IPL Hair Removal – Everything you Need to Know Before Treatments

Doesn't it sound amazing? - permanently hair free; never having to bother again with time consuming and expensive salon visits or messy at home waxing, shaving, depilatory creams or the like.

Yes - we've all seen and heard the claims that IPL (intense pulsed light) and laser hair removal holds the key to our dream.

However, whilst there is no doubt that IPL can achieve great results, there are a few things you should know prior to embarking on a treatment regime, so that your expectations are realistic and you are not disappointed:


IPL  hair removal is not some sort of magical quick fix.

You will need to have patience and perseverance over a number of months to see good results.

The reason for this is that IPL is effective only when the hair being treated is in the growing phase, known as the Anagen stage.

The life cycle of hair follows 3 stages, with each hair on your body being at different stages at any one time.

In addition, the average continuous life cycle of hair varies in time-span depending on the area of the body in which it is located e.g. underarm hair is approximately 5 months, whereas legs are more like 11 - 12 months.

Stages of hair growth

The 3 stages of hair growth

So, in order to catch all the hair in the treatment area when it is in the Anagen stage you will need to have a number of treatments over a period of several months to notice a good reduction in hair growth. 

Patience and consistency are basic requirements for this type of hair removal treatment.


IPL hair removal is not suitable for everyone and you need to take into account your skin tone and hair colour before opting for this method.

If you are planning to go to a salon, then the clinician will be able to advise you and will carry out a patch test to determine suitability and skin reaction prior to full treatments.

To give you an idea, have a look at the skin tone chart below - if you fall into the first 4 categories, it is likely that IPL will be effective for you.

Skin Tone Chart

The reason for this is that IPL hair removal uses light energy to target dark pigment found in hair and skin.

The aim is for the dark pigment, found in high concentration at the base of the hair, to absorb the light and produce sufficient heat to damage the hair follicle so that the hair falls out and is unable to re-grow.

If the skin is too dark, the danger is that it will also absorb the light and become overheated, resulting in burns, blisters, scarring and permanent patches of either lighter or darker skin where pigmentation damage has occurred.

There is no need to be unduly alarmed by this if you want to use IPL at home, providing you take full account of manufacturer's warnings and precautions.    

Skin tone detectors which disable the device automatically if it detects too much pigment in the skin are built in, and you should carry out the check before every use.

hair colour

You also need to bear in mind that IPL is not effective for some hair colours i.e. light blond, white, grey or red hair.

The ideal candidate has pale skin and dark hair, as there is a good contrast and the dark pigment of the hair gives a distinct target for the light pulses to aim for.

Before and After


You need to be prepared to forego tanning (including fake tan) for the duration of the treatment regime.


Tanned skin is more likely to burn during IPL treatment for the reasons set out in the previous section, and the technology does not differentiate between fake or sun tanned skin.

IPL is also not suitable for use on moles or tattooed skin, for similar reasons.

Hair Removal between Sessions

Any hair removal method that involves pulling hair from the root e.g. waxing, sugaring, epilating etc. should be avoided whilst you are having treatments.

For IPL to be effective, the hair needs to be present in the hair follicle.

Shaving is the best method between sessions and is recommended immediately prior to treatment.   However depilatory creams may be used, but you need to leave a week or two before and after an IPL treatment.


Your skin will need to be clean, dry and free from all cosmetics prior to treatments including creams, deodorants, perfumes and the like.

They should also be avoided for 24 hours after treatment, as should hot showers or baths.


Is IPL painful?  A common enough question and the truthful answer is that it is not pain-free.

However, how much pain is felt varies from person to person and also, of course, depends on the sensitivity of the area being treated.

You can discuss this with the clinician carrying out your treatment if you are going to a salon, and they will likely test an area so that you can see how it feels and may offer pain relief.

The feeling can range from a tingling sensation to the feel of a rubber band snapping against the skin.

If you are using a home device, there will be various power settings so that you can adjust it according to the highest setting that you are comfortable using.  It is always best to start with the lowest level.

As with waxing, over time and with consistent use, the skin develops a tolerance to the procedure in any case.

Permanent Results?

Another common question - are the results really permanent?

The truth is that yes, they can be, but there are no cast iron guarantees and it very much depends on your genetics.

Most individuals will see  hair reduction (anything up to around 85%) but for a few it simply doesn't work and there is no real understanding as to why.

You need to bear in mind that the permanency is rather a moot point as the FDA definition of permanent hair reduction (taken from the FDA website) is as follows: 

FDA Logo

"The long term, stable reduction in the number of hairs re-growing after a treatment regime, which may include several sessions.

The number of hairs re-growing must be stable over time greater than the duration of the complete growth cycle of hair follicles.

Permanent hair reduction does not necessarily imply the elimination of all hairs in the treatment area."

Given that the growth cycle of hair follicles varies from around 4 - 12 months, depending on the area of the body, permanence could actually mean anything over a year.

The point you should take from this is that, once you have achieved your desired results, you are still likely to need ongoing touch-up treatments, once or twice a year (or perhaps more) unless you are lucky.


For the past 12 months, I have been testing and playing with all sorts of hair removal products for Hair Free Life. My goal is to provide the most accurate and up-to-date hair removal consumer information on the internet. When I'm not photographing, reviewing and researching hair removal products I play the drums in a samba band and am a volunteer for the Swindon Lions! Got any questions? Write to us below: