Menu Close

How Does Laser Hair & IPL Removal Work?

How Does Laser Hair RemovalWork

Laser and IPL hair removal are both increasingly popular methods of hair reduction. Prices of alternative hair removal methods such as waxing and threading are gradually increasing and have unpleasant side effects such as ingrown hairs. Laser and IPL treatments can have fantastic, long-term results and don’t have the unpleasant and painful side effects than other hair removal techniques have.

How Does It Work?

A beam of light is guided over the skin. The light energy is absorbed by areas of high pigment, e.g., hairs, where it transfers as heat energy. The heat energy heats the hair, damaging the follicle. The follicle is then unable to grow new hairs.

It is because the energy is absorbed by areas of highest pigmentation that IPL and laser hair removal is most effective on people who have dark hair and fair skin. In these people, the hair has much more pigment than the skin, so it will absorb the most light energy and is therefore heated the most.

Does It Hurt? You may experience some discomfort, but it shouldn’t hurt you, as it is the hairs which are burnt, not the skin, and the hairs themselves do not have nerves.

IPL vs Laser Hair Removal

IPL and laser hair removal are founded on the same principle. The main difference is the light shone at the hair. A laser is a focussed beam of light which has properties that mean it can be concentrated into a tight area and that it will not widen over long distances, unlike light. The light on a laser bean has a very narrow spectrum, so only a single color may be released. Regular light, on the other hand, cannot be narrowed and will spread out the further the distance they travel. Light beams also contain a wider spectrum of colors.

Laser hair removal uses these properties of lasers to direct the beam straight down into the pore, targeting the hair follicle directly, while the light used in IPL hair removal spreads out over a wider area. Both sources heat the follicles to damage them, but laser hair removal is more specific and so may require fewer treatments to achieve the same result.

How Long Does It Take To See Results From IPL Hair Removal? Click here.

IPL vs Laser

How Many Sessions Of IPL Or Laser Hair Removal Will I Need?

Hair grows at different rates for every person and for different areas of the body. Therefore, different people and treatment areas will require different numbers of sessions for satisfactory results. Some people find that just one session is enough, while others require ten.

It is very likely that you will need several treatments because hairs are not responsive to laser or IPL at all stages of their growth cycle. They are most responsive when they are in the initial stage, which is called anagen. This is when they are actively growing and when they contain the most pigment, which is called melanin. The more pigment they contain, the more light they will absorb and the higher the temperature they will be heated to. A higher temperature means better destruction of the hair follicle and therefore more successful treatments.

On average, it will require six sessions, after which you may occasionally require a top up of treatment.

Where On The Body Can IPL And Laser Hair Removal Be Used?

Women can have laser hair removal done in most areas of the body, including the face below the cheek line, underarms, bikini/Brazilian line and legs. Men can also have it done, including in areas such as their back and chest but should not have their facial hair treated as the hair here is too dense. Neither men nor women should have their scalp hair treated, nor their nipples or genitals.

Is IPL/Laser Hair Removal Permanent, Or Will Hair Grow Back?

Laser and IPL hair removal can be very effective, with studies finding a 60% decrease in hair growth was achieved. However, unfortunately, no hair removal method will be completely permanent, but laser and IPL hair removal can get great results. It will damage the follicles so that hair no longer grows. The hair that does grow back will do so at a much slower rate and is often thinner. Once you have completed your treatment plan, you may need an occasional maintenance/top up session to keep on top of it.

What Are The Benefits Of Laser And IPL Hair Removal?


Laser hair removal is specifically targeted at the hairs instead of the skin due to the pigment content. It targets the hair at the root, damaging and destroying its ability to regrow.


These methods of hair removal are very effective, particularly for people with fair skin and dark hair. Many clients achieve permanent hair loss within 3 -7 sessions. Of course, different people will have different experiences, and lighter hair will require more treatments because it will take more energy to get to the heat required to damage the hair growth cycle.

Cost Effective

Laser and IPL hair removal require a bigger upfront cost, but in the long term you will save money. You will no longer have to pay for regular expensive waxing or threading treatments, or for replacement razor heads. Over the course of your life you will save a lot of money by choosing to have laser hair removal.


Appointment times will vary depending on the size of the area you are having treated. A small area such as the upper lip may take only ten minutes, while legs could take an hour.

Minimal Side Effects

Unlike with other methods of hair removal, you will not suffer from painful ingrown hairs or razor burn. You will likely only have to put up with some mild skin irritation for a few hours after your treatment.

No Grow-Out Times

With waxing and epilating, you must wait between treatments for the hair to be sufficient length to be pulled out. With laser and IPL hair removal, you are encouraged to shave within 12 hours of your treatment, so you can remain hair free on the surface while you wait.

How Long Have Laser And IPL Hair Removal Been Around?

Laser hair removal became commercially available in the mid-1990s, having been the subject of experiments for about 20 years before that. Dierickx et al. released one of the first journal articles on laser hair removal in 1998, publishing it in the Archives of Dermatology. They concluded that permanent halting of hair growth could be induced in a single treatment by using pulses from ruby lasers, without causing scarring. They put this down to the shrinking of the hair follicles. Since this research, laser hair removal has become a popular cosmetic treatment in dermatology clinics and salons, and more recently in the home as well. Due to the ever-increasing demand for laser hair removal, there have been many reviews of different methods as well as the safety and success it has.

