All there is to know about one of the most long-lasting hair removal methods on the market
The term ‘IPL hair removal’ has become one which is regularly bandied around, with few people knowing exactly what it is. It is offered in clinics up and down the country, and some at-home devices are now even able to compete with the professional treatments offered (we are particularly impressed with the latest Philips Lumea – pricey, but going by cost per use…).
So if it’s something you’re considering, but don’t know a lot about, read on for the lowdown. We asked skin and laser expert Debbie Thomas for the answers to some of our most frequently asked IPL questions (and there were a lot).
“IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light and is a type of light treatment that uses strong pulses of light to stimulate or treat various issues within the skin. Sometimes people think IPL is laser as they can do some similar things but they are not the same. The principal of how they work is similar. Both direct light at the pigmentation in the hair causing a burst of heat that damages or kills the cells that cause hairs to grow.”
“The light that comes out of the device is absorbed by the pigment in the hair, causing a buildup of energy which turns to heat (think of a black t-shirt on a sunny day). The heat travels down the hair and disables or destroys the cells that make new ones. This process only works on hairs that are actually attached to these ‘growing’ cells, as these are the actively growing hairs. At any time only 15-25 per cent of hairs you can see are actually alive. Most are dead and waiting for the skin to eject them. It is because of this growth cycle that it takes multiple sessions to dramatically reduce the hair growth in an area.”
“Light based hair removal is safe as long as you go to an experienced practitioner. I personally would not use IPL on dark skins – instead look for a laser using Nd:YAG technology.”
“You will generally feel some discomfort but most people find it bearable. The sensation is often described as an elastic band snapping on the skin. In my experience the ‘pain-free’ treatments are not that much more comfortable and are quite often less effective.”
“There are hundreds of brands. To ensure a good machine is being used, go to a reputable clinic and see an experienced practitioner. There are lots of cheap unsupported (no training or maintenance) machines being ordered from sites like eBay and the salons that offer very cheap treatments are the ones who buy these machines. It’s not worth your skin safety to skimp on these kinds of treatments.”
“Everyone needs to be assessed for their individual suitability by having a consultation. I would be very hesitant to treat dark skins using IPL and very fair, grey or red hairs generally do not get good results. We never treat during pregnancy and would have to check any medical conditions and medications that may impact the treatment.”
“For your consultation, let the hair grow slightly (1-2mm) so that the practitioner can see and assess the hair. If you are suitable, a small test with the device will be carried out. As long as the test has no side effects within 48 hours (or one week for darker skin tones), you can go ahead with treatment.
“For your first full treatment, shave the area 24 hours before. The hair has to be in the follicle (so no plucking, threading or waxing) but not showing above the skin (a tiny bit of stubble is OK). The area is cleaned, additional trimming carried out then a layer of cool gel is applied. The device will have a little square head that gets pushed in to the gel. A flash of light is emitted to treat the hairs in that square, and this process is carried out until the whole area has been covered. The light hitting the skin is what causes the elastic band sensation. It normally takes two weeks for the treated hairs to fall out completely.”
“Every clinic and salon has different prices for different areas. For a good clinic expect to pay £80+ per under arm treatment, £90+ for standard bikini and £160+ for lower legs. Normally 6-8 treatments will significantly reduce the hair in an area and most clinics will offer packages which give more value.”
“Treatment times depend on the size of the area being treated but anywhere between 10 and 90 minutes. Treatments are generally carried out over several months, even up to 18 months. If there are hormonal or medical issues present, then it can take many more treatments to significantly reduce the hair.”
“The hairs which are killed during the treatment do not come back, but our bodies do make new hairs as we get older so they may need to be treated occasionally (I see my top up clients every 12-36 months for one off sessions).”