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What is IPL and how is it different to laser hair removal?
IPL stands for ‘Intense Pulsed Light’. LASER stands for ‘Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation’ So we can start by explaining the similarity, that both laser and IPL are both types of intense light. The difference between them is that laser is a very focused, relatively narrow beam of just one specific colour or wavelength of the light spectrum, whereas IPL is a non-focused flash of light that consists of a range of colours and wavelengths. Hair removal lasers are always an Infrared type of light, whereas IPL will consist of a combination of orange, red and infrared wavelengths. A laser machine requires a lot more precision technology to produce the beam, whereas an IPL is produced from a very powerful special type of light bulb so is a much more simple device.

How do IPL machines for home use differ from treatment in clinics?
Home use IPL devices are less powerful than a professional clinical machine. The lamp is smaller and does not produce as much energy, although it does deliver similar range of light wavelengths. This means home use IPL devices are very safe to use compared to a professional machine, and very easy to use. The energy settings on a home use device are designed to be very easy to select, whereas a professional machine requires some training to use. A clinical IPL machine requires the users to wear protective eyewear due to the powerful lamp, whereas a home IPL device is safe to use without the need for special eye protection.

What types of skin/hair is it suitable for? (please talk about skin/hair colours and different parts of the face/body)
IPL light is very easily absorbed by dark colour materials. The darker the colour, the more light is absorbed and so the hotter the material becomes. This means that the darker the hair, the more it will heat up so therefore be better treated by the light. Sadly, this means if you have light brown or blond hair, the IPL is not very well absorbed, if at all, so less or no heat is created in the hair, so the treatment is likely to be less effective. Hair that is white, grey, red or very blond is not suitable for treatment with IPL or laser as it will be completely ineffective. Although red hair is a colour, it is not a colour that is able to absorb the Orange/red light from the IPL. IPL devices can be used on a very broad range of skin types as they have adjustable energy settings to accommodate different skin tones.
It is best to treat the skin with IPL when it is at its most pale, and you should never use the IPL on a freshly tanned skin. It is recommended to wait a minimum of 4 weeks after sun or sunbed exposure before applying IPL treatment. You should also avoid applying fake tan or daily tan products for at least one week before using an IPL device. Because the IPL is very well absorbed by darker colours, this means more care is needed if you have a darker skin tone, as some heat will also be produced in the skin. The darker the skin, the more it will heat up with IPL exposure. IPL hair removal devices are not recommended for use if your genetic skin type naturally holds a lot of colour, that is if your ancestors originate from very hot climates such as Africa and Jamaica, or if your skin type is classified as a Fitzpatrick 6.
IPL devices can be used on most areas of the face and body, such as chin, lip, cheeks, neck, Under arms, arms, legs, abdomen. Areas that it is NOT recommended to use the IPL are as follows:

  • Intimate areas such as anus and genitals
  • Nipples
  • Inside the ear
  • Inside the nostrils
  • Close to the eyes or over the eyelids

How should the skin be prepared before treatment?
Before applying the IPL the skin must be cleaned of all creams, make up, and not have fake tan on it, or be holding a fresh tan. Any hair growth must first be shaved, or closely clipped off. For best results the hair must be in the follicle to be treated by the light, therefore do not wax, thread or tweeze the hair out. Only use shaving or depilatory creams to remove the hair from the surface of the skin whilst keeping the hair root in the skin. Important areas that must be avoided with IPL include Tattoos, semi-permanent makeup, dark birthmarks, raised moles or other coloured or dark skin markings that may get hot. Also do not pass the IPL light over any metal jewellery.

How long does it take?
Each IPL pulse takes only a fraction of a second, so to cover an area of skin is very quick. Treating an under arm will only take 1-2mins, whereas treating a larger area such as legs will take longer and depends on your height and leg diameter

How long does it last?
After your first few treatments you will notice the hair is becoming less and slower to grow, but you may still notice some hair growth. This is because not all the hairs are present at once, with about 30% of hair follicles being empty at any given time. So as those empty follicles produce a new hair, they then need to be treated. After several treatment sessions, about 6-10, carried out every two weeks, the time between treatments becomes more spaced out. Some body areas such as underarms, bikini and lower legs will have longer term hair reduction. Whereas face areas, and some torso body areas may continue to regrow finer hair that may need maintenance treatments every few months. Therefore, how long the treatment lasts depends on the body areas.

Are there any people who shouldn’t do IPL?
IPL hair removal should only be carried out by adults from 18yrs and above, and is not recommended for children. People who are affected by the following conditions should not use IPL:

  • People with implants such as pacemakers or insulin drivers.
  • If you are pregnant, think you may be pregnant or are breast feeding.
  • If you have had any form of skin cancer
  • If you are undergoing chemotherapy, taking steroid medications or Roaccutane or Tetracyclines
  • If you suffer with epilepsy
  • If your skin keloids easily
  • If you suffer from photosensitivity
  • If you have uncontrolled diabetes
  • If your skin is open, infected or you have had any skin peeling in the last 8 weeks.

Are there any other risks associated with at-home IPL?
Home use IPL devices are very safe, however there is a very small risk of a few side effects, which if they do happen are mostly temporary and resolve within a few hours or days. These can include:

  • Skin redness, sensitivity or slight itching. These are minor and not a great concern.
  • Very rarely: Skin burns, scarring, pigment changes, swelling.
  • Extremely rare: Scarring, Infection, Bruising

These side effects can be avoided or minimised by carefully following the instructions of use.

Is there anything else people need to know about IPL?
IPL home devices are a great cost effective and easy way to manage unwanted hair growth at your own convenience. However it is important to properly read the instruction leaflet provided with your device. This is one type of gadget that you really should read the instructions and don’t try to work it out for yourself, like we sometimes might do with other things!!

The writer: Alicia Trenchard, Sensica beauty expert

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