Everything you need to know about home laser hair removal

In this home laser & IPL hair removal guide:

Related: The Best home laser & IPL hair removal machines 2019

— What is IPL and laser hair removal? —

What is laser hair removal?

Laser hair removal uses concentrated light energy to slow and reduce hair growth on your body and face.

Since the first laser created by Theodore Maiman in 1960, we’ve found many applications for them. But it was in the 1970s scientists discovered lasers worked to remove hair. That’s because researchers noticed hair loss as a side effect in other dermatological studies.

It perked the interest of the beauty industry who knew clients would pay for long-lasting hair removal. So, they funded research to develop machines and, around 20 years ago in the 1990s, laser hair removal finally became available to the public.

A photo of a lady having laser hair removal on her armpit in a professional clinic environment.
A professional laser hair removal treatment.

Since then, hundreds of clinical studies led to improvements in patient safety, comfort and results. Professional treatments are readily available in high-street cosmetic clinics and day medi-spas, as well as in dermatologist offices. It’s one of the most popular cosmetic treatments and consequently is BIG business.

At a clinic, you’ll need a course of 6 to 8 treatments, spaced at 4 to 6 weeks apart. Costs range depending on the clinic and the body area or areas treated.

There’s only one clinically-proven home-use hair removal laser. It’s the Tria 4X laser. Keep reading to learn more about at-home laser hair removal.

What is IPL hair removal?

IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light. It’s not a laser, but it too uses light energy to slow and reduce hair growth on your body and face.

The first studies of IPL in 1976 were for treatments of vascular legions. Loads more more followed into various applications including hair removal. As with lasers for hair removal, many realised the opportunity and the first reported clinical study of a commercial IPL machine dates to 1997.

IPL proved as popular as laser hair removal and many clinical studies led to improvements in technology, safety, comfort and results. It’s available on the high street for cost effective long-term professional hair removal.

A close up photo of an IPL hand-gun being applied to a lady's leg with IPL conductivity gel on it
A professional IPL hair removal treatment.

The treatment protocol matches laser hair removal with 6 to 8 treatments at 4 to 6-week intervals. Costs tend to be cheaper than laser hair removal, and practised more widely in beauty spas versus doctor-led cosmetic clinics.

There are many home IPL hair removal machines available. Here are my favourites. They’re proven safe and effective for home use. And they give long-lasting hair reduction results. But with several differences to professional IPL machines, and you can learn more about this later.

What is home IPL & laser hair removal?

side on photo of the Philips Lumea Prestige, Smoothskin Muse and Braun silk Expert Pro 5
The latest premium home-use IPL hair removal devices; Lumea Prestige, Smoothskin Muse and Braun Silk-expert Pro 5

As the popularity of professional laser and IPL hair removal boomed on the 90s and 2000s, several companies saw the opportunity and developed safe and effective versions for at-home use. The first came to market between 2003 and 2006.

Just like professional treatments, home laser and IPL hair removal uses concentrated light energy to slow and reduce hair growth on your body and face.

They’re much smaller and less powerful than professional machines. And with much simpler controls so that you can use them safely in your own home.

Related: Which is best? Find out with home laser hair removal vs professional

All the home machines reviewed on this site are clinically tested and proven effective for long term hair reduction and safe use at home.

They range in price and features. Many are from trusted household brands such as Philips, Panasonic, Braun and Remington. Others are specialists in home beauty and hair removal devices such as Smoothskin, Silk’n and Tria.

Next, let’s look at how they work.

— How do laser & IPL hair removal work? —

How does laser hair removal work?

You can learn in depth how lasers work here. But what’s relevant to us is that a laser is a monochromatic focused beam of light energy. Monochromatic means it’s of just one wavelength, or colour.

An illustration of a cross section of human skin with a red laser energy beam focused on a dark hair follicle for laser hair removal.
A laser for hair removal is of a single wavelength which penetrates deeply into the skin. Hair removal lasers with different wavelengths are absorbed by melanin.

We measure wavelengths in nanometers (nm). Now, different substances in our body absorb specific light wavelengths. We call these substances chromophores. Chromophores are the dark pigment in hair (melanin), oxyhaemoglobin in blood, and water.

For laser hair removal we care about melanin. Melanin absorbs wavelengths between 600-1100 nm. So, there are different types of professional laser capable of hair removal. For example:

  • Ruby laser (694nm)
  • Alexandrite laser (755nm)
  • Diode laser (800nm)
  • Neodymium-doped:yttrium aluminium garnet laser (Nd:YAG) (1064nm)

The cells with melanin in your hair follicle absorb the laser pulses. This converts to heat which damages the hair follicle. The hair then shuts down and enters a resting phase. So, you see slower growth and eventually, many fewer hairs growing; this is hair reduction.

That’s the simple answer you’ll find most everywhere. You can read amore in-depth explanation in the next sections, but first let’s see how IPL hair reduction works.

How does IPL hair removal work?

IPL uses a xenon flashlamp giving bursts of diffuse, non-coherent light. This means it’s made of many different wavelengths or colours and can’t focus as a laser can. The wavelengths for IPL are 500 to 1200 nanometers.

