What is laser & IPL hair removal?

A bit of background on professional and at-home laser & IPL hair removal, and which at-home devices you can buy today.
Close up photo of a laser treating the surface of skin
By Laura Gladman
October 24, 2021

Laser and IPL are different technologies both using powerful light energy. They work in very similar ways on your hairs. As such, you’ll often hear the term “laser hair removal” to describe both.

Most at-home options are typically IPL devices, but again you’ll find it referred to as “laser hair removal at-home”.

This post gives you a little background on the history of laser, IPL and at-home devices. And you can find out how laser, IPL and at-home devices work here.

What is laser hair removal?

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

A laser operative performing professional laser hair removal on a lady's legs.
A professional laser hair removal treatment.

Since the first laser created by Theodore Maiman in 1960, we’ve found many applications for them. Scientists made the discovery that lasers work to remove hair in the 1970s. Researchers noticed hair loss as a side effect in various dermatological studies.

The cosmetic and beauty industry soon caught on, and they knew clients would pay handsomely for long-lasting hair removal. So, they funded research to develop machines and, around 20 years ago in the 1990s, laser hair removal was finally available to the public.

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 for both women and men, 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. You may also need occassional top-up sessions to zap new hair regrowth. Costs range depending on the clinic you choose and body areas treated. Learn more about professional laser hair removal sessions here.

What is IPL hair removal?

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

A laser operative performing professional laser hair removal on a lady's legs.
A professional IPL hair removal treatment.

The first clinical studies of IPL were in 1976, and they studied treatment vascular legions. Loads more studies soon followed into various uses including hair removal. As with lasers for hair removal, it seemed a very lucrative opportunity 🤑. The the first clinical report 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 now readily available on the high street for cost effective long-term professional hair removal.

The treatment protocol matches laser hair removal with 6 to 8 treatments at 4 to 6-week intervals. Professional IPL machinery isn’t as costly as laser machinery. So, it’s more widely available in beauty spas versus doctor-led cosmetic clinics. IPL sessions are usually cheaper than laser hair removal too.

Dig a little deeper…

Professional vs at-home

Laser vs IPL

What is at-home IPL & laser hair removal?

There are many at-home laser hair removal devices to choose from. WeAreBodyBeautiful round-ups will help your choose.
Today there are loads of at-home devices to choose from.

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

The early Boots Smoothskin versus the lastest Smoothskin Pure at-home IPL models
My first at home IPL was the Boots Smoothskin which I bought in 2010 (left). On the right is the latest Smoothskin Pure. It’s one of my faves.

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

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. All these brands and the home machines I review are clinically tested and proven safe and effective for long-term hair reduction at home.

The best at home laser & IPL

I’ve tested all the leading at-home laser and IPL hair removal devices. And so I can make recommendations based on different needs and budgets. I’ve curated the best into three round-ups. Choose the one which best fits your needs:

IPL & Laser

black skin

for fair hair

Laura Gladman
I'm a bit obsessed with at-home beauty devices. It's a habit I've had for around 9 years now. I love the science, testing and reviewing them, and sharing my experience and feedback on my site Wearebodybeautiful.com. I'm also a crazy dog lady, and I don't care.

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