason the treatments are scheduled so far apart is to allow all the hairs to grow back in. Well, I'm sad to report that after two treatments none of my hair fell out at all. It seems that my hair is just too light for IPL. Raku on the other hand is having great results. Not every single hair fell out each time, but a lot of them did, and she's noticing a thinning of the hair. I've canceled my contract, and everyone was very understanding and helpful when I did. I was worried they might try to pressure me to stick with it longer, but although they were sad the treatments weren't working they were very supportive of my decision. As a note, if you've signed up for a more expensive contract and you'll be getting a refund they don't give cash, they'll need your bank account info to do a bank transfer.
So, in summary, IPL can work if your hair is dark enough for the treatments, but you'll need to be willing to commit at least a couple of years - possibly more - for major results, and you'll need to have Japanese reading and speaking abilities or assistance to sign up.
I thought I took more pictures, but I just looked through my phone, and I've only got one from the sign up session. These are the tablets we did the paperwork on.