An illustration of a cross section of human skin with multi colour/wavelength Intense Pulsed Light flashing it and absorbing in a dark hair follicle for IPL hair removal.
IPL for hair removal is of a several wavelengths absorbed by melanin. It travels through your skin and is absorbed by the hair at different depths in the follicle.

We know the chromophores in our body (melanin, haemoglobin and water) absorb different wavelengths. So, IPL filters cut-out unnecessary wavelengths to target a specific chromophore. To target melanin in hair reduction you filter all except wavelengths between 600 to 1100 nanometers.

Applying different filters means IPL also works to treat spider veins and pigmented cells such as sun-spots for facial photo rejuvenation.

So, the cells with melanin in your hair follicle absorb the multi-wavelength flashes of IPL. This converts to heat which damages the hair follicle. The hair then shuts down and enters a resting phase. So, you see slower growth and eventually, many fewer hairs growing; this is hair reduction.

It’s the same for both IPL and laser hair removal. And professional and at home devices. They use a selective photothermolysis process. Learn what this is next.

— The science bit —

What’s selective photothermolysis?

The melanin in your hair follicle (the bit below the skin surface) absorbs a pulse of optical energy (light). It converts to heat and damages the hair follicle compartments to stop hair growth.

The melanin ‘selectively’ absorbs the laser or IPL energy. This means it leaves the surrounding tissues undamaged.

'Selective' means the chromophore only and not the surrounding tissues. Photothermolysis: 'Photo' means melanin absorbs light photons, 'thermo' means the absorbed light transforms to heat, and 'lysis' means the heat destroys target cells.
Both IPl and laser hair removal use selective photothermolysis to reduce hair growth.

But there’s melanin in your skin too. Therefore, there must be a big contrast between your hair and skin colour so the laser targets the hair’s melanin and not the melanin in your skin.

It’s why the best candidates for laser and IPL are people with fair skin and black hair. And why you can’t treat dark skin tones with all types of laser and IPL (but you can with some – learn more later).

If you have fair hair unfortunately IPL and laser hair removal won’t work for you either. There’s more on this later.

But first, what exactly happens to the dark hair?

What happens to the hair?

N.B. This next section best explains what happens to your hair during professional, high-power laser and IPL hair removal. It’s still important to understand for at-home treatments though, which we’ll explain in the section after.

Successful hair reduction leaves the hair ‘miniaturised’ and / or stops the growth cycle.

Miniaturisation is when mature dark, thick hair (terminal hair) reverts to vellus hair. Vellus hair is very fine, soft, light and barely noticeable hair which develops during childhood and covers most of your body.

So, how does laser and IPL do this? It does it by damaging specific zones and key cells in your hair follicle.

What are the hair follicle zones?

The hair follicle is a pocket in your skin which builds your hair shaft and controls your hair growth cycle.

The zones in your hair follicle are:

  • Dermal Papilla with fibroblast cells. At the follicle base and provides the cells with blood and nutrients
  • Hair matrix with Matrix keratinocytes and Melanocytes found in the hair bulb
  • Outer root sheath with epithelial stem cells, hair shaft keratinocytes, inner root shaft keratinocytes
  • Bulge with epithelial stem cells. A zone next to the hair bulb

Here’s a diagram:

Detailed diagram of a hair follicle. The dermal papilla is at the bottom of the bulb, then the hair matrix. The outer root sheath surrounds the hair shaft (hair fibres) and the bulge sits a small way up the outer root sheath next to the Arrector pili muscle which makes your hair stand up and causes sebum to exit the sebum gland.
The areas of the hair follicle treated during IPL & Laser hair removal are the dermal papilla, hair matrix, outer root sheath and the bulge.

Not all these zones and cells contain melanin. So, there’s a chain of events.

  1. The laser/IPL targets and heats the cells with dark pigment.
    These are the pigment producing melanocytes and matrix keratinocytes of the hair matrix, and the hair shaft keratinocytes.
  2. Then, heat moves from these areas to other non-pigmented cells.
    These non-pigmented cells are the dermal papilla fibroblasts, keratinocytes in the inner and outer root sheath and epithelial stem cells of the hair follicle bulge. The variables and power of the light energy ultimately determine the amount of damage done here. Professional treatments are efficient, and home devices less so (but still effective! Keep reading for the knowledge).

Next, let’s understand the key cells and what role they play.

What are the key cells and what do they do?

The key cells are:

  1. Dermal papilla fibroblasts
  2. Epithelial stem cells in the hair follicle bulge
  3. Matrix keratinocytes

The dermal papilla fibroblasts and epithelial stem cells communicate together and trigger your hair follicle’s cycle of growth.

