Your guide to home laser hair removal (all your questions answered)

I used to have coarse dark hair on my legs and armpits. I would shave regularly but the hair grows back within a few days and my legs would feel stubby and scratchy.

I tried every hair removal method out there with varying, sometimes painful results.

Then I looked into having professional laser hair removal and IPL hair removal. It didn’t take me long to change my mind when I saw the high prices salons were charging.

That was when I decided to bite the bullet and buy my own home IPL device. You can read my recommendation here.

It took me months of research and scratching my head to figure out all the nitty gritty details of home laser treatments. When I first started out, I didn’t even know laser and IPL were two very different things. If you’re new to this, read on to learn more about home laser hair removal before you commit.

Should I start home IPL hair removal treatments?

If you are a busy woman or mom with lack of time, the answer is yes. Doing your own hair removal treatments at home means you don’t have to find a block of time and someone to take care of your kids while you spend hours in the salon having your unwanted hair removed.

And of all the home hair removal treatments that you can use, IPL or laser hair removal is the only method that is painless and will need less sessions and maintenance over time, saving you more time and energy to deal with the rest of your life.

Most busy women eventually end up using laser or IPL hair removal.

What is the difference between laser hair removal and intense pulsed light (IPL) hair removal?

Many people confuse laser hair removal and intense pulsed light (IPL) hair removal including me. Both laser and IPL devices use light to heat hair follicles and prevent regrowth. They sound like they are the same thing but the technology is actually different with the key difference being the light source used.

Laser hair removal uses a laser beam that is made up of precisely controlled pulses of energy in a single spectrum which is absorbed by the melanin or pigment in the hair, reaching into the active hair follicles beneath the skin. When the energy is absorbed, it creates heat from the tip of the hair right down to the bottom of the root, safely destroying the hair without damaging surrounding skin.

Home laser hair removal devices use lower energy levels than salon ones to make them safe for home use. But actually, when you hear people talk about home laser hair removal devices, they often actually mean home IPL hair removal devices as most home devices actually use intense pulsed light (IPL) instead of laser.

IPL is not a laser treatment even though IPL devices also release pulses of energy which is absorbed by the pigment in your hair. The pulses of light stimulate the hair follicle to go into resting phase and therefore stops it from re-growing. But IPL devices use a broad spectrum of light with multiple wavelengths, causing more unfocused energy around the hair and skin area. IPL energy is scattered and much weaker compared to laser energy. IPL devices are usually fitted with filters to filter out unnecessary light wavelengths and UV light.

Words like ‘unfocused’ and ‘weaker energy’ don’t sound like good words to describe hair removal devices. But this makes IPL hair removal gentler than laser hair removal.

Who can use IPL hair removal devices?

The greater the contrast between your hair colour and your skin colour, the more effective IPL hair removal can be. Therefore it works best on those with light skin and dark hair. I have medium brown skin and black hair but found IPL hair removal works very well for me.

Who is IPL hair removal treatment not for?

IPL hair removal treatment is not for women with white or grey, light blonde or red hair, whatever your skin colour. This is due to the low pigment concentration in your hair.

It is also not suitable for women with very dark complexion as your skin has too much melanin.

Also, if you are strapped for cash, please don’t spend it on this. Even though being able to do your own IPL hair removal treatment at home is awesome, it is still a ‘luxury’. There are much cheaper ways to remove unwanted body hair.

IPL hair removal is also not for:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women (because it hasn’t been tested for safety in these women, not because it is actually dangerous to you or your baby)
  • Those with certain skin conditions, for example, psoriasis, vitiligo, porphyria etc.
  • Those with certain medical conditions, for example, diabetes, heart failure, poor wound healing, epilepsy with flash light sensitivity, bleeding disorders, immunosuppressive diseases including HIV
  • Those who have active devices implanted, for example, pacemakers, neurostimulators, insulin pumps etc. You can use IPL hair removal devices if you have breast implants.
  • Those with a history of skin cancer or pre-cancerous skin lesions in the areas you want to treat

What to consider when buying a home IPL device?

