After years of leaving her home IPL device to gather dust, Stylist’s beauty editor finally put it to good use – here’s everything you need to know before trying one yourself.
I haven’t always been aware of the hair on my face. In fact, I only found it was there when, aged 17, a friend turned to me while we were shopping in Boots and pointed out my moustache. From then on I was ridiculously self-conscious of it. I think I actually bought some hair removal cream that day and vowed to get rid of it forever.
That was easier said than done, and the years that followed saw me shave it, pluck it, thread it – you name it, I tried it. Nothing worked, nothing seemed like an achievable long term solution. I don’t know why I was so embarrassed of it really, maybe it’s because it was pointed out to me so blatantly while I was at an impressionable age, who knows. Now, though, whenever I read about people who embrace their face and body hair I wish I could be like them, but I know I’ll never be that person.
My attempts at removal carried on throughout my 20s, I even tried professional treatments to no avail. The hair just seemed to be growing back thicker and more obvious than ever, making me ridiculously self-conscious; it reached a point where I was having to shave my face every time I showered just to get rid of it. Then, during the first lockdown, I remembered I had a Braun at-home IPL (intense pulsed light) device that was gathering dust at the back of my wardrobe. I decided then was as good a time as any to give it a go – and after more than 12 weeks of regular use, it’s actually working.
I know at-home devices are expensive but so is any type of professional hair removal. Regular in salon appointments are necessary because one session is never enough, and they can cost anywhere between £50 and £200 per session depending where in the country you are. Through consistent use, I found that hair grows back thinner, slower and in some places it hasn’t grown back at all.
It does require time and patience, which is why it probably took me so long to try it, but it’s relatively quick and fairly painless. It also burns a little bit, but I always find things generally don’t hurt as much when you’re doing them on yourself (or is that just me?).
Despite seeing impressive results, I’m still not entirely sure how IPL works and how it differs from the hair removal lasers used in professional salons. I asked Debbie Thomas, advanced skin and laser expert, to explain. Here’s what she said – along with her tips and advice for at-home IPL hair removal.
What are the main differences between at home IPL and hair removal done in a salon?
“It’s the power of the machine and the ability to change the settings when treating different hair and skin types,” says Thomas. “Most at-home devices do work to slow down and reduce growth, making it more manageable, but in most cases won’t be as efficient at permanently reducing hairs in an area even with more treatments.”
How does at-home IPL work?
“IPL stands for intense pulsed light. It is a flash of light that goes through a filter to produce a wavelength of light that is absorbed by melanin (hair and skin colour), the light builds up to heat and disables or destroys the growing cells around the ‘hot living hair’ resulting in a follicle which will struggle to make a new hair,” she explains.
“We have about 5 million hair follicles on our body and each one behaving a little differently in terms of growth cycle (growing, dying, resting) and both home and professional devices only work when the hair is in the growing phase; which is when the hair is in direct contact with the growing cells. As little as 15-20% of the hairs you see on areas like legs are in the active growing phase, most of the hairs are already in the dying phase, which lasts 2-3 weeks. The dead hairs seem to keep growing as they get longer, but that’s the dead hair being pushed out of the skin,” says Thomas. “That means when you do a treatment you are likely only affecting 5-10% of the actual follicles in that area (follicles in resting phase can stay empty for weeks before starting to form a new hair). This is why you need multiple sessions regardless if in a clinic or at home.”
How does in salon hair removal work?
“Salons could have multiple machines with different wavelengths, which means they can choose the exact wavelength for the colour and type of hair and skin you have making it more targeted and precise,” she says. “Also, because professional machines are stronger, you get better destruction of the growing cells so there’s a more thorough reduction of hair growth.”
How long does IPL hair removal take to work?
“For areas like legs, bikini and underarms, expect 6-8 treatments for almost complete removal of hair with a maintenance treatment every 9-24 months, while most home devices will need double the treatments and much more regular maintenance sessions,” says Thomas.
Will at-home IPL ever be as effective as in the salon?
“New types of technology are being created all the time so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. However, the main concern is always the potential damage that lasers and IPL could cause if used incorrectly (e.g. burns),” she says. “If used as directed, at-home devices shouldn’t put too much power into the skin as a single pulse is intentionally set at a level not to cause damage to skin. Unless a new way of getting the energy in more effectively without substantially increasing the overall power is developed then I don’t think we can risk higher-powered machines in inexperienced hands.”
Can people of all skin tones use at-home or in-salon lasers?
“Light-based hair removal works using melanin, which means the more melanin you have in your skin the harder it is to treat as safely or easily. That’s because the pigment absorbs too much energy and builds up heat where it isn’t wanted,” explains Thomas. “We have three hair removal devices in our clinic and only one is safe to use on darker skin tones and even then, we have to be cautious.”
“There are a lot of home devices and some do say they are safe for all skin tones, which they couldn’t claim if it wasn’t proven. That’s why it’s important to always follow the instructions, and the reason you shouldn’t try and overuse them to get faster results. That won’t happen due to growth cycles, instead you could end up damaging your skin.”
Is it possible to overuse at home IPL devices?
“Yes. You must follow the instructions because they have been provided not only to stop you damaging your skin but also to give the best results. If you overuse them you could end up with irritation or worse pigmentation issues or an actual burn,” warns Thomas.
How should skin/hair be prepared prior to using IPL?
“You should shave or trim the hair down to skin level, we recommend our clients shave the area the day before,” says Thomas. “That said, some at home devices may give you different preparation advice so always follow the instructions.”
The best at-home IPL devices, picked by the Stylist team
Braun Silk Expert Pro 5
Expensive, yes, but cost-per-use will be minimal. This is Braun’s fastest IPL device and claims to help permanently reduce hair on face, body and legs in a month. It also has a built-in skin tone sensor that continuously reads skin tone and adapts the intensity of the light to ensure a safe, effective treatment. Plus, it’s dermatologically accredited by the Skin Health Alliance and comes with two heads, one smaller for targeted use on the face, under arms and bikini line, and a bigger one for legs and body. It comes with a Venus razor, too.
Braun Silk Expert Pro 5, £564.99
Phillips Lumea Prestige IPL Hair Remover
Like the Braun device, this one also has technology that’s designed to adapt to skin during treatments. Studies show that users achieved up 92% hair reduction in three treatments and it’s suitable to use on skin tones from very white to dark brown; it’s not suitable for very dark skin or those with white or grey, light blonde or red hair due to the pigments.
Silk’n Infinity 400,000
Suitable to use on all skin tones and almost all hair colours, including redheads, blondes and greys, this device also has a built-in sensor that prevents it from emitting a strong light if skin is too dark.
Silk’n Infinity 400,000, £265
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Main image: Getty
Freelance beauty editor Lucy Partington is obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she'll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.