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What Is IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) And How Does It Work?

IPL is a treatment for a variety of skin conditions and commonly used to remove hair from the body for an extended period of time. IPL was initially developed to assist in the treatment of vascular conditions and has had a great deal of success in helping people with dry eye conditions. Although it has been around much longer the first machine made exclusively for hair removal was produced in 1997. Since then, many new ones have been developed. Most of them claim amazing results; some even say that they can remove body hair permanently after a couple of sessions.

Is that true? Can IPL really be that efficient? Let’s find out more details about the revolutionary technology behind this beauty treatment.

What is intense pulsed light
Image Courtesy: alobos Life / flickr

How It Works

The device emits a broad spectrum of light frequencies which are directed at the skin. It targets the melanin in the skin. The strongest concentration of this is in the hair follicles (root). The light is absorbed by the follicle. It heats the follicle and some of the shaft of the hair. This heat destroys the ability of the root to produce hair.

It is only possible to target active hair follicles. Any inactive ones will become active at a later stage and will need to be targeted then. It is usual to have between eight and ten treatments stretching over a period of up to a year; the average time between treatments is four weeks. This process will permanently reduce the number of hairs on the targeted section of the body. It may never be possible to destroy every follicle.

Main Competitor

The only viable alternative to IPL is laser treatment. This uses one wavelength of light at a stronger frequency to IPL. It works along the same basis but targets one follicle at a time as opposed to IPL which sends out scattered light patterns to affect several follicles at once.

Laser treatment is recognized as being less painful and can often be more effective than IPL. It is listed as a permanent reduction in number of hairs growing.

intense pulsed light treatment
Image Courtesy: Butz.2013 / flickr

Treatment

A decent IPL machine will cost between $3,000 and $10,000 whilst a top level laser will cost around $35,000. There are no real regulations on who can provide treatment and it is possible to use a service and obtain poor results. It is essential to take advice from friends or on the internet to ensure you attend a reputable clinic. If the price seems too good it is likely that the clinic has a cheap device and possibly under trained staff.

Disadvantages of IPL

IPL can be a very effective way of removing unwanted hair but there are the following disadvantages when compared to laser treatment:

  • It only works on pale skin and dark hair. This was true of the laser but the latest products are able to treat medium skin as well; IPL cannot.
  • It is possible that the IPL treatment will affect the pigment in your skin and may cause localized skin coloring.
  • It is not as powerful as laser and the light is diffused quickly which can lead to unsuccessful treatments.
  • Experts agree that IPL is generally more painful than laser treatment.

It should be noted that IPL treatment is usually cheaper then laser treatment. It is also very effective for treating blood vessels too close to the skin.

intense pulsed light disadvantages
Image Courtesy: Micah Camara / flickr

Pretreatment

Before any treatment it is a good idea to either shave or bleach the area to be treated. This will ensure IPL energy is not being wasted on the upper part of the hair. Any reputable clinic should offer a test patch to ensure you do not have any unexpected reaction. It is not advisable to wax or pluck your hairs before or in between treatments. It is possible to buy home versions of the IPL machine although these are less powerful than the industrial ones. They are good for removing the odd hair but not particularly useful for large sections of hair.

We must admit that IPL does sound promising. The technology behind the treatment may still have some flaws, but we do have great expectations from it. Does this mean that hair removal will be easy and pain-free 5 years from now? Maybe!

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