There are 3 growth stages in the cycle are:

Illustration of human hair in the 3 growth stages, 1 Anagen growth stage, 2 Catagen growth stops and follicle and hair retract, 3 Telogen follicle inactivity and hair falls out, back to early Anagen where the follicle connects to the dermla papilla again and hair grows.
Our hair growth stages. Each cycle duration differs by body area.
  1. Anagen (active growth), the dermal papilla attaches to the hair follicle and the hair shaft builds as cells divide in the hair bulb
  2. Catagen (cells stop growth) the follicle and hair fibres retract from the dermal papilla and stop growing
  3. Telogen (follicle inactivity) the hair follicle is inactive and the hair shaft eventually falls out (or is pushed out by new Anagen hair)

If we damage the dermal papilla fibroblasts and/or epithelial stem cells with enough heat, they chemically breakdown. The damage is irreversible and the result is the hair follicles miniaturise. In the next growth cycle no hairs grow, or only soft vellus hairs grow. These are so fine and light it seems as if nothing is growing at all.

Damaging the Matrix keratinocytes causes the hair to jump to the Catagen stage. So, the hairs stop growing and can fall out over the course of a few weeks. This is what gives quick smooth skin results. But, if damage is to these matrix keratinocyte cells only, hair still grows back as thick and dark as before. That’s because the follicle isn’t miniaturised and the growth cycle broken. The intact dermal papilla and hair bulge cells can still trigger terminal hair growth in the next Anagen stage.

So, successful IPL and laser hair removal damages all 3 key cells for long-lasting hair reduction.

It’s also important which growth stage your hairs are in when zapped.

Treat Anagen hairs

For laser and IPL hair removal to be successful you must zap hairs in the Anagen growth stage.

This is when the follicle builds the hair rapidly and there’s lots of melanin-rich cells. Also, the dermal papilla attaches to the follicle only in the Anagen stage. So, it’s the optimum time for heat transfer from the melanin-rich cells to the non-pigmented target cells and dermal papilla.

Hairs across your body all follow the 3 stages, but the cycle duration is different. Therefore, you need several IPL and laser sessions at regular intervals to zap all the hairs during the Anagen stage.

So, how is at-home laser and IPL hair removal different?

How does at home laser & IPL hair removal work?

Both professional and home IPL / laser hair removal work by the same principle of selective photothermolysis. That is, the dark melanin pigment in your hair absorbs the light energy. It heats up and destroys key areas in the hair follicle to prevent regrowth.

Professional treatments destroy these areas quickly and efficiently. Home use devices are slower and need more sessions for a compound effect.

Less powerful home devices

Home devices are much less powerful than professional machines. A recent study explains this means a different ‘biological mode of action’ in home devices.

Remember those 3 key areas of the hair follicle?

  1. Dermal papilla fibroblasts
  2. Epithelial stem cells in the hair follicle bulge
  3. Matrix keratinocytes

The study explains the light energy is powerful enough to initially damage the Matrix Keratinocytes. This causes the hair to jump to the Catagen growth stage. So, the hairs stop growing and fall out over the course of a few weeks.

But if you don’t continue treatments the hair eventually starts a new Anagen stage and hair grows back just as before.

Effects build over time

However, keep going with the treatments and you get different results. That’s because each session also does a little damage to the dermal papilla fibroblasts and the stem cells in the hair follicle bulge. These trigger a new growth cycle. The damage builds until it’s enough to break the hair growth cycle and the follicle can’t grow new, thick hair.

The study suggests, stopping at 4 or less sessions means all your hair eventually grows back. You need to continue for 1 year of less frequent sessions every 6 weeks or so. Then you’ll achieve high and long-lasting hair reduction (up to 85%) even 1 year after stopping the sessions.

So, top up sessions are SUPER IMPORTANT. And your results get better and longer-lasting the longer you use the home use device.

Most devices suggest an initial start-up stage of sessions either weekly or every 2 weeks lasting between 8 to 12 weeks. They then suggest monthly top up sessions or as you need them. So, based on this and the results of the latest study above, you’ll likely need between 12 and 20 sessions in your first year of home-use.

— Can I use it? —

Home devices safe skin tones

Safe skin tones and effective hair colours noted in a user manual

Home laser and IPL devices follow the same selective photothermolysis approach as professional machines to reduce hair growth. This means not all devices are safe for darker skin tones.

Laser and IPL hair removal gives best results on light skin and dark hair. That’s because the light energy heats-up dark melanin pigment in the hair follicle. There’s little melanin in light skin so the energy leaves it unharmed.

There’s much more melanin in darker skin. So, the IPL and laser energy heats this up too. Home use devices are much less intense than professional machines, but they can still cause skin damage and pain if the skin tone guidance isn’t followed. You can develop skin reactions, such as temporary or permanent skin darkening or lightening, strong redness, burns and blisters.

The Fitzpatrick skin types

Manufacturers use the Fitzpatrick skin type chart to clearly show which devices are safe for which skin tones. There are 6 Fitzpatrick types, measured from type I to VI. Type I is the lightest skin and type VI the darkest.

