Laser Hair Removal at Home - IPL Hair Removal
Type the words ‘IPL hair removal’ into Google and you’ll be faced with a whole page of salons and hair removal brands trying to sell you their products.
The word ‘laser’ can be a bit intimidating. When it comes to the delicate topic of hair removal, even more so.
We’ve created this uber-comprehensive guide on everything you could possibly need to know about laser and IPL.
We’ve kept it as neutral, unbiased and informative as we could, to help you understand all the facts before you go ahead with a decision.
What is IPL laser hair removal?
First things first: what is it? IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light. IPL works similarly to laser hair removal.
Both methods use a light-emitting device to target individual hairs on the body, send heat down through the hair shaft, and destroy the hair growth at the follicle.
How does IPL hair removal work?
Essentially, IPL works by sending a beam of light across the area of unwanted hair.
This light is attracted to and absorbed by the pigment in the hair shaft. This creates a tiny flash of heat that works to disintegrate hair-forming cells.
This light specifically targets melanin and pigmented lesions (or in other words, color).
As such, it can be used not just on hair, but to eradicate broken capillaries, birthmarks, and skin imperfections such as rosacea. It’s able to target pigmentation without damaging the surrounding skin.
Is at home IPL/laser hair removal effective?
IPL and laser hair removal are long-standing and trusted treatments. They are both permanent solutions (as opposed to temporary ones like shaving).
Although waxing allows you to go for longer than shaving between sessions, IPL and laser hair removal have the power to leave you hair-free for life, with regular treatment.
How effective a device or treatment is will depend largely on the quality and the application - more on that later.
Does IPL permanently remove hair?
IPL, if administered correctly, is one of the very few treatments to permanently remove hair (the only other real option being electrolysis).
IPL and laser treatments are effective because they don’t just remove the hair from the surface (like waxing, shaving or plucking does), but destroy the follicle, meaning it can no longer produce hair.
What are the main benefits of IPL treatment?
IPL has become more and more popular over the last decade. It’s an attractive and popular option for many women (and, increasingly, men), despite the terminology being a little scary. Here are the main advantages.
- The effects last up to 4 weeks - far longer than shaving, which for some lasts only a day.
- When the hair does grow back, it tends to be softer and finer than before. This is because the individual hairs return with softer, narrower tips than those that have been severed (e.g. with a razor), so stubble does not occur.
- There will be less hair to be removed after the first few sessions. This is again due to the nature of the growth cycle. Some new growth will be emerging, but some will be starting again, and so won’t be visible above the skin. With more treatments, fewer follicles will produce new hair.
- No appointment is needed - this kind of hair removal can be performed at home, and is easier to do by yourself than waxing (which requires certain angles and techniques, and can be painful and even dangerous if dealing with hot wax or improper application to the skin).
- The treatment tends to get more comfortable with time. It can become virtually painless with repeated use.
What are the signs at home laser hair removal is working?
Firstly, it’s important to remember that everyone is different, and laser/IPL hair removal is a process.
Don’t get disheartened if you don’t see results straight away. How long it’ll take to notice results depends on several factors: whether you’re doing it at home or in a salon; how thick or coarse the hair is; and how often you perform the treatment.
Salon-administered treatments tend to be more powerful than at-home ones. If you’re going to a salon once a month, you may see results as soon as the first or second session.
With at-home devices, it takes a little longer.
You’ll see results faster on, for example, leg hair than underarm hair.
This is because leg hair a) has a longer growth cycle, so it’ll take longer for new hairs to reappear after treatment, and b) it’s finer than underarm hair, so will be less noticeable when it returns.
How long does IPL last?
Having unwanted hair removed by IPL is a permanent change.
You will have to have a certain amount of sessions or treatments, but as long as this is followed and completed, you will be able to enjoy the effects forever.
What should I not do after IPL?
IPL is not an particularly extreme treatment, so it doesn’t exactly have a laundry list of “ do’s and don’ts” following your session.
However, it’s sensible to avoid direct sunlight straight afterwards, and if you are going outside, wear a high factor sunscreen (ideally with a minimum SPF of 30).
It’s also recommended to avoid hot showers, perfumes and deodorants, to keep irritation to a minimum, and to allow fast healing.
What happens if you use IPL too often?
As above, there are not really “extreme” risks with this kind of hair removal system, but you must take care not to overdo it, as over-exposure can irritate your skin.
More to the point, it’s unnecessary to use an IPL device more times than is recommended in the instructions (which will vary slightly between brands and products).
You can only target hair that’s in a growth phase. New growth cycles generally begin at least 4 weeks apart, so if you use IPL in the meantime, there won’t be much actively growing hair to target.
What happens if I stop laser hair removal?
This depends on where you are in your treatments. If you stop after one or two sessions, it’s likely that the appearance of hair will go back to its original state.
This is because you only will have targeted one growth cycle. If you stop after six sessions, however, you may find that the effects will last for a long time.
It depends on how much hair you have and its rate of growth - everyone is different.