  1. The number of flashes – this is the number of times the device can emit a flash. Once the lamp runs out of flashes, you will need to replace the device. Having said that, I ran out of flashes in the 2 year warranty period twice with my older IPL models and Philips replaced my device without hassle.
  2. The number of attachments – depending on which body area you want to use it for, having additional attachments specifically for those areas make it easier and safer for you.
  3. The level of light intensity options – this is important so you can adjust the light intensity based on your skin tone, which body area you are treating and your comfort levels.
  4. Speed – the shorter the time between flashes, the quicker the treatment process.
  5. Corded or cordless option – all devices come with a corded option but only some have a cordless option. Having a cordless option makes the device easier to use and also more transportable. Bear in mind, most devices tend to be slower when in cordless mode.
  6. User-friendliness – choose a device which is user-friendly and straightforward. Life is complicated and busy enough.

I thoroughly recommend the Philips Lumea Advanced. Read why here.

 Check it out on Amazon

What are the side effects that I might expect from IPL treatment?

The most common side effects I have experienced were:

  • Tingling sensation during light flashes
  • Slight redness and warmth after an IPL session
  • Dry skin and itching

Other rare side effects include:

  • Excessive pain
  • Burns
  • Excessive redness and swelling
  • Skin discolouration
  • Blistering
  • Skin infection
  • Scarring

Often these rare side effects are due to using a light intensity setting that is too high for your skin tone. If you use your IPL device according to instructions, there shouldn’t be any major issues.

Continue reading to see how you can take care of your skin after IPL hair removal sessions to reduce your risks of side effects.

After-care post-IPL treatment

After an IPL hair removal session, your skin may feel warm, dry and itchy. This is normal and it wears off after a short while. You can try using an ice pack or wet face cloth to sooth it. I use cold moisturizer. You can also try cooling water sprays and aloe vera gel.

When out in the sun, cover exposed treated skin with sunblock SPF 50+ for the first 48 hours and sunblock SPF 30+ for the next 2 weeks. We should all be using SPF 30+ on sun-exposed skin anyway at all times.

After each treatment, if you can’t wait to get back to tanning, please wait at least 48 hours and only tan if your skin does not show any signs of irritation.

Also, avoid anything that can trigger sensitivity on your skin like perfumes, deodorants and hot showers.

What results can I expect from IPL treatment?

Unless you have very stubborn and coarse hair, you will find that your hair will grow slower and finer after just one treatment. It can also grow back with bald patches. As you continue on with treatment, your hair growth will be slower and sparser and eventually stop growing back for long periods of time.

IPL treatment takes time and effort, not unlike any other hair removal method. There is a start-up routine and you will also need to do top-up sessions to maintain the results. Over time you will find that you don’t have to do maintenance treatments as often and can sometimes go for months without needing to repeat IPL treatment.

Long list of don’ts with IPL treatment

Other than the long list of people listed above that IPL treatment is not for, there is also a long list of don’ts for people who are using IPL treatment. You’ll need to read this list carefully to avoid bad side effects from IPL treatment.

Don’t use IPL devices on these areas:

  • Nipples and areolas
  • Inner part of your vulva and any part of your vagina
  • Around and in the anus
  • Inside your nostrils
  • Inside your ears
  • Around your eyes
  • Eyebrows

Also, don’t perform IPL treatment on these areas:

  • Darker pigmented areas, for example, moles, birth marks, warts
  • Large veins, for example, varicose veins
  • Scars
  • Skin abnormalities, for example, skin tags
  • Tattoos
  • Permanent make-up
  • Over or near anything superficial like silicone implants or piercings

Don’t use IPL treatment if you’re taking or have recently taken these medications:

