The Hairy Truth: IPL and Laser Hair Removal

ipl and laser hair removal

Many of you are justifiably sceptical when it comes to light-based hair removal. It seems like witchcraft when you don’t understand how it works. So, for this article, I’ll be explaining how both IPL and Laser Hair Removal work.

What is IPL hair removal?

IPL stands for intense pulsed light and I’ve written about it before in regards to skin treatment. IPL scatters multiple wavelengths, varying between 500 and 1,200 nanometers, of light across the skin. The IPL works like a spotlight on a stage, targeting very specific areas (which is why it’s effective in treating pigmentation and redness) and it emits wavelengths that target pigment for hair removal.

This is why the majority of IPL is not suited for people past skin type III on the Fitzpatrick scale AKA it’s only suited towards the Snow Whites with fair skin, dark hair. The light is scoping out chromophor AKA the colour of the compound that makes hair brown or skin pink and cannot tell the difference between hair and skin pigment if they are similar colours, so contrast is important so as not to burn the skin. The pigment in the hair draws in the light and transforms it into heat which then weakens the blood supply to the dermal papilla that nourish the hair, weakening it significantly.

Have you ever plucked a hair and found the sticky little bulb at the end? This is how you know if hair is alive (ie. still growing). This is also the part of the hair that contains DNA, for all of the hoomans interested in forensics. This is why it’s recommended to have between 6 or 12 treatments of IPL depending on a range of factors – you need to be able to catch the different cycles of living hairs (for the nerdiest of nerds: anagen, catagen and telogen) so that all hair is destroyed.

Is IPL effective for hair removal? It is but it depends on the technician and the settings they challenge the bulb with. Lumenis and Quantum are the machines I’ve had experience with. The main issue with IPL is managing our expectations, especially if the hair growth is caused by hormonal triggers.

What is laser hair removal?

The difference between IPL and laser is that laser involves only one specific wavelength being emitted, which means it can be specifically set up to target an exact pigment rather than just pigment in general. Laser hair removal is generally less painful than IPL hair removal and nowadays some lasers can even treat medium to dark skin types, as they have a longer wavelength.

Always, always, always make sure your clinic is reputable! If the price seems too low, it could be because they’re using low-quality equipment that will not have the same results as a higher quality machine. Be savvy – don’t fall for upselling of other body parts and packages if it is not what you want.

If a clinic tells you that they can remove fair hair, they’re lying. At the moment, there is no laser widely-known or widely-used that can remove fair hair. Laser hair removal is relatively quick (up to an hour for larger areas like the back of a leg) and is reliable and predictable.

When you are going in for laser hair removal, the hair in the area being treated will be trimmed down, you will receive eye protection to shield the laser from your delicate peepers and a gel or other cooling method such as cryogen will be applied to help the lasers to penetrate the skin properly.

Post-laser, your mast cells (AKA the type of white blood cell that is involved in wound healing) may flare and your skin may be generally inflamed – red, sore, tender to touch and even a little bit swollen. This usually subsides after less than 48 hours.

The pros and cons of light-based hair removal


  • Both IPL and laser can be used essentially anywhere on the body, as long as the skin is fair and the hair is dark.
  • It’s fairly widely available these days.
  • For many people, it’s a long term solution in that after your prescribed set of treatments, your hair will be much lighter and there will be less. It’s notable to mention that after the initial treatments, you will need to top up annually to maintain the results.
  • It will not cause ingrown hairs, unlike every other form of hair removal can.
  • It is skin-friendly but you need to be cautious with sun exposure and choose your clinic well.


  • It’s a pretty large short-term expense, although it works out very affordable in the long term.
  • It has to be done in a clinic.
  • It is not suitable for use until after 4 weeks of sun exposure as it can cause pigmentation and scarring.
  • There is a possibility of being burned and developing photosensitivity and pigmentation if you do not protect from the sun and don’t follow advice precisely!

It is essential to take great, great care with both the sun and fake tan when it comes to IPL and laser. I have a perfect circle of pigmentation under my left underarm from using laser on myself when there was a trace of fake tan left on my skin – it is not painful and is not skin damage in the traditional sense but it is certainly not aesthetically pleasing!!

When it comes to IPL, laser, waxing, sugaring, threading or any other hair removal treatment carried out in a salon or clinic, never be afraid to ASK QUESTIONS!! Whether your queries are related to the treatment itself or to the hygiene of the premises, clinicians are humans too and should be understanding that you’re afraid of something that maybe you haven’t done before – if they aren’t, find somewhere else. The most important thing when it comes to hair removal is that you and your skin are comfortable.

Related articles: The Hairy Truth: Waxing And Your Skin, The Hairy Truth: Shaving Top Tips