Day after day I get the same questions – “How exactly does IPL work?”, “What is IPL?”, “Will I ever have to shave or wax again?”, “How many times will I have to come back?”, “Is it really permanent?”, “Will it help prevent or work on my ingrown hair?”, “I have dark skin; can I get IPL hair removal?”, and “Does it hurt?”.
There are so many facets of IPL hair removal to understand, that it will be difficult to fit them all into one article. The intent of this is to give you a start on things to think about; a brief look into what is the truth behind IPL. Like I say to my nervous clients, “Relax, the anticipation is far worse than the actual treatment…” Are you ready?
First question – "How does it work?" Regardless of laser or IPL, we are using light energy to destroy a hair bulb by a process called photothermolysis. Let's break that down from its latin form. Photo meaning light, therm meaning heat and lysis meaning to destroy. Simply put, we are using light and heat to destroy the follicle. The goal is to use the right amount of light energy to heat and destroy a hair follicle. The light energy is absorbed and transformed into heat energy by an object referred to as a chromophore. A chromophore is a light absorbing target.
In the case of hair reduction, our chromophore is the pigment in the hair follicle. Did you ever walk barefoot onto your driveway or the beach on a sunny day and just about burn the heck out of your feet? That's because the pigment in the asphalt or the sand had absorbed all of that light energy. Energy is a constant – it changes forms, but never really goes away. So all of that light energy from the sun had been absorbed and changed into heat energy. Using light energy from laser or IPL works in a similar manner; the pigment in our hair absorbs that light energy, heats up quickly, and burns to the point of destruction of the hair bulb. The tricky part is to only destroy the hair bulb and not damage the surrounding tissues.
On to question number two… what is IPL?
IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light. The concept is simple, we are using a lamp (like a flash on a camera), delivering an unbelievably intense pulse of light energy to affect a change in a target… still photothermolysis, still targeting chromophores – just using a whole spectrum of light wavelengths to do it.
IPLs typically have a larger spot size – the size of the area being affected by the individual pulse, and the light that they produce is highly divergent. The light from an IPL treatment is a whole host of wavelengths and contains both visible and invisible light. On that note… if you or someone you know has had laser hair removal and they saw a bright flash of light, they most likely had an IPL treatment, not laser. The reason the IPL isn't safe or effective for darker skin is because of all of the different wavelengths of light. Remember we said that typically the longer the wavelength the deeper the penetration. Since IPLs have a variety of wavelengths, the shorter wavelengths may not penetrate to where they are needed, the bulb of the hair; they get snagged in the upper layers of the skin in red and brown pigments. The energy from those short wavelengths can get picked up by the pigment in the skin of darker individuals. That pigment in the skin will do the same as the hair follicle. It will grab that energy, heat up, and cause damage. Except instead of damage at the bulb where we want it, we'll cause damage in the skin, where we don't want it. The result can be as minimal as a slight burn or blister, which will heal in a short time, to an extreme of hyper- or hypopigmentation, or even a scar for a lifetime.
Since we typically only destroy or damage the hair bulb in the anogen phase, multiple treatments are necessary. Remember, it's not permanent hair removal, it is permanent hair reduction. The bulbs that we destroy will not produce hair. However, new hairs may grow, fine or vellus hair probably won't be affected and hormonal changes may cause growth of new hair that will need attention according to the client's desire. Shaving and tweezing will be greatly reduced and the dark, thick hair that the client has may be gone for good. However, some fuzz or a "lone wolf" hair might still be around long after several treatments. Follow up or touch up treatments may be necessary some time down the road.
By now you may be saying to yourself "I had no idea there was so much theory and science behind something as simple as hair removal." Waxing or electrolysis seem to be easier to understand… none of this science and physics stuff.
Education is the key. The more knowledge you have and the better prepared you are at understanding the in's and out's involved in a IPL treatment,you will be better equipped in what hair removal option is the best for you. Until next time, happy hair removal.
For more infomation about IPL, check out our IPL page for all our FAQ's