Skin Type Skin colour Tanning ability
Light, pale white skin Always burns in the sun and never tans
White, fair skin Usually burns in the sun and tans with difficulty
Medium white to olive skin Sometimes burns mildly in the sun and gradually tans
Olive to mid-brown skin Rarely burns in the sun and tans with ease to a moderate brown
Brown to dark brown skin Very rarely burns in the sun and tans very easily
Very dark brown to black skin Never burns in the sun and tans very easily

 

Home devices by Fitzpatrick type

Each of the machines reviews shows which Fitzpatrick types are safe. Look for the skin tone chart.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Fitzpatrick-type-I-to-IV-368x101.png

If you have light to mid-brown skin (Fitzpatrick types I to IV) all home-use devices are safe for you. Check out the recommended best buys.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Fitzpatrick-type-V-to-VI-368x194.png

A few home IPL devices have special filters and are safe for dark skin up to type V. And there’s one IPL safe for the darkest skin type VI too.

For darker tones you must use the lower IPL intensity levels. Most machines have 5 levels. There’s sometimes a guide in the user manual and most have skin tone sensors to protect skin that’s too dark.

Related: The best home IPL devices for dark & black skin

Home laser & IPL for dark hair only

Just like professional treatments home laser and IPL hair removal are effective on dark hair only.

Hair colour swatches dark blonde, light brown, brown and black

Dark blonde, brown and black hair has a dark type of melanin called eumelanin. This is absorbed by the light energy for effective hair reduction.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is light-blonde-to-grey-hair-368x113.png

Light blonde hair has just a little eumelanin, usually not enough to absorb the light energy. Red hair has a different type of melanin called pheomelanin. Grey and white hair has no melanin at all. They won’t absorb the light energy.

Some home-use brands say they may work on light blonde hair, but there’s no guarantee.

Related: The best home IPL machines for fair hair

Where can you use it?

At-home laser and IPL machines are safe to use on specific body areas only. Keep reading to learn which.

Women

Common areas are the upper lip, chin, jawline, sideburns, armpits, forearms, tummy, bikini line / Brazilian, legs, feet and toes. From the very honest online reviews you can also add the neck, chest, around the nipples and bum.

Full portrait of a lady in underwear with the most common treatment areas for women highlighted,

Several ladies with hursutism and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which cause male pattern hair growth, use IPL and home laser to successfully manage their excess facial and body hair to get their confidence back.

At-home devices aren’t safe to use around your eyes.

You can choose to treat just a few areas or go for smooth on your entire full body (from the cheekbones downwards).

Men

The most common treatment areas for men are neck, shoulders, back, chest and torso. From the online reviews other men share they treat their legs, feet, hands, fingers, underarms and bikini / Brazilian too.

Full portrait of a man in shorts and vest with the most common treatment areas for men highlighted.

Home IPL and laser are not suitable for men above the neck. ALL manufacturers warn it’s not suitable for use on men’s beards. However, I’ve found several Youtube reviews with men using IPL or laser on their beards with varying results. It’s a risk to use it there because it’s not clinically tested for such use.

Some brands say there’ll be limited results because of the thickness, density and depth of male beard hair. Using it can cause pain, leave unintended bald patches, have little effect after prolonged use and can cause adverse and unsightly reactions – not a good look on your face.

Instead, look at professional laser treatments for men because reputable clinics can safely treat most body areas, including your beard and face..

NOTE: For both men and women home IPL and laser hair removal is not suitable for use on the genitals, nipples and anus. Skin there is usually darker and so there’s a higher risk of burns and side effects. It’s also not suitable for around the ears, around the eyes and on warts, moles or large freckles.

— Is it safe? —

Is home laser & IPL hair removal safe?

Yes. Just like professional treatments there’s no link to cancer or infertility.

All of the devices reviewed here are clinically proven safe for home use. They are designed with the following in common:

  • Much lower intensities than professional treatments
  • A selection of intensity levels caters to varying skin tones
5 intensity indicator lights illuminated blue on the Panasonic ES-WH90 home IPl hair removal device.
Most home laser and IPL hair removal devices have 5 intensity levels. High intensity is safe for light and low for darker skin tones.

They also have in-built safety features to keep you safe:

  • IPL devices have inbuilt UV filters to protect your skin
  • Skin sensors prevent accidental flashes protecting your eyes, so no need for eye protection
  • Skin tone sensor stops flashes on skin that’s too dark
  • Automated skin tone sensors to select your intensity level before every flash
photos of the Smoothskin Muse showing the active skin tone sensors illuminated blue, the intensity indicators showing red (not safe for treatments) and then illuminating white to the appropriate intensity for the skin tone.
Skin tone sensors protect skin that’s too dark, and some such as the Smoothskin Muse (pictured) even detect your skin tone and select your best intensity before every flash.

Related: home-use machines with advanced skin tone sensors with Braun Pro 5 IPL and Smoothskin Muse

But it’s very important you follow the skin tone guidance and contraindications.

Home laser & IPL hair removal contraindications

Just like professional treatments, you could be unsuitable to use a home-use device. These range from pregnancy to medications making you more sensitive to light.

Close up photos of the contraindications listed in a home use IPL hair removal device user manual.
Check the user manual warnings and contraindications BEFORE you buy!

Here’s a quick summary. However, it’s not an exhaustive list so check with the brand and / or your doctor if you’re unsure. And check the user manual before you buy a device. Visit the websites or email customer support if you can’t find it.