  • Photosensitive treatments like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), topical isotretinoin and azelaic acid in the past week
  • Isotretinoin Accutane or Roaccutane in the last 6 months
  • Other photosensitive medications where you have been told to avoid the sun
  • Chemotherapy or radiation in the past 3 months
  • Painkillers which can reduce your sensitivity to heat
  • Immunosuppressive medications
  • Anti-coagulation medications including heavy aspirin use. You will need to stop these medications for a few days to 1 week depending on their wash-out period. If you can’t stop them, you shouldn’t use the device.
  • If you have had surgery in the body areas you want to treat in the last 3 weeks

If you have these conditions, you should also wait until they are healed or widely avoid the area when you are using your IPL device:

  • Active skin infections
  • Eczema
  • Skin burns
  • Inflammation of hair follicles (folliculitis)
  • Open wounds
  • Abrasions
  • Cold sores
  • Bad bruise
  • Irritated skin
  • Sunburned skin
  • Recently naturally tanned or fake-tanned skin

Special don’ts for men (if you are thinking of sharing with your husband):

 Men must never use the IPL device on their face and neck including beard-growing areas, nor on the whole genital area. Why? Because your hair in these areas might never grow back or worse, only grow back in patches and you will regret it for the rest of your life.

The Philips Lumea BG9041 is an IPL device specifically designed for men:

 Check it out on Amazon

Is home laser or IPL hair removal safe?

Yes, home laser or IPL hair removal is safe, provided the device is from a reliable, trusted brand and you follow the safety instructions. Occasionally some people may experience side effects such as redness, discomfort, and rarely burns. I go into how you can prep your skin to reduce your chances of this happening above in my detailed tutorial.

Also, just like professional treatments, home laser and IPL hair removal has no link to cancer or infertility.

Does home laser or IPL treatment hurt?

Most of the time IPL treatment doesn’t hurt but this can vary from person to person.  Sometimes I have felt a slight tingle like an elastic band snapping against the skin but some people find it much more painful than that.

The process is quite quick though so the discomfort doesn’t last long and you can reduce the light intensity setting to make it more comfortable, especially in areas that are more sensitive.

Does home laser and IPL treatment really work?

Yes, laser and IPL treatment at home works. However, it takes more time (more sessions) for you to see sustained results compared to salon treatments as home laser and home IPL devices are not as powerful as salon machines. This is so that these devices are safe to use in a home setting.

Is the flashing light of the IPL device safe for my eyes?

Yes it is. And the whole Philips Lumea range has a safety system to prevent flashing when not in full contact with the skin. Make sure you make good skin contact to avoid unnecessary scattered light and never use in the area around your eyes or for treating your eyebrows.

Should I wear goggles or sunglasses anyway? The woman at the salon does.

It is not necessary to wear eye protection but you obviously can if you want to. The light from a home IPL device is much less concentrated than salon machines. The light is bright but harmless. Try not to look directly at the flashing end.

After my first treatment, I could actually place the device on my legs ‘blind’ and move automatically by glide without looking directly at it. Try to use the IPL device in a well-lit room so that the light is less glaring to your eyes.

Can using IPL cause increased hair growth?

You wouldn’t think so but yes it can, in some women. The women at highest risk are from Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and South Asian heritage when they use IPL on the face and neck.

Can I use my IPL device more often to speed up hair loss?

No, doing IPL treatment more often than the recommended 2 weeks will probably do the opposite due to the hair growth cycle. It would also probably lead to irritated skin.

Will home IPL treatment leave me permanently hair-free?

Generally, no. But no home hair removal device would. IPL treatment would leave you with much slower, finer and lighter hair growth over repeated use. It should be called permanent hair reduction rather than permanent hair removal.

Will I be ‘totally smooth’ with IPL treatment?

Yes for some women, after prolonged IPL treatment and continued maintenance. For other women, they will never go to ‘totally smooth’ but hair growth gets slower, finer and lighter with every regrowth.

To wrap up

I hope this simple guide helped clear up some of the confusion around laser and IPL hair removal. I recommend the Philips Lumea Advanced for home IPL hair removal. Read why here.

I also go through a step-by-step tutorial on how to use the Philips Lumea Advanced.

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