- How does Intense Pulsed Light hair removal work?
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) delivers a pulse or several pulses of light energy into the skin where it is absorbed by the pigment in the hair follicle and, to a lesser extent, by the surrounding tissues. The light energy is in turn converted to heat energy and if the temperature of the hair follicle is raised to around 70ºC for the correct length of time, the follicle will be damaged and its ability to re-grow a hair significantly reduced thus resulting in permanent hair reduction.
The most effective time for treatment is thought to be when the hair is in the active growing, or ‘anagen’ phase. Anagen hair contains the most melanin and is better at absorbing light energy than hair in the resting (catagen) or shedding (telogen) phase. This explains why intense pulsed light hair removal is not a one-off treatment. Hair follicles that are resting or shedding will not be significantly affected by the light energy and will re-grow in time.
To provide safe and effective treatments the light energy must be delivered to the skin in the right way. IPL treatment may not be suitable for some people, for this reason your therapist will initially take you through some suitability questions, which may include some medical questions, to confirm that you would be able to receive IPL treatment. Once this has been done your therapist will conduct a “patch test” to determine the right treatment parameters and to judge how the skin (and you!) may react to full treatment. Also at this stage your therapist will note your skin type and skin and hair colour using the Fitzpatrick skin classification which together with the “patch test” result, will be used to deliver the best treatment for your individual needs.
- Why do I need a test patch before starting treatment?
A test patch is a small trial in an area with similar hair and skin to the treatment site the most important factor is to test in an area that has similar hair and skin as the intended treatment area. Typically a few discrete pulses are delivered to the skin – with careful recording of the settings – which allows your therapist to assess how well the light energy is being absorbed and whether the skin is responding as would be expected. A ‘normal’ skin response could include follicular erythema (redness) and localised swelling (oedema) around the follicles. Different skin types take varying times to show a response, for example darker skin types can take longer to show a response than paler skin types, which is why we carry out the test patch to give your skin time to react before you start your treatment. The test patch is also a good way for you to experience the ‘pricking’ sensation and it lets your therapist judge your tolerance to treatment.
- Is the treatment suitable for everyone?
The general rule is that the hair colour should be darker than the skin colour. Treatment is most effective when there is good contrast between the hair colour and skin colour – making black hair in pale skin the ideal combination to treat. Blonde, red or grey hair responds less well so alternative therapies, such as electrolysis, for these hair types may be the best option.
Clients with darker skin types may absorb too much light energy in the skin and are more at risk of burns or pigmentation changes, which is why we use a very effective skin cooling system and the right type of system to deliver the optimum results, however burning and pigmentation may still occur. Clients with a suntan in the treatment area who intend to have treatment should wait until their tan has faded. Clients taking certain medications may not be suitable for treatment these will be discussed at your initial consultation.
Clients who are pregnant are not ideal for treatment because of the hormonal and pigmentary changes that can occur during pregnancy.
- How many treatments are needed?
The number of treatments will vary from person to person, this is because IPL treatment works best when the hair is in the active growing, or ‘anagen’ phase. We will typically offer you a course of treatments because individual hairs go through a cycle of growth. We would recommend a course of 8 – 10 treatments for the best, longer-term results. But the hair growth cycle varies in different areas of the body and is affected by ethnic origin, age and hormones. Depending on these factors some clients may need more or less treatments because each individual will respond differently to treatment. At your initial consultation your therapist will explain why a course of treatments is necessary and set realistic expectations and outcomes.
As IPL is most effective when the hair is actively growing, on the first treatment the light energy will damage the growing hairs but not those that are resting or shedding. When you visit again, typically 4 – 6 weeks after the first treatment, different hairs will have moved into the growing phase and will respond well to treatment. So over the course of the 8 – 10 treatments we will target hairs as they come into the growing phase and significantly reduce their ability to re-grow.
It should be noted that this is not a one off treatment and results can vary from person to person.
- Is it permanent?
This is always a difficult question to answer! Clinical and research studies have proved that IPL treatments can significantly reduce the rate of hair growth compared to other removal methods such as waxing and shaving or threading. It has also been shown that re-growth in the treatment area is finer and softer as a result of treatment. Treatment success varies from person to person and relies upon careful client selection, setting realistic client expectations and client compliance. Because of the hair growth cycle we recognise the need to offer a course of tailored treatments and you may find that some clients require an occasional ‘top-up’ treatment once the initial course of treatments is complete. Equally, if you are taking taking certain medications or have a medical condition that affects hair growth, the treatment may be less successful. These factors can make it difficult to describe the treatment as ‘permanent’, we prefer to talk about hair management or hair reduction as this will give you a more realistic picture of what IPL treatments can achieve
- Which areas can be treated?
Simply most areas can be treated if the hair and skin type are suitable but we do not offer any treatment very close to the eyes or over the mucous membranes such as in the nose or ears. The most common areas for treatment are legs, back, underarms, bikini area, chin, top lip, beard area, chest and abdomen.
- How long does a treatment take?
This depends on which area you are treating and on the spot size of the IPL system. We use the CACI IPL system GP Flash 1 which is one of the latest generation of IPL systems with a large spot size of 50mm x 25mm which is extremely fast at treating large areas.
A small area such as a top lip can be as quick as 15 minutes whilst a full back might take up to two hours to treat dependant on hair and skin type.
- Is treatment painful?
Most clients say they experience a tingling, ‘hot’ sensation. Some describe it as a sharp, brief pinprick, or an elastic band flicking against the skin. However, most clients say it is less painful than waxing or electrolysis. To ensure a more comfortable treatment procedure the skin is cooled with a cooling device prior to treatment. Areas that have a greater hair density, eg, the beard area, can be more uncomfortable than other treatment areas because the heat can build up and be retained for longer, this can also be said about treatment on darker skin.
- Aftercare advice
Post-treatment care is of the utmost importance to you and us.
Because the treatment puts light energy into the skin it is important to say not to do anything that will add to the sensation of heat or irritate the area, so we would offer the following post-treatment advice to our clients:
- To cool the area with soothing gels, damp cotton pads or aloe vera if the hot sensation or feeling of warmth remains after treatment.
- To avoid sun exposure in the treatment area and to always wear a high factor sun protection cream (SPF 45 or higher) after and between treatments.
- To stop using sun beds and fake tanning products in the treatment area.
- To stop waxing or plucking hairs in the treatment area.
- To avoid hot baths, strong deodorants, heavily chlorinated swimming pools or vigorous exercise for 12 –24 hours and not to use make-up in the treatment area for as long as can be avoided. After a treatment these things can irritate the skin and increase the sensation of heat and discomfort.
- To contact your therapist if they experience excessive blistering, crusting or swelling in the treatment area.
- To contact your therapist if your medical circumstances change.
Possible adverse reactions to treatments
Adverse reactions to treatment can include:
- Excessive redness of the skin (erythema)
- Excessive localised swelling (perifollicular oedema)
- Excessive urticarial reactions
- Long term complications such as hyper or hypo pigmentation – tanned skin being at greater risk of pigmentary changes
- Scarring – which is rare – but clients must still be warned of the risks.
In the majority of cases, adverse reactions are short lived and do resolve themselves.
Telangiectasias or thread veins or spider veins are usually small dilated boold vessels near the surface of the skin, measuring between 0.5 to 1mm in diameter. Although they can develop anywhere on the body they are more commonly seen on the face, cheeks, nose and chin.
These are not regarded as a serious medical condition but their appearance on exposed areas makes the sufferer feel self-conscious about them.