IPL is a long-term hair removal and reduction method that can leave you relatively hair-free after 6–12 treatments.
The biggest decision you'll have to make when it comes to IPL hair removal is to decide if you want to buy an at-home device or if you'd rather get professional treatments. We'll walk you through the steps to make a decision and give you some hair removal alternatives if IPL doesn't seem like it will work for you.
Compare some of the best IPL hair removals
What is IPL?
Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a hair removal method that damages the root of the hair, which stops the hair from growing back. While IPL hair removal and laser hair removal are sometimes used interchangeably, they are actually two different methods of hair removal.
IPL is most effective on those with dark hair and lighter skin. While the results of IPL are permanent, multiple treatments will be required to get rid of all the hair in a desired area.
- Removes hair permanently
- Less painful than waxing, epilating and other hair removal methods
- Works quickly to destroy the hair at the root
- Typically cheaper than laser hair removal
- Not as effective on those with darker skin tones
- Not effective on light blonde, light red, grey or white hair
- Can cause pain and redness
- Professional treatments can be expensive
The amount of time it will take to get rid of unwanted hair depends on your hair growth cycle, which could last anywhere from a year to 18 months or more. Generally, treatments start out every few weeks and then as less hair grows, you can space the treatments out more. After around 6–12 treatments, most people only need periodic maintenance treatments every few months.
How does IPL work?
IPL uses a broad-spectrum, visible light that targets the melanin pigment in hair. This light creates heat that is absorbed by the hair, which causes damage to the follicle and stops the hair from growing. The same type of broad-spectrum light can also be used in the treatment of spider veins.
Why doesn't IPL work on light hair?
The light used by IPL is attracted to dark pigment. This means it works best on dark hair and light skin. IPL can actually be damaging to dark skin, as the light will target the melanin in the skin instead of the hair. If IPL won't work for you, check out some alternative hair removal methods.
Is IPL hair removal safe?
While IPL is generally considered safe, some people do experience side effects from IPL treatments.
Potential IPL side effects include:
- Mild to moderate pain at the time of treatment
- Redness lasting a few hours
- Damage to the eyes if protective eyewear is not worn
- Burns if used incorrectly
- Skin discolouration
At-home vs professional
There are two main types of IPL hair removal: at-home IPL devices and professional treatments.
- At-home. Home devices typically cost from $150 to $1,000, depending on the power of the device and the number of included attachments for specific body parts such as bikini, face and underarms. These devices are less powerful than professional equipment and usually require more treatments to completely get rid of unwanted hair. Home IPL devices use a bulb that flashes to target the melanin in the root of your hair. Each bulb will only last for a specific number of flashes and will then have to be replaced. Home IPL devices can be either battery powered or corded.
- Professional. Professional IPL treatment is more powerful and more effective than home treatment and usually requires fewer sessions to target all unwanted hair. However, professional treatment is much more expensive. The total cost of professional hair removal depends on the areas you want to treat. If you just want to remove hair on your upper lip or underarms, costs typically range from $40 to $100, while full legs and bikini area can cost $150 to $250 per session or more. Between 6 and 12 sessions may be required based on your colouring, the areas you want to target and individual circumstances.
Alternative hair removal methods
If IPL doesn't sound like it will work for you, there are several alternative hair removal methods you could try including laser hair removal, epilators, shavers and trimmers.
Laser hair removal
- Laser hair removal uses a similar method to IPL to damage the root of the hair and stop it from growing back. However, instead of using a broad-spectrum light source, laser hair removal uses laser technology to target the hair.
Laser hair removal is performed in a professional clinic or salon and is usually more expensive than IPL. Some people who are not suited for IPL, including those with darker skin tones, can be suitable for professional laser hair removal.
- Epilators are devices that pull hair out by the root. Epilators can be used just about anywhere on the body with the right attachments and some, like the Braun FaceSpa epilator we reviewed, are specifically designed to be used on the face, with results typically lasting from one to two weeks. Like tweezing and waxing, epilating can be painful, especially during your first few treatments.
Shavers and trimmers
- Electric shavers and trimmers are quicker to use than traditional blade razors and can often be used less frequently. Basic electric shavers can cost as little as $20 but more-sophisticated models with several attachment options can cost hundreds of dollars. For more information, check out our guide to electric shavers.
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