Home IPL/Laser Hair Removal – What you Need to Know
How IPL/Laser Hair Removal Works
IPL and laser hair removal are very similar in that they use intense light rays to target the melanin (dark pigment) at the base of the hair follicle.
To put it simply, the light is absorbed by the melanin to produce heat energy which damages the follicle, causing the hair to fall out in the following week or two.
If the damage is sufficient, the follicle will be unable to regrow the hair, so that it will be left permanently out of action.
The Difference between IPL and Laser for Hair Removal
The difference between IPL and laser hair removal is in the technology and the way in which the light is used.
Light is made up of rays with numerous different wavelengths, measured in nanometers (nm's) which are billionths of a metre.
Basically, lasers only use rays of a single wavelength, targeted to a certain depth, depending on the type of hair and skin being treated.
IPL uses multiple wavelengths of between 500 - 1200 nm's for a more "scattergun" approach.
In terms of home devices, the majority actually use IPL, with only one device currently on the market which is technically a laser i.e. the Tria 4X.
Which Gives the Best Results?
There is no scientific evidence published to support claims that either method has superior results.
Both technologies have FDA approval for safe hair removal and permanent hair reduction.
When buying a device for home use we would advise that you make sure it is FDA approved.
Time and Patience Required
You need to be aware that this is not a magical quick fix and, unlike some other methods of hair removal, results will not be immediate.
As we mentioned previously, it will take between one and two weeks for the treated hair to fall out.
In addition, IPL/laser will only be effective in removing a certain number of hairs in the treatment area at any one session.
This is because hair growth follows a cycle of 3 stages and IPL/Laser only works whilst hair is in the growing stage.
The growth cycle itself varies from person to person and also by area of the body e.g. the average cycle duration for eyebrows is around 10 months, whilst underarms are around half that.
As each hair will be in different stages at any one time, multiple treatments over several months will be required to see a noticeable reduction.
On a positive note, you will be able to shave in between sessions, so there will not be a need for unsightly regrowth.
However, you will not be able to use any method which pulls out the hair from the root e.g. waxing or epilating, as IPL/laser needs the healthy, growing hair to be present.
Permanent Hair Reduction - what it means
OK, so the only currently approved permanent hair removal method is electrolysis, but IPL/laser hair removal is approved for permanent hair reduction.
So what is permanent hair reduction - what does it actually mean?
Well, the FDA has defined it as: "the long term, stable reduction in the number of hairs re-growing after a treatment regime, which may include several sessions. Permanent hair reduction does not necessarily imply the elimination of all hairs in the treatment area."
They also state that the number of hairs re-growing must be stable for a greater duration that the complete growth cycle of hair follicles.
As explained earlier, the growth cycle of hair follicles differs depending on the area of the body and therefore this definition of stable hair reduction is variable.
Good results of up to 80% reduction can be achieved, but though treatments will become less frequent, you are likely to always need to maintain them.
IPL/Laser is Not for Everyone
Melanin is the pigment which gives your hair and skin its colour, so if your hair is dark and your skin is pale, it is more easily targeted by the light.
Unfortunately, if you have darker skin using home IPL or laser devices is not suitable for you. This is because the rays may also be absorbed by the melanin in the skin, causing it to overheat and leading to burns, blisters and scarring.
Home devices are fitted with integral skin tone sensors for safety, which automatically stop them working if the skin is too dark.
There is a type of laser available commercially (Nd:YAG) which can be effective for darker skin tones, but for this, you would have to attend a clinic and take professional advice.
When purchasing a home IPL/laser there is usually a guide within the instructions with a skin tone chart similar to the one above, so that you can check your skin against it to see if you are a good candidate.
In addition to skin tone, you have to take into account your hair colour.
IPL is most effective for those with dark hair, and it does not work on light blonde, red, grey or white hair.
If you have any skin condition seek medical advice before purchasing a device.
Do not attempt to use on tattooed skin, moles or warts, tanned skin or if you have been using fake tan.
If you have any doubts or concerns, do not take risks - seek medical advice.
Results not Guaranteed
Although you can achieve good results using home IPL/laser kits, the results cannot actually be guaranteed.
It is most likely that, if you persevere and follow the instructions properly, over time you will see good levels of hair reduction, up to 80% (or possibly even more).
However for a small number of individuals, inexplicably, it does not work and you do need to just be aware of this.
You also need to be aware that home devices are less powerful than those used commercially and so results will be slower to achieve.
Possible Side Effects
There are certain common side effects that you should expect, but they are usually both mild and short-lived:
There is a level of pain involved with home IPL/laser, but if you are familiar with waxing and epilating, it should not really be any more intense than this and the skin will become more tolerant with repeated use.
You should expect to pay anything from $150 to upwards of $450 as an initial outlay.
When you are considering which device to choose, also take into account how many light flashes are loaded, whether replacement cartridges are available and how much they will cost you.
There are a number of other factors to consider when choosing a home device so for more in-depth information see our articles:
How to Choose Which Home Laser/IPL Device to Buy.
Pros and Cons
Pros of Home IPL/Laser Hair Removal
- Permanent Hair Reduction - can be achieved over time
- Shave Between Treatments - no need to grow hair out
- Quick and Easy - simple to master technique
- Avoids Ingrown Hairs - can actually help any that you have
- Lighter Regrowth - any regrowth appears finer
- No Ongoing Outlay (apart from replacement cartridges for some models)
- Cheaper than a salon
Cons of Home IPL/Laser Hair Removal
- Not Suitable for All - best results for those with dark hair and light skin
- Results not Guaranteed - impossible to guarantee absolutely
- High Initial Outlay - compared to other hair removal methods
- No Tanning - cannot be used on tanned skin
- Pain - there is a level of pain involved
- Side effects - some short-lived side effects, and not suitable for all, but a patch test should be carried out 24 hours prior to full treatment