I must confess that because of my personal experience I’m a firm IPL hair removal advocate. I think both Lasers and IPLs do an equally great job at hair removal, however I love IPL machines for their flexibility and adaptability. I love the fact that because they use a broad spectrum wavelength (more about that later), even with a hair removal filter in place, you are getting other small benefits for your skin.
I’ll tell you my story:
I started shaving when I was 13. I was staying over at a friend’s place when she got invited to a cousin’s birthday party. I had not brought anything appropriate to wear, so my friend lend me a dress. I did have hairs in my legs but then there were hardly visible: very blonde and light. My friend, however convinced me they were unsightly and that we should shave.
We closeted in the bathroom and replacing the blade in her dad’s very old style razor I proceeded to shave. The first pass not only removed my hair but also a strip of skin o about 1cm width x 4cm long. Fortunately the blade was so sharp I didn’t even feel pain. Being my first time, obviously I pressed too hard. Despite that, I kept going and after a few more cuts (not as bad, though) I got 1/2 my leg shaved. I didn’t look very pretty, though: full of band-aids.
After that, I had to shave every single time I wanted to wear a dress, shorts or swimming suit. My hairs grew back black and strong like nails. I learned to shave without cutting myself, I also bought a modern razor with safety bands. However, my pores always looked big and red and a few hours later my skin felt like sandpaper.
I tried waxing and I found the pain unbearable, but I put up with it and I loved the results until my hair grew back. I had so many ingrown hairs I spent a whole day with a needle pulling them out. So I went back to shaving.
I also tried depilatory creams, they didn’t work on my hair. After following all the instructions to the letter, I not only still had most of the hair, but my skin look so red and irritated, I had to give up.
Next I learn of Electrolysis. I was so keen to get rid of my hairs that I was willing to do anything. After 1 hour treatment session, they had managed to remove only an area of about 2cm x 2cm. It was also very painful. When I thought how long they were going to take to clear all the hair from my legs I could not take it, so I never went back.
Finally one day I saw this ad offering IPL hair removal at half price. In those early days it was very expensive. Normal price for full legs, per session was $1,200. At half price: $600 was still very dear, but I just had to do it. I was so sick of my hairs! I got all my savings and I did it. I had 8 treatments done, spaced every 6 weeks. I had so much hair in my legs that it was not until the 3rd treatment that I started to notice a difference.
That was 16 years ago and to-date, I only get less than 1% regrowth (about 8-12 hairs), mostly around the knee area. Is that a great result or what! It was the best thing I ever did! Worth every penny!
What is the difference between IPL Hair Removal and Laser?
Both IPL and laser use a high intensity light beam to destroy the hair follicle. The Light is attracted to the colour (melanin) in your hair. When the light hits the hair it transforms in heat energy and travels through the hair shaft to the follicle. For the energy to destroy the follicle, the hair must be attached to the bulb (root) and in its growing stage.
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is sometimes called a Laser, however it is not a Laser in the true sense of the word. IPL hair removal uses a Xenon flash lamp that emits a broad spectrum wavelength. This means it is not fixed in just the one colour but a range of colours within the spectrum. With the same filter you can target from black hair to light brown hair. Because of the broad spectrum some of the light gets dispersed and it is not attracted by the hair.
Laser hair removal on the other hand, uses a monochromatic (one colour), coherent wavelength of light. This means that the light produced by a laser is made out of many waves of the same colour (wavelength). Hence, lasers are more powerful because the beam of light is concentrated and very targeted. Lasers can be adjusted to be attracted to your specific hair colour, however your hair may have different colours within the same patch and laser may be attracted to some hairs and not others.
Intense Pulsed Light, as the name implies uses intense pulses (outbursts) of non-coherent light. Wavelength range is between 400nm and 1200nm. For hair removal the therapist will use a filter with a 640-1200nm range. Modern IPL machines use an internal cooling system to keep the headpiece from getting too hot and burning the skin.
With different filters IPL machines are used to treat a range of skin conditions such as: spider veins, acne, wrinkles, pigmentation, rejuvenation, etc.
IPL was first used for rejuvenation treatments and permanent hair removal came about as a side effect. Laser advocates usually quote this as a bad thing, in my opinion it is rather an advantage because at the same time you are getting rid of the hair your skin is getting a “face lift”. In other words, the skin in the treated area experiences small improvements such as: increased collagen production, reduction in pore size, reduction in pigmentation, and elimination of small blemishes.
