It’s the promise of long-term silky-smooth and hair-free skin that makes laser hair removal so appealing. No longer do you have to endure the daily shave, prickly stubble or itchy razor burn. No more hiding your pins away until they can be waxed, or the endless painful ingrown hairs that follow. So you’ve decided to give it a go. Great! But should you choose professional treatments or do-it-yourself with a home-use machine? The decision is important because you want great results by spending your pennies wisely.
This page sums up the key differences so you can decide which is best for you.
First, we compare at-home and professional laser hair removal for pre-treatment needs, ease and speed, safety, convenience, treatment course and cost. Then we compare the difference between professional and at-home machines, safety and their results.
- At home vs professional treatments comparison
- What’s the difference between professional and at-home machines?
- How safe are DIY laser and IPL hair removal machines?
- How do we know home machines really work?
- What results do users report?
- Summary: which is best?
Laser hair removal at home vs professional treatments
|At-home treatments||Professional treatments|
|Laser vs IPL||There are many at-home IPL hair reduction machines available. Most IPL is not suitable for darker skin tones, but some are combined with other technologies to be safe on dark skin.|
Only a few at-home diode laser machines are available, and the're only suitable for light skin tones (types I to IV)
|Confusingly laser hair removal and IPL hair removal are often used as interchangeable phrases, although they are different technologies.
Some practitioners only offer laser hair removal because they believe it gives superior results over IPL. So research your practitioner and understand which treatment you are recommended and why, so you're happy with your choice.
|Pre-treatment||It's up to you to be fully educated and informed about each machine you consider. Make the right choice; research the websites and user manuals before buying.|
Check your medical history against the warnings and contraindications, suitability of your skin type and hair colour, and pre and post treatment care including tanning do's and don'ts. You can perform a patch skin test once you have chosen and bought a device.
|Your chosen practitioner will consult with you before your treatment to check your suitability, set expectations and guide you through the process.
You’ll review your medical history, your expected results, the treatments, the treatment course, skin typing and test patch treatment, pre and post treatment care (including tanning do’s and don’ts).
|Skin tones||Choose a device that will give you safe, comfortable and effective treatments.|
Most DIY machines are unsuitable for darker skin tones but a few are suitable for dark and the darkest skin tones.
|Your practitioner will suggest treatment type options for your skin type / tone.
Darker skin tones generally can’t use IPL but are suitable for laser treatments.
|Ease and speed of treatments||Some areas are difficult to reach like the back of legs, your butt, back and shoulders. It can get uncomfortable and hard to get good coverage. Try recruiting your partner or a friend to help!|
Your treatments take time and can be slow and tedious especially if covering large areas or treating your full body. You’ll need patience and dedication to see the results.
|A trained operative carries out your treatment making sure all areas are covered. You can lie back and relax (if you don’t mind being seen in your underwear).
The powerful machines cover your skin quickly with a larger flash window and fast flash repetition.
|Safety||Home devices use simplified technology with less power than professional machines, making it harder for us to make painful and skin-damaging mistakes. Skin tone sensors and skin contact systems are used to protect your skin and eyes.||A reputable clinic or salon will adhere to all the legal training and safety requirements and any additional company best practises. As well as the initial consultation, this means they manage hazards and risks during treatment and advise on any side effects.|
|Convenience||You use it when you want, from the comfort of your own home. Of an evening, at the weekend, in your bedroom listening to music, on the sofa watching TV. It’s up to you.||You need time to dedicate to the course of treatments. You’ll schedule appointments in advance and travel and attend in your spare time.|
|Treatment course / regimen||Treatment regimens range from 6 weeks to 3 months. You treat frequently until you get good results. There's no magic number that applies to everyone.|
You’ll need top up treatments. 1 every 4 or 8 weeks, or as you see fit. The length of time between top ups tends to increase the longer you’ve been doing it, and results are best after several months of use.
|To see optimum results, courses are usually between 6 to 8 laser / IPL treatments over approximately 6 to 8 months. Everyone is different and results vary.
You’ll need top up treatments, maybe 1 or 2 a year, or as you feel necessary. There’s no guaranteed minimum time between top ups.
|Results||At-home IPL and laser hair reduction machines don't promise you'll be 100% hair-free forever. A few do make some confusing claims though, so you can learn more about permanency claims here.||Professional IPL and laser hair removal does not guarantee you'll be 100% hair-free forever. Results vary by individual, and top up treatments are recommended to maintain continuous hair free results.|
|Cost||An at home IPL hair reduction machine will cost from around £150 to £500. |
A high price usually means it gives you more treatments. The latest machines offer exceptional value for money providing loads of treatments and top ups for years and years of use.
|A course for your legs costs from around £600 for IPL, and £1,200 for laser.
Top up treatments are additional, per session and dependent on body area.
What’s the difference between professional and at-home machines?
In a clinic, you’ll have a trained professional to assesses your skin and hair colour, then fine-tune their professional grade machines to get the best and safest results. At home it’s just you, and maybe a helpful friend or partner!
It’s really important that home devices get the right balance between power and safety. So they use simplified technology with less power than professional machines, making it harder for us to make painful and skin-damaging mistakes.
So there’s a compromise. Whilst your optimum results will be comparable to professional treatments it’s likely to take you longer to see those results. And you’ll still need regular top ups. On the other hand, you can do all the treatments at home, when you want to and at a much smaller cost than professional treatments.
