Does IPL hair removal really work?
Does IPL hair removal really work?
Here’s the lowdown on intense pulsed light – does it work, is it painful, and how does it compare to laser hair removal?
Hair removal has come a long way since its humble IPL beginnings. The good news is that we now have a far more effective hair removal offering available to us in the form of lasers – a growing and sophisticated area of the treatment industry, set to be worth 2.19 billion by 2019 according to the International Master Course of Ageing Skin. The bad news is a more confusing, often risk-associated, world of treatments.
Here we answer a few of your burning hair removal questions, and with the help of the experts, hope to smooth out the tangled IPL vs. laser question.
What is IPL?
IPL stands for intense pulsed light, and it is a form of light therapy, used for various dermatological procedures including hair removal.
So what’s the difference between IPL and laser hair removal technology?
Unlike laser treatments, which have just one specific wavelength emitted from the diode depending on what you’re targeting, IPL has multiple wavelengths (all between 500 and 1,200 nanometres) that scatter within the skin.
As with all light based treatments, IPL works by emitting a wavelength into the skin, which in the case of hair removal targets pigment. “It works in the same way black clothing absorbs heat on a hot day, versus white clothing which reflects it,” explains laser specialist Debbie Thomas. “The light is absorbed by the pigment in the hair. It quickly turns to heat which then kills the growing cells that make the hair,” Thomas adds.
Hair has to be living for it to work however, “in that, we mean it has to be attached to the bulb of growing cells – when you pull out a hair and it has that little jelly bulb around it, it’s one of the 20 to 40 per cent of living hair on you body. If you pull it out and it doesn’t, it’s a dead hair which can stay on your skin for up to three weeks. That’s why you need to have up to 12 treatments of hair removal laser to catch all hairs in their living cycle.”
However, as a spokesperson at SK:N clinic explains, “IPL is far less effective than laser hair removal. The energy is produced by a lamp, a little like a light bulb, and produces a variety of light waves, meaning that it is more diffused and less powerful and usually limited to use on fairer skin types.”
How do IPL and laser hair removal work?
Unlike laser treatments, which emit a specific wavelength, IPL works like a flash-lamp, sending out scattered wavelengths of light, making IPL very targeted. That also means it affects the pigment in your skin too, so IPL only really works for those with fair skin and dark hair.
“It’s now generally accepted that IPL is a good workhorse for treating blood vessels, but not a very good one for hair removal. The truth is, it’s limited and quite uncomfortable,” says Dr Patrick Bowler, laser expert, and director of Courthouse Clinics. “The great thing about laser is that you can specifically set them up, adapting the nanometre of the wavelengths to target an exact pigment. For example we know that brown hair is zapped at 800 nanometres.”
So if laser is more effective, is it more painful?
Not at all. “Laser feels like being flicked with a hot elastic band,” explains Thomas, but it does vary from laser to laser. Most experts also agree that laser is considerably less painful than IPL “which uses hundreds of wavelengths in each pulse, which only serve to heat up the skin without having any effect on reducing the growth of the hair,” explain the experts at SK:N.
Most modern laser machines also come with a cooling fan to take the edge of the pain, while some lasers, including the Soprano, are virtually pain-free. You might get temporary redness and scaling however, but it will fade.