Before you buy a home use device, check:

  • You match the safe skin tones & dark hair colours
  • You’re not pregnant, trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding
  • You’ve not recently sun tanned or used tanning creams
  • You’re an adult. Some brands say over 16 and others over 18

In your treatment areas, don’t use it on:

  • Nipples, genitals or around the anus
  • Ears or around eyes / eyebrows
  • Male beard
  • Dark brown or black spots such as birthmarks, moles or warts
  • Varicose veins
  • Damaged skin e.g. sunburns, cuts, open wounds or active infections, cold sores etc
  • Tattoos or permanent make-up
  • Active implants such as pacemaker, neurostimulator, insulin pump or over silicone implants
  • Areas you use long-lasting deodorants

Don’t use it if you have a medical history of:

  • Conditions such as diabetes, congestive heart disease, history of keloid scars or poor wound healing, epilepsy with flashlight sensitivity, bleeding disorder, immunosuppressive disease including HIV or AIDS
  • Sensitivity to light
  • History of skin cancer or pre-cancerous lesions
  • Radiation therapy or chemotherapy in the past 3 months
  • Surgery in treatment area in the last 3 weeks
  • Chronic skin disease e.g. psoriasis or vitiligo
  • A skin peel (within different time frames given)

Don’t use if you’re taking or have recently taken these medications:

  • Painkillers, which reduce sensitivity to heat
  • Immunosuppressive medications
  • Anticoagulation medications
  • Medications which make you sensitive to light e.g. Retin A, isotretinoin Accutane or other topical retinoids

Always check your medication instruction leaflet to see if photosensitivity is a listed side effect.

Side effects of home laser & IPL hair removal

As with professional treatments, there are some very rare side effects with home use laser & IPL devices. These generally occur when the intensity is too high for your skin. You should wait until your skin heals and returns to normal before doing another session at a lower intensity.

Close up photo of a home use device user manual at the possible side effects section.
Check the possible side effects listed in the user manual.

Here’s a list of possible but rare side effects. If they don’t fade within the times detailed below, go see a doctor.

  1. Burns, excessive redness and swelling around your hair follicles, should disappear within 3 days
  2. Lighter or darker skin patches, should disappear within 2 weeks
  3. Epidermal heating is a sharply defined brownish area that’s NOT dry, and it’s most common with darker skin tones. It should disappear within 1 week
  4. Blistering, small bubbles on the surface of the skin,. They should disappear within 1 month
  5. Skin infection can occur, especially after a burn or skin irritation
  6. Scarring, usually following a burn that takes longer than 1 month to heal
  7. Folliculitis is swelling and pustules around your hair follicles caused by bacteria in damaged skin. Go see your doctor immediately for treatment.

You can choose devices with top safety features to reduce the risk of side effects. The super-safe Braun Pro 5 IPL and the Smoothskin Muse have advanced skin tone sensors which select the best, safest intensity for your skin before every flash.

Or you can choose gentler, lower intensity devices such as the Smoothskin Bare and Silk’n Infinity. These are also safe for darker skin tones but still work on fair tones. They’re worth considering if you’re very concerned about side effects or a bit apprehensive about it all.

As with professional treatments, you increase the risk of these side effects if you expose your skin to the sun before or after your sessions.

Tanning guidance

Photo of a ladies tanned legs in a white sarong on a sunny, white sandy beach with turquoise waters. Lush.
Do you tan regularly?

If you sunbathe regularly, or spend a lot of time in the outdoors you need to take care of your skin whilst using home devices.

IPL / laser hair removal and tanning don’t mix for two big reasons.

  1. Safety: The combination increases your risk of skin reactions
  2. Effect: Tanning darkens your skin so you’ll need to user a lower power intensity level. The higher levels are most effective.

To protect your skin and keep you safe, the device manufacturers provide warnings and guidelines around fake tanning, sunbathing and sun exposure. Check them in the user manuals before you buy.

So, what are the guidelines?

Before your treatments

Close up photo of the tanning guidelines section in the Lumea Prestige user manual.
Check the user manuals for guidance on tanning and sun exposure

Manufacturers give different guidelines for how long you must avoid the sun before your treatments. It varies from a cautious 4 weeks, a more manageable 7 days and a short 48 hours. All advise you perform a new patch test afterwards. This checks your skin’s sensitivity and also if you need a lower intensity level to match your tan.

Here’s why: Whether you tan easily or slowly, natural and artificial sunlight increases the melanin in everyone’s skin.  If you use IPL after sunbathing or sun exposure, you’ve got a high risk of reactions and damage to your skin. Damage such as burns, blisters and temporary and permanent skin darkening (hyperpigmentation) or lightening (hypopigmentation) or scarring.

After your treatments

Wear an SPF30+ if exposed to the sun after your sessions (credit kori nori 597922 from unsplash)

Post-treatment sun exposure guidelines vary too. The most cautious says avoid the sun altogether for 2 weeks after your treatments. Another recommends at least 7 days. And just one suggests 48 hours. All say to use a minimum SPF 30+ in the sun for around 2 weeks after your treatment.

