Hair removal is a completely personal thing. You could be a daily in-shower shaver, or perhaps you and your waxer have known each other so long that she’s made it onto your Christmas card list. Or hey, maybe prefer to leaving everything natural. But here we’re talking about laser hair removal. In-salon treatments are effective, but expensive. Which is where at-home IPL hair removal devices really come into their own.
First things first though…
What is IPL?
IPL stands for Intense Pulse Light. This light energy targets hair in the active growth phase, called the anagen stage.
How does IPL work?
Light passes through the skin, heats up, and frazzles the hair follicles. It essentially destroys them. (Safely, we’d like to add.) This then prevents regrowth over time. But, not permanently. You should notice that after a while your hair doesn’t grow back as often or as thick.
What’s the difference between laser hair removal and IPL?
Both IPL and laser hair removal use light energy to destroy the hair follicle.
However, ‘the difference between the two is based around the type and wavelength and strength of light energy used,’ explains Dr Anita Sturnham, Dermatologist and Skin Health Specialist.
At-home IPL devices are, understandably, a lot less powerful than the in-clinic laser systems. Laser is a single higher energy beam that can focus on the follicle, rather than the surrounding skin. This makes it much stronger than IPL, which uses a broad spectrum of light, which is scattered and a lot weaker on the skin.
‘A laser beam is made up of precisely controlled pulses of a specific wavelength of light energy,’ says Dr Sturnham. ‘This is absorbed by the melanin (brown pigment) in the hair, reaching into the active hair follicles that lie beneath the skin. The energy heats the hair and safely destroys it without damaging surrounding tissue.’
They do, however, do the same thing. They destroy the root of the hair after a treatment course.
It should be noted that neither actually offers completely permanent hair removal.
Dr Sturnham told us that she used to have two laser hair removal devices at her clinic, Nuriss, but got rid of them. ‘I just felt that it was unethical to charge people to have it done in my clinic, when the at-home devices available are so good.’
How do you use an at-home IPL device and how often should you use it?
Dr Sturnham recommends shaving the night before. Your skin needs to be as smooth as possible, ahead of the treatment. As your skin can be slightly sensitive after shaving, it’s best to avoid doing it straight before, as the IPL device can get a little warm.
You place the device on your skin and work it along in a straight line. Some devices have strength settings, you’ll want to start at the lowest initially to establish what feels most comfortable.
Each device will have its own recommend treatment plan. But Dr Sturnham, who works closely with Braun, says to use it once a week for a month, then once a month every month, for maintenance.
Dr Barbara Sturm Aloe Vera Gel, £50 | Cult Beauty
‘Afterwards, apply a really soothing cream,’ recommends Dr Sturnham. ‘Something with chamomile or aloe vera. And steer clear of anything that’s really perfumed.’
We like Dr Barbara Sturm’s Aloe Vera Gel – it cools and envelopes skin in calming comfort. Ideal after a day in the sun too.
Is it painful?
It’s not exactly painful, but on the higher settings it can get quite warm. So it’s always best to start on the lower settings and then work your way up when you feel comfortable.
Can all skin tones and hair colours use them?
‘Those with lighter skin and darker hair seem to reap the benefits faster,’ explains Dr Sturnham. ‘But that’s not to say they are the only people who can use one effectively.’
‘IPL works best on fair to medium skin tones and dark blonde, brown and black hair types,’ she adds. ‘If you have grey, red or very blonde hair the device may not be very effective, as the IPL needs to tune into melanin pigment in the hair to work effectively.’ The lighter your hair, the less pigment/melanin in it. ‘I recommend doing a test patch for a small area first to ensure that the treatment works for you.
If you have a darker skin tone, look out for a device that has a built-in sensor. This constantly checks how much melanin is present in the skin and adjusts the light pulses accordingly.