In a nutshell IPL (intense pulsed light) works by targeting the dark pigment around the hair follicle in order to damage it sufficiently to cause the hair to fall out and inhibit its ability to re-grow.
The dark pigment which is found in both your hair and skin and which determines its colour is known as melanin.
Melanin is particularly dense at the base of the hair root to provide a good target for the powerful pulses of light emitted by the IPL device.
IPL Broadband Pulsed Light
As the light is absorbed by the melanin it produces heat energy and it is this which causes the damage. The growing hair will fall out between one and two weeks following treatment.
So, after reading the above, you would be forgiven for feeling a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, and wondering if it isn't a bit risky!
The truth is that, whilst there are some common side effects, they are generally both mild and transient.
However, there are certain precautions that you do need to take, and IPL is definitely not suitable for everyone.
Following IPL treatment it is not unusual to experience slight tenderness and redness of your skin, possibly accompanied by very slight swelling.
This can be alleviated by applying a cooling, soothing antiseptic gel Or use a water oxygen jet peel machine for hydrating should clear up within one or two days.
There is a chance, also, that you may see slight pigment change (either darker or lighter patches), which should fade within a few weeks.
Risks - When IPL is Not Suitable
IPL hair removal has historically been most suited to those with light skin and dark hair and whilst there have been many technological advances to widen the scope of IPL, this is still broadly the case.
This is because there is a strong contrast between the melanin in the skin and the target hair follicle. If the skin is of a darker tone, there is a danger of the light being absorbed by melanin in the skin as well as the follicle, which can lead to burns, blistering and permanent scars in severe cases.
There is a universally recognized numerical table known as the Fitzpatrick scale which rates skin tones by their response to UV light (from 1 - 6). If you fall in the 1 - 4 range then IPL should be good for you.
If you are planning to go to a salon for professional treatments, then the practitioner will advise you.
In addition to skin tone, you need to take into account the color of your hair. IPL is not effective for anyone with light blond, white, grey or red hair.
Some conditions preclude the use of IPL for safe hair removal:
Skin conditions - such as psoriasis or if your skin is photosensitive if you are being treated for any chronic skin disorder check with your dermatologist first
Tanned skin - never use IPL on tanned or sunburnt skin - you will need to wait several weeks until the tanning has faded completely. This also applies to fake tan.
Pregnancy - IPL is not advised during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding
Tattoos - you should not treat tattooed skin with IPL
Moles - IPL is not suitable for removing hair from moles
The list above is not by any means exhaustive - Read safety precautions before using an IPL machine. If in doubt, seek appropriate medical advice.
Bear in mind, also, that you will not be able to use any hair removal method that requires the hair to be pulled out at the root i.e. waxing, tweezing, epilating, threading between IPL treatments.
You can, however, keep unsightly growth under control with shaving.
Benefits of IPL for Hair Removal
There are a number of benefits of choosing IPL for your hair removal as opposed to other methods:
Quick and easy - IPL devices have a relatively large treatment window and are able to cover large areas quickly (in comparison to laser or electrolysis). Typically, it is likely to take around 10 - 15 minutes for a whole leg.
No unsightly regrowth - you can shave between treatments and, unlike waxing, epilating or using depilatories, you do not need to allow the hair to grow at all for IPL to be effective.
No Ingrown hair - IPL avoids the risk of ingrown hairs experienced with other methods such as waxing and shaving.
Permanent results - over time, you should see permanently reduce hair re-growth, if you continue with treatments. The number of treatments required will reduce and the time between treatments increases.
Lighter re-growth - hair that does re-grow will become lighter and finer and less easy to see.