Here’s why: laser and IPL makes your skin extra sensitive so it’s at more risk than usual from sunburn and side effects after your treatments.

Tanning with creams

Manufacturers say to wait for the artificial tan to disappear completely before treating your skin.

Should you avoid tanning altogether?

Yes. The majority of guidelines mean it’s safer and more effective to complete the start-up stage before you start working on your tan (both natural or artificial).

Without a tan you:

  • Can use the highest energy intensity level suitable for your skin type, and so get best results
  • Don’t increase the risk of sunburn after a treatment
  • Don’t increase the risk of post-treatment skin reactions
  • Get the best results from your treatment regimen

Complete your treatments in Autumn or Winter months, or if you can’t avoid the sun cover up and use minimum SPF30 sun lotions. It’s best to stop using fake tan lotions too.

Once you’ve completed your start-up phase, it’s easier to plan occasional top-up treatments safely around sun exposure and tanning.

For some, these guidelines are impractical or the need to tan outweighs the need to banish hairy areas! You must decide if it’s right for you. Or you risk your machine gathering dust in the bottom of a draw.

— How to prepare —

Read the user manual

It’s very important you read the user manual thoroughly.

TIP: Read it before you even buy a device. Head over to the brand website – most have a downloadable copy. If they don’t, email customer support and ask for the latest version.

Photo of the Tria 4X user manual
Read the user manual before you buy and before you start treatments

Reading it helps you understand how to use the device for best results, lists the contraindications or reasons you’re not suitable to use it, warnings and precautions, explains the treatment schedule, what to expect and gives a troubleshooting guide.

N.B. Some devices come with a shorter quick start guide. This is a handy reminder for your subsequent treatments. It’s not a substitute for the full user manual which has much more comprehensive information.

Do a patch test

With most devices you must do a patch test. Shave a spot in your treatment area and zap it according to the instructions in the user manual.

This confirms it’s safe for your skin, and you won’t have any side effects. With some devices you must test a few different intensity levels to find your ideal one. With other devices they choose the best intensity level for you. Wait the recommended time (usually 24 hours) and check your skin. If you’ve still any reaction, you should either test again at a lower intensity or talk to your doctor.

If you haven’t used the device in a while, especially after Summer if you’ve tanned, it’s wise to do another patch test.

Shave

Photo of a lady shaving here legs over the bath.
For best results, shave before your home laser or IPL sessions.

Immediately before your treatments, shave.

Have a good, clean shave. Your hairy areas must be totally smooth with no hair above your skin. If there is, it can sting!

Also, if there’s too much hair above the surface it’ll absorb the IPL or laser energy there. Less will reach the follicle (the bit below your skin). The energy must go deeper in the follicle. It’s down there it works to heat up specific areas, damage them and stop hair growth.

Once shaved, make sure your skin is dry. Don’t apply any moisturisers or deodorant to your skin!

  • Use a good, sharp razor for a clean shave
  • Use a gel, foam or just hair conditioner to moisturise and protect your skin
  • Take your time to get a close shave without any nicks!

Shave before every subsequent treatment. If you need to. You’ll reach the point where you’ll have bald patches, and then no hair at all! So, check your skin for any stray hairs before your session and shave them if you need to.

You can also shave in between sessions as you need to.

Hang on though. Do you have to shave your face?

Shave my face? No thanks!

Most ladies don’t want to shave their face. It feels too masculine. Just plain weird. But thankfully, you don’t need the shaving foam or razor here.

Most brands suggest you can trim your facial hair with scissors. But you could also try a dermaplaning tool.

What’s dermaplaning?

A dermaplaning tool is a very quick and irritation-free way to remove unwanted hair on your face and around your body. It also exfoliates your skin leaving it smooth and extra absorbent for your skincare products.

Photos of a red Hollywood Browser tool.
A foldable Hollywood Browser dermaplaning tool. Different colours available.

It’s a small hand-held foldable tool with a stainless-steel blade behind safety guards. Holding the blade at 45 degrees, gently stroke your dry skin in short motions to remove hair. No water or foam needed. It works on your upper lip, chin, jawline, sideburns and cheeks. And it’s excellent to tame your eyebrows for a quick shape and tidy up.

A dermaplaning tool also removes ‘peach-fuzz’ and exfoliates your skin.

You can also remove thin or Vellus hair, aka ‘peach-fuzz’. This gives your chin and cheeks a much smoother, younger appearance.

Each tool lasts around 2 to 3 months, so it’s long enough to see you through your laser / IPL start-up phase.

True, you’re still removing the hair with a blade. But you don’t need to feel like a man by lathering up with foam and shaving with a razor! The tool is small and easy to manoeuvre. It’s discrete and doesn’t feel or look like shaving. It’s quick and effective.

For most people your hair grows back slower, finer and lighter after only a few zapping sessions. So, stubble won’t be a concern for long. Use the tool in between sessions until you don’t need to anymore. It’s a perfect companion to laser and IPL hair removal on your face.

The Hollywood Browser is the original available to buy from Amazon or buy from CurrentBody.com.

Related: the best home IPL and best home laser for facial hair

But do you have to shave before using a home laser or IPL device?

