The down low on IPL

Unwanted hair you just don’t know what to do with it? Shaving is a hassle. Waxing hurts. Why not try IPL?

What the heck is IPL, you ask? It is an intense pulse light (IPL) machine. It is most commonly used to remove unwanted hair. It can also be used to treat a number of cosmetic conditions such as improving skin tone, improve skin texture and reduce age spots. 

How does it work?

The IPL machine emits very small amplitude wavelength light through a crystal sapphire head. The light penetrates deep into the skin reaching all the way to the inner layer (known as the subcutaneous layer or hypodermis).

This deep penetration provides a mechanism for reaching unwanted structures within the skin, such as hair follicles, clogged glands (causing acne), veins, and pigmentation.

The colour of the structures (such as the red in veins, or pigmentation in hair or freckles) attracts and absorbs light of different wavelengths depending on the colour.

So basically, for all of us that are not scientists, the IPL machine emits light directly to an area, which reaches the inner layer of skin.

What do the machines do?

There are a number of different machines which all treat different things.



Vascular lesions are used to treat spider and thread veins. The light pulses from the IPL machine target red-pigment in the blood which heats and changes pigment without affected the skin tissue itself.

Pigmented lesions treat age spots, freckles, flat-pigmented birthmarks and a number of other skin tone differences. Light pulses are targeted at the melanin in the skins surface, which heats and destroys pigment.

And of course, the hair removal machines. Light pulses into the hair follicle causing the hair to fall out and prevent further growth. It can be used on nearly every part of the body.

Before an IPL session?

Listen to everything that your practitioner tells you. But a few common things that you should know is… It is advised you don’t tan up for a month before your session. Being heavily exposed to the sun will increase the health dangers. Also, make sure your hairs are either shaven or very short, if they are long they can heat up and be rather painful. Ouch!

What does a normal procedure involve?

Like any beauty treatment, make sure you find someone you know and trust. After you have picked a salon you will first have a consultation to go over exactly what you want, they will do a test patch on your skin and then, if you are suited for IPL, if your skin does not react negatively and if you are still wanting to go ahead with the treatment then you move forward in the procedure. Remember, like anything, at any stage it is never too late to change your mind!

The first stage of the session will go through safety procedures. Any cooling gels being used will be prepared, and if you are being treated in a sensitive area, an anesthetic cream may be applied. Since the skin can get rather warm during the treatment, a cooling gel is sometimes applied; some machines also have a chilled tip on the wand. The procedure can then begin. Your practitioner will apply the hand-held wand of the IPL machine, from which the light is delivered, to the surface of your skin. Bursts of light will travel from the wand to your skin. The light travels through your skin until it reaches a hair, in which it can target the pigment or melanin. The hair and its follicle (root) heat up and are destroyed.




This happens extremely quickly, and you feel a stinging or tingling sensation, the intensity of which will of course vary from person to person. It is usually described as uncomfortable rather than painful. Depending on the size of the area being treated, one IPL hair removal session can take anything from ten minutes to an hour.

What happens after?

If all goes well, IPL hair removal should need very little recovery and you should be able to return to work as usual straight away.

You may be given an antiseptic cream to apply, as the skin can be quite tender afterwards. It is also advised that you keep out of the sun for at least twenty-four hours, and for a few days afterwards it is best to apply a high factor sun block to the treated area if you do.

It is normal for your skin to go a little red and sore, or to swell a little, but this should subside after a day or two. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, such as blistering, intense swelling, infection, or if it is very painful, be sure to contact your practitioner immediately.

Are there any side effects?

As like every treatment there are possible side effects. These can include burns, scars and light damage. Make sure you know both the risks and rewards before you commit to IPL.