“With the special emphasis on reduced cost and absolute safety for “nonprofessional” operators, these devices are typically underpowered compared with their in-office counterparts, resulting in reduced efficacy and requiring a greater number of treatments.”
The recent rapid development of the directed-energy, home-use device sector, November 2014
How safe are DIY laser and IPL hair removal machines?
In 2012, the European Society for Laser Dermatology published safety guidelines on home use devices. This shows how their popularity and availability is developing faster than the appropriate regulation for the devices. It’s logical that if suitable safety standards and governance were enforced, manufacturers would need to provide increased evidence of the safety and effect of their devices. This would go a long way to provide reassurance to us all and allow professionals the confidence to endorse home use devices.
You can choose manufacturers that follow these best practise standards. Several manufacturers of the devices we’ve reviewed are members of the ‘Home Use Device (HUD) Working Group’. The HUD Working Group focuses on ‘Safety, Efficacy, Measuring and Standards’ of ‘home use, light- and energy-based aesthetic devices’. Manufacturers include Alliance Boots, Home Skinovations (Silk’n), Philips, Syneron Beauty Ltd., Cyden Ltd (Smoothskin Gold), Iluminage Beauty Ltd and Babyliss Sarl.
How do we know home laser hair removal machines really work?
Studies of at-home devices show good results, but most experts still call for more studies to confirm these and longer-term studies to determine just how safe and long lasting the results are.
“Double-blind, controlled trials and postmarketing studies are needed to establish both effectiveness and safety of these devices.”
Medical-Cosmetic Devices for Home Use: Present and Future Considerations J.L. López-Estebaranz,a,* and E. Cuerdab
Here are some of the study findings:
Silk’n 20 subjects with skin type I to V
- Up to 5 J/cm2
- Supervised, self-treated study
- 3 consecutive bi-weekly treatments
- 40 to 75% hair reduction over 1, 3 and 6 months
- Alster TS, Tanzi EL. Effect of a novel low-energy pulsed-light device for home-use hair removal. Dermatol Surg. 2009; 35(3):483-9
Boots Smooth Skin 29 subjects with skin type I to III
- 11 J/cm2
- 3 sequential weekly treatments
- Mean percentage hair reduction of 41% at 6 months follow up
- Emerson R, Town G. Hair removal with a novel, low fluence, home-use intense pulsed light device. J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2009;11(2):98-105.
Tria home-use 810nm diode laser, 77 subjects with skin type I to IV
- Simulated consumer use
- 3 treatments over 6 weeks
- After 3 treatments 40%, 35% and 33% hair reduction at 6, 9 and 12 months respectively
- Wheeland RG. Permanent hair reduction with a home-use diode laser: safety and effectiveness 1 year after eight treatments. Lasers Surg Med. 2012;44(7):550–7.
Tria home-use 810nm diode laser, with 13 subjects with skin type I to IV
- 1 year follow up
- 8 monthly treatments
- Mean percentage hair reduction rate of 44%, 49% and 69% at 7, 12 and 20 J/cm2
- Reported ‘permanent’ hair reduction as per FDA definition
- Wheeland RG. Permanent hair reduction with a home-use diode laser: safety and effectiveness 1 year after eight treatments.
What results do users report?
From our research on home use devices, some user reviews report seeing results after just one or two treatments. Most took longer to see the same results. The following summarised feedback comes from the customer reviews:
- Softer, thiner, lighter and slower hair regrowth – no stubbly regrowth
- Patchy areas where hair has stopped growing
- Any regrowth is much less noticeable than with other methods of hair removal
- You can shave less frequently, some going from shaving daily to weekly after a few treatments, to monthly, then not at all
- Smoother, healthier skin (no irritation from razor-rash, reduced ingrown hairs)
- You’ll need less frequent top up treatments the longer you’ve been using the device
- If you stop using it altogether, new hair will grow back in
Please be aware that for some people both professional and DIY laser / IPL hair removal simply doesn’t work. The reason why is not known. This small percentage of people are termed non-responders and there’s usually a few among the user reviews for each device who, despite using their machines continually for several months, don’t achieve any or close to the expected results.
So, which is best?
It’s a personal choice based on your preference, backed up by your bank account!
Some people opt for at-home machines because they don’t want to bare all in front of a stranger. Some people want to be able to do it in the comfort of their own home, and when they want. But the most common reason is money. For many, the cost of professional treatments is just too high and can’t be justified. Or quite simply the money just isn’t there.
My opinion: “I’ve tried both. The results of professional laser hair removal on my legs are still amazing almost a decade later. I’ve been using at-home IPL machines for about the same length of time on my other areas and I need the occasional top up now and again. I’m perfectly happy with the results I enjoy, and the money I save.”
An at-home machine is much more affordable by comparison. It costs about the same as just 2 or 3 professional sessions. And the latest machines provide years of use so the return on that initial investment is actually really great. But it’s not just cash you need to invest – it’s time, patience and dedication too.
Finally, the results from both professional and at-home machines are great. You’ll need top ups to maintain your results. But if you’re hairy, have to shave daily, find epilators pure torture, suffer from ingrown hairs etc, you’ll understand what reviewers mean when they say the results are ‘life-changing’.
I hope this has helped you choose which you want to try. If you choose at-home IPL hair reduction, please check out the reviews on this site!
Read more in this section: About laser and IPL hair removal
- What is IPL and laser hair removal?
- How does laser hair removal work?
- Laser hair removal at home vs professional treatments: which is best?
- Is laser hair removal permanent?