Can I wax or epilate instead?

Photo of a small epilator.
It hurts just looking at it.

IPL and laser treatments are most effective when you shave beforehand. This means results are quickest. Most brands say to shave.

But some IPL brands do say you can wax or epilate first.

Some also advise to wait 24 hours after waxing / epilating before your treatment. This gives your skin time to recover, and allows the hair in your follicles to grow a bit so giving the IPL something to target.

Make sure all traces of wax are washed away before your treatment.

However, expect much slower results from your sessions!

I recommend shaving for fastest results. But I understand maybe it’s not possible because it causes irritation and rash. That’s OK. Just be aware your results may be slower if you wax or epilate.

N.B. DON’T use hair removal creams because they may cause skin reactions with the IPL.

Get set up

Next, choose a comfortable spot to do your treatment. Depending on which body areas you’re treating, privacy is a good idea too.

Photo of a lady looking in a mirror as she zaps her upper lip with the cordless Lumea Prestige.
A mirror helps with your face, underarms, bikini line and backs of legs, bum etc…

You may want to set up in the living room and watch TV. Or in your bedroom. Here are a few tips to get started.

  • In front of a mirror: A full-length mirror is very helpful for a thorough bikini line, underarms and backs of legs
  • A mains extension cable: Most devices have a long power cord, but maybe not long enough if you want to sit on your bed. So, an extension cable from the mains gives you more.
  • Find privacy: Zapping your bikini line or bum lacks elegance and it’s not something you’ll want to share with housemates, kids, window cleaner etc. Try to find privacy in your bedroom or bathroom.
  • Choose the right time: It takes time and concentration to get good results. So, stop any interruptions. Choose a time when kids are tucked up in bed.         

— What to expect from home-use machines? —

First up, what to expect during your treatments, then after your treatments and your hair reduction results.

What does IPL feel like?

You’ll hear the cooling fan whirring and a soft ‘pop’ with each IPL flash.

The IPL flashes are bright, but harmless to your eyes. You don’t need to buy specialist goggles or glasses. Use it in a well let room so the flashes don’t seem so intense. Some people find it gets tiresome after a while and wear sunglasses to ease the irritation.

You may smell some singed hair too.

Does IPL hurt?

The flashes mostly feel warm against your skin. But some areas, like ankles, thighs, bikini line and underarms can smart more because they’re more sensitive. Most brands liken this sensation to an elastic band snapping against the skin. It’s instantaneous, uncomfortable but bearable.

You may also feel increased heat on your bikini line and underarms where your hair is generally thicker and denser. From the online feedback, users with darker skin tones report it hurts most frequently. It can depend on your hair density and skin sensitivity. In any of these cases, drop the intensity level a notch or two if it’s too much.

Try starting with your face and more sensitive areas when the flash window area is cool.

IMPORTANT: You can feel pain if your skin isn’t hair free, if the light’s too intense for your skin, if you flash the same area more than once, or if you flash an open wound, infection, tattoo etc.

It also takes a bit of concentration so you don’t miss any areas.

What does laser feel like?

Tria 4X home use laser hair removal

There’s one home-use Diode laser hair remover.

You’ll hear the whirring cooling fan. It communicates with a series of beeps and buzzes. Beeps confirm when something is done and a buzz means bad skin contact and you need to zap that bit again.

You may smell burning hair.

You won’t see any flashes or light from the Tria 4X at all.

It takes lots of concentration. That’s because the zap area is so small and you need to get just the right amount of overlap. You can work in roughly 30 minutes sessions until the battery charge runs out.

Does laser hurt?

Based on the negative and positive user feedback there are more reports of pain with the Tria then with other IPL devices.

Again, Tria use the elastic band-snapping analogy. For some this is true, but for others it’s a much more intense, hot and sharp sensation.

The Tria laser light is the most powerful home-use device. All intensity levels are safe for Fitzpatrick types I to IV. A clinical study suggests the higher levels are 2 to 3 times better than the lower ones. And on the highest level the power is 20 joules per cm2.

This energy reaches deep down to the hair follicle and the melanin in your hair absorbs it. This causes more heat than with IPL. Therefore, there’s more damage to the hair follicle, but for some people it’s accompanied by pain. It depends on the individual.

Some users try the Tria Smooth start gel, lidocaine gel or just an ice pack to numb their skin. You can also reduce the intensity level. After a few sessions painful sensations mostly reduce too.

So, what should you expect after your treatments?

Common skin reactions

Skin redness is a common reaction to IPL and laser. Your skin may also feel a bit hot and tingly. It could feel dry and itch a bit too. That’s likely due to the combination of shaving and light.

It’s all normal and should wear off within 24 hours. You can cover it with a cool face cloth or ice pack. Cooling water sprays are good too, Aloe Vera gel or a non-scented moisturiser.

If you have no reaction at all, you can apply your usual cosmetics, moisturisers and deodorants. If your skin becomes irritated afterwards, wash off any products you applied.

After your treatment, avoid things that could irritate the skin you’ve flashed. For example, using hot tubs and saunas, wearing tight-fitting clothing, using bleaching creams and perfumed or exfoliation products.

Avoid the sun and wear an SPF 30+ on areas exposed for prolonged periods. If you don’t you risk experiencing some of the rare home IPL and laser side effects.

— Your results —

What results can you expect?

First up, let’s see what the recommended treatment schedules look like.

Treatment schedule

Each brand recommends a start-up phase. These start-up phases are usually the same regimen as in their clinical tests.

The start-up phases are between 4 to 12 sessions. Some you need to do weekly and others every 2 weeks. You keep up with these regular sessions until your skin is smooth. Then you do less regular top-up sessions to stay smooth. Most need these at 1- or 2-month intervals.

Here’s a quick summary by brand:

Brand Start-up sessions Frequency Top-ups
Philips (all models) 4 or 5 Every 2 weeks Every 4 weeks
Tria 4X Up to 8 Every 2 weeks As needed
Smoothskin Muse 12 Weekly Every 4 to 8 weeks
Smoothskin Bare Until smooth Weekly Every 2 or 3 weeks
Braun silk Expert 5 / Pro 5 IPL Up to 12 Weekly Every 4 to 8 weeks
Silk’n Infinity 1 to 4
5 to 7
Every 2 weeks
Every 4 weeks
As needed
Remington 1 to 3
4 up to 12
Every 2 weeks
Weekly
As needed
Panasonic (face) 10 Weekly As needed

Top-ups are just as important

So, up front with all brands there’s similar initial commitment and investment in effort and time. But what’s important and often not made clear is the top-ups are very important too.

A recent long-term study of home IPL devices found that the top-up sessions continue to work on your hair follicles. The effect deepens so the more you do the longer your hair-free results last.

The study showed that if you stop at 4 sessions hair grows back. But if you continue for 1 year with less frequent sessions (every 6 weeks) you’ll achieve high and long-lasting hair reduction for 1 year after stopping the sessions.

New hair growth is still possible. That’s because dormant hair follicles can activate and grow new hair. So, you can do just very occasional top-ups as you see any new growth.

Results vary

Each individual is different and so are their results. These are a few things affecting your results:

  • Your skin and hair colour combination (results generally take longer on light hair and / or dark skin)
  • Hair thickness
  • Your genetics
  • Hormones, and conditions like hirsutism (excessive hair growth) and PCOS
  • How thoroughly you cover your skin
  • The number of sessions / top-ups completed

TIP: From online reviews, several people with PCOS use home IPL and laser as an affordable way to manage persistent and visible facial hair. It proves much more effective than plucking and waxing.

Varied results mean you may get a lower hair reduction (amount and thickness of hair) than is promoted by home brands. The results may not last as long either so you cuold need regular sessions to maintain your results.

Some online feedback matches this too. Whilst a few are very disappointed they don’t see the advertised permanent results, many others are still happy. That’s because they’re able to maintain their results with much less time and effort than before. A regular session very few weeks sure beats painful daily plucking and shaving. Enough for them to feel it’s life-changing.

So, what are other results from user reviews of home IPL and laser hair removal machines?

User feedback hair reduction results

Smooth, soft, hairless skin. Lovely.

From the user reviews, there’s a small number who, despite being excellent candidates, don’t get the results they want. Others are disappointed because they stop using it and the hair eventually grows back.

But most experience results that match the start-up phases. It goes like this:

  • After 1 or 2 sessions you’ll still see hair growth. And hair doesn’t fall out immediately. Shave before your next session.
  • After 2 to 4 sessions you should see less hair and smooth patches. Your hair is also finer and lighter, and easier to shave.
  • After 3 to 6 sessions you should have large bald spots, very fine and light regrowth or even be totally smooth! You may not need to shave between sessions.
  • After that continue as directed by the user manual either to complete the full regimen or start your maintenance phase with top-ups every 4 to 8 weeks.

Some users experience very fast results, whereas others needed 2 or 3 times as long. It varies by individual. So, it’s important to stick at it and not give up if you don’t see results within a few goes.

Totally smooth?

It’s also important to note that some never get to totally smooth. What they get is very slow, fine and light regrowth. They can go from shaving daily to every week or month. Some also need top-up sessions more frequently than every 4 weeks. However, they’re happy because it’s much easier to shave and they do it so much less frequently. Overall, they spend much less time and effort to feel silky smooth.

Some long-term reviews share the longer they’ve done their top-ups the less frequently they need them. Some only do a couple every year, or as they see new hairs growing. This shows the results are very long-lasting after frequent top-ups.

Other reported effects

Other happy effects are no more shaving rash or bumps because hair’s so much softer and finer. Skin feels soft, smooth and healthy.

The black dots associated with hair growth disappear. And pores seem to shrink too.

No more armpit or bikini line stubble either. And loads love that itchy and unsightly ingrown hairs quickly disappear!

How to choose an at-home machine?

So, now you know all there is to know about home laser hair removal! If this all sounds good you’ll be ready to go for it! But there are so many home devices to choose from. How do you find your perfect match?

If only there was a quick way to learn which machines are best.

*coughs*

Just choose from the round-up guides below:

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