The first research paper on IPL hair removal was published one year earlier in 1997, by Gold et al. This study tested the EpiLight Hair Removal System, concluding that is was a safe and effective epilation solution, with about 60% or hair removal at the 12-week mark. Since then, several different treatment protocols and products have been tested, with new products being created, both for doctors’ clinics and salons as well as for at home use.

Is Laser Hair Removal Right For Me?

IPL and laser hair removal methods can be very effective, but they are sadly not suitable for everyone. It is important that you understand whether this method of hair reduction suits you before you commence treatment, to prevent you wasting time and money.

Skin Tone

Doctors use something called the Fitzpatrick Scale when evaluating skin tone. It is a scale that takes into consideration your genetic disposition and how your skin reacts to sunlight exposure. The scale ranges from Type I to Type IV. Type I skin contains very little melanin and is therefore very fair and burns easily, while Type IV skin contains much more melanin and is therefore much darker in color and does not burn.

To find out how to assess what skin type you are, click here.

Practitioners use the Fitzpatrick Scale to determine not only whether laser and IPL hair removal is right for you but also how effective it is likely to be and the settings to use.

Fitzpatrick Scale

Skin that has a lower score on the Fitzpatrick scale which has dark hairs will be most responsive to laser and IPL hair removal. Type V skin will have far less noticeable results as the skin will absorb more of the light energy. Type IV skin is not suited to laser or IPL hair therapy as it could result in burns from absorbing so much of the light.

Hair Type

Hair Coverage 1-6Just like how different skin tones respond to light differently, colors of hair absorb light differently too. This is also due to the amount of melanin (pigment) they contain. White and grey hairs contain no melanin, and red and blonde hairs contain little melanin, while dark brown and black hairs contain much more. The more melanin the hairs contain, the better in terms of laser hair removal because they will absorb the most light energy. Therefore, people with darker hair will notice much better results than those with lighter hair and will require far fewer treatments to achieve the same outcome. Unfortunately, blonde and red hair is unlikely to be sufficiently affected by light-based methods of hair removal.

When You Should Not Have Laser Or IPL Hair Removal

Laser and IPL hair removal methods are not suited to anyone. You must recognize whether any of the following statements apply to you as using laser hair removal techniques with these conditions could cause you significant damage.


  • Pregnant, Breast Feeding Or Trying To Conceive.
  • Using implants such as the contraceptive implant when having underarm treatment.

A History Of:

  • Autoimmune disease including Lupus, Scleroderma or Vitiligo
  • Epilepsy or seizures triggered by flashing lights
  • Herpes/cold sores
  • High sensitivity to pain
  • Keloid scarring
  • Melanoma
  • Raised moles
  • Recent sunburn or tanning
  • Sind trauma
  • Suspicious legions.

Recent Use Of The Following Drugs In The Last Year

  • Accutane
  • St John’s Wort
  • Tetracycline

What Are The Side Effects Of IPL And Laser Hair Removal?

Side effects of IPL or laser hair removal are usually short-term and minor. Often these side effects will pass within 24 hours, but some may last a few days after the treatment.

Pain Or Discomfort

Laser and IPL hair removal can be uncomfortable, with clients often comparing it to having an elastic band snapped against their skin. This usually does not last very long and often will be gone completely within a few hours.

Skin Irritation

Temporary skin irritation is the most common side effect and can manifest in a number of different ways such as tingling, discomfort, swelling, redness and itching. This will usually not last more than a few hours, just like with other hair removal methods and is nothing to worry about. Just try not to scratch or rub the skin at this time as it will be more delicate.


The nature of the methods used means that while the hair is burnt away at the follicle, the skin should not burn. However, while is it unlikely, it is still possible. Treat any burns like you would sunburn and be aware that it will be more sensitive to the sun until it has healed. Keep the burns clean to try and minimise the risk of infection, especially if they develop blisters or crusts.


It is very rare that laser hair removal results in scarring, but again it is still possible. In the days and weeks after your treatment, moisturize your skin.

Pigment Changes

Sometimes you will experience some pigments changes. For example, dark hair may grow blonde or grey. On very rare occasions hair growth may increase.

At Home IPL/Laser Hair Removal

At home IPL/laser hair removal is becoming more popular, with many products on the market for a fraction of the cost of professional dermatology clinic prices. The kits are designed using the same technology as the doctors use, but have been specially developed to be safe to use without any training or certification.

Many at home IPL and laser hair removal kits can realize excellent results which can be achieved all within the comfort of your own home. Kits can be comparable in price to having a single treatment by a doctor, with the added benefit that you can top up your treatment as and when you need to, without waiting for an appointment. If you want to find out more about at-home laser hair removal, check out our reviews of the leading at home laser hair removal products.


  1. Moira Blythe

    I have been considering getting laser hair treatment lately, but I don’t know anyone who has done it. I appreciate your advice here that getting the treatment could cause scarring, so making sure to moisturize often afterwards would be essential. Since I scar easily, I would make sure to do this!

  2. Megan

    Age 19 started shaving my face because of thyroid, instructions say to not shave face, & that it doesn’t work for a man’s beard, what about a woman’s beard? I have the IPL at home. I’ve used it a few times, I can’t tell if it’s working or not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *