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What is IPL? A Brief Look Into the Rising At-Home Laser Hair Removal Method

What is IPL? I wish I had known In my single years when I mastered the art of shaving my own back — well, trimming it, that is, with an ergo-friendly body hair trimmer (like Panasonic’s body groomer) and some fierce elbow grease. Looking for better solutions, I’ve used depilatory creams a few times. I tried waxing but always broke out egregiously, no matter how much care I took and how professional the waxer was. For that reason, I avoid shaving it outright, too.

In recent days, I had been trimming with help from my partner, but there’s been a major development in my hair removal routine. What changed wasn’t his willingness to assist — he’s very much still employed to do that. Instead, the task itself has simply switched over to an at-home IPL (intense pulsed lasers) device in an effort to disappear the hairs altogether (or for an extended period of time, at least). 

Now, IPL is a hair removal method that’s been popular commercially but is also starting to gain more traction in 2023 with a number of at-home devices popping up on the market, including the Braun IPL and The Flasher by Nood, among others. But you might be asking yourself “how does IPL work?” or “does at-home IPL actually work?” I’ll admit, I had those same questions before I got started. This is exactly why I kicked them over to one of my most trusted board-certified dermatologists, Dr. Michele Green in NYC. Here is what she had to say about IPL and at-home devices.

What is IPL? A Look Into How IPL Works

Adam Hurly | SPY

First and foremost, Dr. Green shares an explanation of what is happening between laser and hair follicle.

“The laser targets pigment in the hair follicle,” Dr. Green explained. “The heat from the laser destroys the hair follicle during the growth phase. Hair follicles in the dormant stage are unaffected by the laser treatment. This is why multiple treatment sessions are needed to achieve complete hair reduction in a given treatment area.”

One of the most important caveats about laser hair removal is that it doesn’t work uniformly across all skin tones and hair tones. The way for it to be most effective is to have a high contrast between lighter skin tones and darker hair tones. “IPL works best on dark hair because the light energy is attracted to the melanin or pigment in the hair,” Dr. Green added. “IPL laser, therefore, is not suitable for blonde, red, or gray hair. Because IPL targets darker pigment, it is not suitable for tanned or dark skin because the laser cannot differentiate between healthy skin and hair.” This unfortunately takes a lot of ideal IPL candidates off the table.

Courtesy of Nood

As you might suspect, these at-home devices are less intense than clinical ones. And for the same reason, their results won’t last quite as long as the professional-grade treatments. But that doesn’t negate them, because it still puts a lot of power in your hands, and it can save you a ton of money if you’re willing to keep up the habit of lasering. Dr. Green sees the at-home devices as a way to maintain the results of professional laser hair removal treatments.

Look — I know a lot of you are going to use this as your sole effort, rather than any clinical treatment. I did the same. But that’s her professional advice, and it needed to be said.

As far ask risks are concerned, there are some associated with any laser treatments, primarily post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. “Not all lasers are suited for all skin types,” Dr. Green said. “For these reasons, it is highly advised to consult a board-certified dermatologist to ensure the risk of side effects is minimized.”

At-Home IPL Treatment Devices

By using The Flasher 2.0 by Nood twice per week, the brand claims users get the results they’re looking for after eight weeks of using the painless IPL treatment device. The Flasher is safe for use anywhere that hair grows, even those sensitive areas like the bikini line and underarms.

This Braun Silk Expert IPL Pro 5 was made exclusively for The Art of Shaving. This model is SPY-reviewed and comes with a nice razor and carrying case.

What to Expect From an IPL Treatment

Adam Hurly | SPY

And set your expectations correctly: No IPL treatment is purely permanent. “Hairs can grow back after IPL laser hair removal treatments, though they will be lighter, finer, and fewer in number,” Dr. Green said. But guess what? You can keep lasering those ones, too. Essentially, it only gets easier once you embark, even if it means you’re “touching up” every few months after the first coat is shed.

You should expect about 12 weeks, minimum, to see lasting results from that first treatment cycle (with lasers administered once weekly). Dr. Green also added that the frequency of touch-ups will vary from one individual to the next. Not to mention, your body might sprout some new hairs over time, too. So, don’t ditch the device when you’re done. You can plan to use it far less frequently — perhaps once every couple of months or so (products from brands like Braun suggest touch-ups at 1-2 month intervals).

How to Maximize the Benefits of IPL Treatment

Courtesy of Instagram, Nood

If you’re using an IPL treatment device at home, then Dr. Green has some advice for maximizing your efforts, as well as ensuring a safe treatment. 

First, she suggests trimming or shaving your hair down as much as possible prior to treatment. This will ensure that your hair itself isn’t absorbing all of the laser light, which can then penetrate into the skin and be absorbed by the follicle.

“The laser can singe the hair and cause a burn on the skin or simply make the treatment ineffective for hair removal. The laser should not be used on hair growing out of a mole because moles contain more melanin (pigment), and the energy will target the mole. The mole can become burned or lose pigmentation, which also affects the ability of a dermatologist to see any changes to the mole during a skin check,” Dr. Green explained.

Courtesy of Instagram, Nood

IPL treatments can cause some ocular sensitivity, too, especially in people who have a preexisting sensitivity. At a clinical level, both the patient and professional wear protective eyewear. “Even though at-home IPL devices work at a lower setting, it is best to wear protective eyewear to prevent any damage to the eyes,” Dr. Green advises.

She also recommended avoiding the use of these devices after sun exposure or when you have too-tanned skin. In the same vein, you should avoid sun exposure after IPL treatments, since the laser makes skin more photosensitive. “IPL should also not be performed on darker skin, moles, birthmarks, and tattoos,” she adds. You can use them on any body part with hair, but do so carefully around curves, like the shoulders and chest. Hey, we’re gonna go out on a limb and advise against using them above the neck, even if this device and others allow for it. If you choose to proceed, do so under the instruction of a board-certified dermatologist.

Lastly, she says to make sure the device has good, complete contact with the skin so that the laser treatment is targeted entirely into the treatment area.