Many clients seeking permanent hair removal come from a waxing or shaving background. Shaving irritates the skin, enlarging the pores and making them look red. IPL will not only remove the hair, but will reduce the pore size improving the overall texture and tone of the skin. In the case of waxing most clients suffer from ingrown hairs. IPL will get rid of the ingrown hairs and reduce any scarring. Laser will also get rid of the ingrown hairs but it won’t do anything for the scarring or pigmentation caused by the ingrown. They will need to use a different laser or headpiece and charge you for an additional treatment.
Laser hair removal tends to be more painful, however this is no longer true for all lasers. Also in inexperienced hands lasers are more dangerous, some states have regulations in which they can only be used by a doctor or under the strict supervision of one.
Is Laser Hair Removal more effective than IPL Hair Removal?
If you talk to a clinic that uses Laser, they will tell you the Laser is more effective and vice-versa. I believe that both are equally effective and the effectiveness or lack of it depends on the operator. With the increased popularity of IPL and Lasers, machines and treatments have greatly come down in price making them available to a larger number of people. Many beauty salons, and even doctors offices have had to employ staff with very little or no training at all in the safe use of Lasers & IPL. To keep treatments safe and avoid burns and damage to the skin, they have resorted to the use of low energy settings, which tends to make the treatment less effective.
A 2006 article in the journal “Lasers in Medical Science” compared alexandrite lasers, diode lasers and IPL hair removal. The review found no statistical differences in effectiveness: Hair reduction after 6 months was reported as 71.71% for diode lasers, 68.75% for alexandrite lasers, and 66.96% for IPL. Diode laser also reported the highest incidence of side effects at 28.9% compared to 15.3% for IPL and 9.5% for alexandrite lasers. All side effects were temporary and returned to normal within 6 months.
Lasers tend to be more expensive than IPL machines, hence laser treatments are also more expensive. Because lasers tend to be more dangerous than IPL, in many states, lasers are regulated and require the presence of a doctor which adds to the costs. IPL hair removal treatments are not regulated in Australia at the moment, however regulatory bodies and the laser industry are pushing for new laws.
Elos Hair Removal
New developments have seen the integration of Radio Frequency (RF) with IPL or Laser: Elos Technology. Elos combines light energy (IPL or Laser) with RF to make the treatment suitable for a wider range of people. Because RF is colour blind it can be used to treat people with dark skin as well as light coloured hair.
How does Elos IPL Hair Removal work?
With Elos technology you have two sources of energy: Light & Radio Frequency (RF).
The IPL light is attracted to the colour in your hair. If your hair is black (optimum case) it will attract a lot of light energy, if your hair is light brown, red or blonde it will attract very little light. So, if you have light hair, with only Laser or IPL the amount of heat reaching your follicles is not enough to destroy them. That is where RF comes into play. Because RF is not attracted to the colour in your hair, it will follow the path of less resistance, that is, the path made by the IPL and will deliver the right amount of energy to kill the follicle.
On the other hand, if your skin is dark, the IPL light will also be attracted to the melanin in your skin. To avoid damage to the surrounding skin, the energy settings for the IPL are lowered. With a normal IPL machine, this will decrease the effectiveness of the treatment. With an Elos machine, that is not a problem because the Radio Frequency is not attracted to the colour in your skin and will deliver the necessary energy to finish the job.
Does it work in redheads?
Red hair tends to lack the brown pigment that IPL and Laser are attracted to. Depending on the coarseness of the hair and darkness, you may be able to achieve a reduction. How much? it is difficult to say. Maybe 40-50%.
If the area is small, such as the face or bikini line, you may want to try Electrolysis. For larger areas you could try Elos first and treat the remaining hairs with Electrolysis.
How about white or very blonde hair?
Again, even with Elos technology very blonde hair can be difficult to treat. The hair needs to have some melanin for the light energy to create a path for the radio frequency. Blonde hair have very little pigment and white hair is the total lack of pigment. Hence you may get a slight refinement but the hairs will remain. It doesn’t have any effect at all in white hair.
Why do I need more than one treatment?
Hair growth goes through a cycle. There are three phases called: anagen, telogen and catagen.
Permanent hair reduction requires multiple treatments because the only time when the hair can be successfully treated is in its early Anagen phase (growth phase). The hair needs to be firmly attached to the papilla and the blood supply for the treatment to be effective. It so happens that only about 15% to 30% of the body hair is in the growth stage at any one time.