Practitioners do recommend having “top-up” treatments. So if you’re used to going to the salon once a month, following the initial treatment programme of 8 sessions, it’s wise to go back every two or three months for top ups.
This is largely due to the fact that some hair follicles can stay dormant for weeks, and “reactivate” after your initial treatment course.
With at-home devices, they tend to be weaker, and recommended for use every 2 weeks. In this case, once you’ve treated areas of unwanted hair for a few months, you should be able to “downgrade” to just once every month or two for top ups. Either way, over time, the need to return or reuse your device will decrease.
When does the hair fall out after using an at home laser hair removal device?
It’s unlikely you’ll notice a lot of hair disappearing immediately after your first session.
This is because, as we mentioned above, IPL only targets hairs in the growth phase - which is only around 15-25% of your hair.
This is why repeated sessions are needed before results start to become clear.
What is the best at-home hair removal product?
The two big players in the at-home hair removal game probably won’t surprise you.
Phillips and Braun price their home devices around the £300-£400 mark, and they’re backed up with good reviews.
But the secret that a lot of consumers are uncovering is that spending a huge chunk of your paycheque on a kit is no longer necessary.
When technology advances, it tends to become more accessible.
Laser technology is now so safe and developed that you can get devices for much less, whilst still being high quality and effective.
When you pay several hundred pounds, you may just be paying for the brand name.
In terms of practical elements to look for - go for sets that are small enough to hold in one hand.
You will be spending some time making sure you cover all the skin you want treated, so they should be light enough not to make your arms ache.
This allows more ease and precision when using them on different body parts.
Which is more painful, laser or IPL?
IPL covers a broader area of the skin and is less concentrated and heat intensive than laser.
As such, it’s generally regarded as the less painful treatment. However, this depends on your hair type, and your tolerance for pain.
Some people refer to it as “uncomfortable” rather than painful, some say it’s like the feeling of snapping a rubber band against your wrist, and some compare it to the feeling of a tattoo needle.
Sadly for those with darker, thicker hair - you’re probably going to feel it a bit more intensely.
The good news is, some report the experience getting more bearable after the first couple of sessions.
This is due to the beam gaining a more focused energy as it targets your increasingly sparse follicles.
It’s probably due in part to conditioning too. When you know what to expect, you’re less likely to be tense, which aids in enduring discomfort.
Is it safe to perform laser hair removal at home?
Yes, both laser and IPL devices are safe to use at home. As technology advances, it requires less expertise to administer it, so IPL devices have been available for home use for a while.
Just check you’re purchasing from a licensed and reputable brand, and follow the instructions to the letter.
Some beauty bloggers recommend watching YouTube tutorials before having a go with them, so you can copy and learn from their techniques.
Are there any side effects to at home IPL/laser hair removal?
If done correctly, there should be no long-lasting side effects from IPL. Some report redness or bumps directly after treatment.
This is more common for those with sensitive skin, but should go away reasonably quickly, just like razor rash or irritation from waxing.
Those with darker skin tones do have to take a bit more care. This is because the light from IPL devices is attracted to melanin.
The more melanin you have in your skin, the more the light can spread, and there is a risk of burning.
This is why those with very dark skin should seek advice from a professional before going ahead with treatment.
Which is better, IPL or laser hair removal?
Now that we know all the facts, we can start to look at which option is best for the individual.
There are a few points to consider when making the decision. Here are some of the pros and cons for each:
- The high-intensity beam makes laser-based technology better at removing very thick hairs.
- Because of its power, laser can achieve results faster, with fewer sessions needed.
- Laser is better for localised hair removal, e.g. bikini lines or stray hairs.
- Laser is better for darker skin tones. Laser uses a more direct, targeted beam than IPL. This makes it easier for the light beam to “see” the hairs, and is less likely to spread and damage the surrounding skin.
- Though generally unlikely, it’s slightly more common to see side effects such as burning or irritation with laser than IPL.
- Laser tends to be more expensive, especially when receiving treatment in-salon. This is because the technology is more advanced and “heavy duty”, and requires well-trained technicians to use it effectively.
- The obvious upside in contrast to the above point is that IPL is a cheaper option.
- IPL works better if you have pale skin and light hair, due to the wider diffusion of the beam, enabling it to pick up more hair.
- IPL sessions themselves tend to be quicker. The beam used is more “scattered” than laser, meaning it can target a larger area of hair. This can be an advantage if you’re not great with pain, and prefer to tackle treatment in smaller doses.
- The flip side to the above is that you’ll need more sessions in the long run to achieve the same result as laser.
How many at home IPL treatments does it take to see results?
This will depend on whether you’re having IPL treatments in a salon or clinic, or using a handheld device at home.
IPL treatments in salons tend to be more powerful, and as you would expect, expertly performed...
so you should only need 8 sessions for the vast majority of your hair to be gone permanently. Those with thicker hair may need up to 10.
As we mentioned before, only around 15-25% of the hairs we can see are actively growing.
The reason you need several treatments is that the process only works hairs coming from these actively growing cells.
The rest of the hair we can see is technically “dead”, or has finished its growth cycle and is waiting to be shed.
