What is IPL and laser hair removal?

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) and lasers use light energy to slow and reduce hair growth. People use the term ‘laser hair removal’ to refer to both methods, but IPL and lasers work in slightly different ways. They promise several benefits over traditional methods of hair removal like waxing and shaving. Professional treatments in aesthetic clinics have proved so successful and popular there’s now a huge choice of devices designed for safe use at home.

Keep reading as we answer ‘what is IPL and laser hair removal?’ in more detail.

The benefits of laser hair removal

Here are a few of the key benefits:

  • Get longer lasting results than waxing, shaving and depilating.
  • Bare your pins whenever you want and always be bikini-ready!
  • Plenty of review feedback says it stops in-grown hairs
  • Improved condition of the skin i.e. no shaving rash, razor burn, in-grown hairs
  • No visible ‘black dots’  after shaving (where your skin looks like a plucked chicken!)
  • Less pain than waxing or depilating for most
  • Most recent devices give quick treatment times
  • ‘Top-up’ treatments are required, but are needed less frequently the more you use it
  • Experience ‘life-changing’ effects as your body image improves and your confidence levels increase


Different types of laser

The different types of light used in treatments have different wavelengths, measured in nanometers (nm). The wavelength determines how far it can travel into the skin epidermis. Here are the most common types:

  • IPL (from 500 nm to 1200 nm)
  • Alexandrite laser (755 nm)
  • Pulsed diode lasers (800, 810 nm)
  • Nd:YAG laser (1064 nm). Because of its longer wavelength, the Nd:YAG laser is the best laser system to use for darker skin tones.

Laser hair removal popularity

IPL and laser hair removal were at first available through physicians or dermatologists, and now are widely available to the public at specialist cosmetic clinics and high street beauty salons. It’s big business.

The procedures are unregulated in the UK and US, which means that anyone can provide them, trained or not, so it’s important you choose a practitioner very carefully. But many clinics do choose to follow guidelines and join the Care Quality Commission.

“Cosmetic interventions are a booming business in the UK, worth £2.3 billion in 2010, and estimated to rise to £3.6 billion by 2015. They can either be surgical – such as face-lifts, tummy tucks and breast implants – or non-surgical – typically dermal fillers, Botox® or the use of laser or intense pulsed light (IPL). These latter account for nine out of ten procedures and 75% of the market value.”
Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions, Department of Health, April 2013

Clinic and salon treatments are very popular. Several major international companies saw the opportunity here and started developing safe and effective versions for at home use. These devices  came to market from 2006.

Quick facts: what is IPL and laser hair removal?

  • Laser hair removal is used as a general term for both IPL and laser light energy sources
  • IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light
  • Both methods use light energy to heat the hair follicle. This heat damages the follicle and triggers the resting phase of the hair growth cycle. The hair falls out and does not regrow until the follicle becomes active again
  • A combination of your skin colour, hair colour and thickness, body site, treatment frequency, laser type and power intensity will determine your safety and hair reduction results
  • You’ll need multiple treatments to get ‘optimum results’, and all with all devices you’ll need ‘top-up’ treatments to maintain your results
  • ‘Optimum results’ vary for each person. Users have reported:
    • patchy, slower regrowth
    • much slower, finer and lighter hair regrowth
    • to significant hair removal for sustained periods of time
  • With both IPL and laser hair removal your hair won’t drop out immediately. This can take up to 2 weeks, and the hairs sometimes look like they’re still growing, but this is just the hair pushing out from the root. So you may need to shave between treatments, especially at the start
  • IPL and laser hair removal aren’t considered methods for permanent hair removal because although they disable the hair follicle, but they do not remove it. Only electrolysis does this.

Read more in this section: About laser and IPL hair removal

  1. What is IPL and laser hair removal?
  2. How does laser hair removal work?
  3. Laser hair removal at home vs professional treatments: which is best?
  4. Is laser hair removal permanent?


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