During the Catagen phase the follicle starts to degenerate and stops feeding the hair. When the hair is in this stage the treatment may slow growth of the new hair but it will not destroy the follicle.
Telogen is the resting phase. Hair growth stops and the hair is eventually pushed out of the skin. During this stage IPL hair removal or Laser treatment have no effect at all. The concentration of hairs in the Telogen stage varies depending on the area of the body, for the legs it is 62-88%.
In average it takes about 8 treatments to achieve a 80-98% permanent hair reduction on areas of the body and 12 treatments on the face.
Treatments are spaced for maximum defectiveness, that is every 6-8 weeks for body areas. Facial hair however, grows faster than body hair, so treatments for the face are spaced every 4 weeks.
Is this treatment suitable for everyone?
Laser and IPL hair removal is not suitable for:
- Pregnant women
- People suffering from immune deficiency disorders
- People suffering from Polycystic Ovary disease, tumors or Hirsutism
- Body builders taking steroids.
- People with hormonal imbalances
- Bleeding disorders or on anticoagulants
- Heart conditions
Unfortunately treatment results vary from person to person. Even if you are healthy you may not achieve expected results. In some cases the treatment is successful but a year or two down the track it starts to come back. In some cases the hair returns because the follicle is able to regenerate, in other cases it is a totally new follicle that has started to produce hairs. We have many dormant cells in our skin and hormonal changes can trigger new hair growth.
It is not possible to know if the treatment will be effective in a particular case. We have come across cases in which the skin was light, the hair was black, no health issues were known to the client and the treatment had not worked. One of them was a young lady, that had done over 30 treatments at different clinics, with different machines, using both: Lasers and IPL. She didn’t appear to have any health problems and was very fit (she did competitive swimming), her hair was dark, the skin light, there was simply no visible explanation why the treatments had not worked at all. We advised her to have a full check up by her doctor before keeping on wasting money.
What can I expect during an Elos IPL Hair Removal treatment?
You will be required to shave the area to be treated 1-2 days before the treatment. Same day is still OK, but not ideal because the skin can get irritated with the shaving and the irritation could be aggravated with the treatment.
When you come, the therapist will make you rest on a bed and cover the area to be treated with a transparent gel like the one used for ultrasound exams. The gel facilitates the contact between the headpiece of the machine and your skin. It also helps transmit the energy.
You will be provided with dark glasses, to protect your eyes from the light emitted by the IPL.
The therapist will adjust the energy settings in the machine to the most suitable ones for your case and will place the headpiece on your skin. She will then press a button and a flash of light will issue from the headpiece. You may feel a slight pin-prick on your skin, this is OK, some people are more sensitive than others, however it is usually well tolerated (much less painful than waxing). The therapist will continue to flash the headpiece until all the area has been covered.
Treatments are fast because lots of hairs are treated at the same time. For underarms you should allow about 10 minutes. Full Legs may take about an hour and a half depending on your height and weight.
Some areas, specially those with lots of hair, or where the skin is close to the bone, are more sensitive, if it is too painful, please let the therapist know, she can lower the settings for that area. In general, if 1 is no pain at all and 10 is extreme pain, it is fine if you feel a 3 or 5. Remember it is a quick pin-prick of pain, that disappears immediately, and for the majority of the treatment, you would probably feel close to nothing. If you have ever waxed, you will hardly feel this. Compared to waxing, it is painless.
After the treatment, the therapist will remove the gel and apply a soothing lotion such as aloe Vera. Sometimes it is possible to experience some redness after the treatment, specially in areas where there is friction with garments, such as underarms or groin. If you feel the area tender, apply aloe Vera or a cool compress. In general, any redness disappears within an hour and you can return to your normal activities right away. You should avoid exercising, saunas, and swimming pools for 24 hours.
After the treatment and in-between treatments it is important to keep the treated area out of the sun because your skin will be more sensitive to UV rays and it could cause pigmentation. Cover the area when in the sun or wear a good broad-spectrum sunscreen, remembering to reapply frequently.
- In the hands of an experience therapist both Laser and IPL hair removal are equally effective.
- Lasers are more powerful however they are very targeted to just the one chromophore
- If you have all your hair equally coloured and very dark, laser may be slightly more effective 5% more effective with a Diode Laser and 2% with an Alexandrite Laser
- If you want to diminish enlarged pores, ingrown hairs, superficial scars or pigmentation in the same area of unwanted hair IPL hair removal is a better option
- If your skin is dark or your hair is light brown you need Elos Thechnology.
- Laser is more expensive than IPL hair removal.