That’s why you’ll need to visit around 8 times, in order to “catch” new hairs when they’ve started their new growth cycles.
You also need to wait 6 weeks between sessions to wait for new growth cycles to initiate.
This is where IPL becomes quite a lengthy process, rather than a “one-stop shop” for hair removal.
The results will ultimately be very long-term, but many start seeing results after around 3 months.
Which parts of my body can I use IPL on?
Contrary to perception, IPL and laser hair removal is actually safe for every part of the body.
It’s most commonly used/recommended for the arms, underarms, legs, and stomach, but it can also be used for back, neck, chest, and even facially.
In the case of any areas near your eyes, it’s strongly advised you a) visit a salon so a professional can do it safely, and b) make sure you are wearing proper protective equipment such as goggles.
It’s also worth noting that laser and IPL rely on being able to detect hairs, so they may not be effective for the very fine, “peach fuzz” hairs that are common on the chin and cheeks.
What about the bikini area?
With regards to removing hair from the bikini line, it is safe to use the vast majority of at-home (as long as you stick to external areas).
It’s recommended you use a lower setting, as the skin can be more pigmented in this area, and as such, more sensitive.
Which skin tones are at-home hair removal devices suitable for?
Some IPL device brands claim that their products are suitable for all hair and skin types, however, it’s worth doing a bit of research into this before you dive in. As mentioned above, caution should be exercised with darker skin tones.
Which hair colors does at-home laser hair removal work best on?
Because the light beam in laser and IPL treatments is attracted to pigmentation or colour, the best results tend to occur on those with light skin and dark hair (a greater contrast).
This is simply because the hair clearly stands out against the skin, making it easy for the beam to target it.
As a general rule, IPL and laser hair removal is less effective on very fair blonde hair, red hair, or grey hair.
This is because the laser needs to “see” or detect the hair for it to work well.
But specialist products and treatments are out there, it’s just a case of checking the capabilities of individual devices.
Why didn’t my at home laser hair removal treatment work?
A few factors can cause the treatment to be ineffective:
- Hormones: hormones affect the rate of hair growth and production. Any fluctuation in these levels can lead to hair growing faster, meaning hair removal treatments seem like they’re not working.
- Hair colour: there are some machines and devices out there that can target blonde, red and grey hairs. However, those that haven’t been specifically designed for this purpose may not be effective.
- Technique: this is especially relevant when visiting a practitioner - as with anything, they need to be familiar and well-trained with the technology for it to be effective. It also applies to home-use - it may take a bit of practice to use your device effectively. Attention to detail is key: you or your technician must make sure every inch of the skin is targeted to avoid patchiness.
- Areas with moles or tattoos: any areas with colour that can divert the laser beam can render the treatment ineffective.
When should I avoid at home laser hair removal or IPL?
Laser and IPL hair removal methods are not suitable for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Many salons don’t treat those under 18, as during puberty, hormonal changes can affect hair growth.
It’s also recommended you approach with caution if you’re photosensitive (especially sensitive to sunlight).
Similarly, those taking medication that can make you more sensitive to the sun (e.g. antibiotics, roacutane) should avoid laser and IPL.
Finally, those with very dark skin (and therefore a high melanin content) should generally avoid these types of treatments, as the laser is drawn to melanin and cannot differentiate between the hair and the skin.
This can lead to burning. There are some exceptions - some clinics may claim to have specialist technology for dark skin tones, but make sure you do a lot of research, and check for certification.
If you have any doubts, speak to your doctor before use.
Does Laser Hair Removal at Home Help treat PCOS?
Many women who suffer from PCOS see good results from laser hair removal.
PCOS can make hair removal with traditional methods such as shaving and waxing feel like a never-ending battle, and in some cases can worsen the effects.
It’s not a guaranteed cure-all, however. Because PCOS is caused by a hormonal imbalance, the increased hair-growth experienced by sufferers can continue despite repeated treatments.
It largely depends on the individual. The upside, at least, is that it’s arguably less painful than waxing, and does not cause stubble like shaving, so those with PCOS may find it’s worth a try.
How to use an at Home Laser Hair Device
To finish, here are a few quick tips for at home IPL use: (watch a demo on how to use an at home laser hair removal IPL)
- Exfoliate first to avoid ingrown hairs.
- Use a white kohl pencil to draw a “grid” on the area you’d like to treat, to make sure you cover the whole area.
- Ensure the tip of the device is in “full contact” with the skin, not half off (the Phillips Lumea has a green light that comes on when this is done correctly).
- With larger areas like the shin, draw the device slowly across the area. With smaller/more tricky areas like the knees and ankles, lift the device off between each “zap”.
- Avoid perfumes and deodorants after treatment.
- Shave between treatments. It may seem counterintuitive, but shaving coarsens the hair, making it easier for the beam to target it next time, and also encourages the hair to shed.
- Refrain from exposing the skin to direct sunlight for a couple of days after treatment. Make sure you wear sunscreen when going outside, ideally a factor 30 at minimum.