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How Does IPL Hair Removal Work?

IPL hair removal - how does it work? What makes it different from other hair removal methods?

Doctor Answers (9)

It's all about physics

+2

Thank you for your question.

I'm going to answer this in simple terms so hopefully no one reading this will get confused. The targets of our laser treatments (the melanin of the hair bulb, the hemoglobin of blood cells, the water in our skin layers) absorb energy at certain wavelengths of light. When the target absorbs this wavelength energy, heat is produced and the target (and the surrounding tissue in some cases) is destroyed.

Lasers use an specific infrared wavelength to provide that energy to the target. In the case of hair removal, the wavelengths of the infrared light usually fall around 700-1100 nanometers (nm). For example, alexandrite lasers use 755nm, diode lasers use 800nm, and Nd:YAG lasers use 1064nm. All of these will target the melanin in the hair and cause it to heat up and destroy the hair bulb.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) does not use a specific wavelength, but rather a range of wavelengths (e.g. 600-1200nm) to target the hair melanin.

Both of these treatments target hair efficiently and effectively, and in the same exact theoretical way. You can feel confident going with an IPL or a dedicated wavelength laser for hair removal.

Hope that explains it!


Beverly Hills Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review

IPL for hair removal

+1

IPL stands for intense pulsed light. Depending on the wavelenght of the IPL system that is used for laser hair removal, it can be very effective. If the wavelength is is the appropriate range, the light targets the pigment in the hair follicle deep in the skin. The light is attracted to the pigment in the follicle and heats it up and most-likely kills the stem cells in the bulge region of the hair follicle that make it possible for new hairs to be formed in the future. So, once those cells are gone, no more hairs can be made and you have hair-less skin!

Cheryl Eberting, MD
Salt Lake City Dermatologist
4.5 out of 5 stars 3 reviews

How IPL works for hair removal

+1

IPL (pulsed light) is absorbed by melanin (chromophore) in brown or black hair causing a thermal injury (selective photothermolysis) to the follicles of actively growing hairs (anagen).  IPL is a light based therapy which offers 40-50% reduction.  It will thin the hair, but not really deliver permanent results.  True laser is the better option offering 80-99% permanent hair reduction depending on what area of the body is being treated.

Robert Sleightholm, MD
Brampton Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 4 reviews

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IPL light wavelengths remove hair.

+1

An IPL, or intense pulsed light machine is essentially a very bright flashbulb. These machines are capable of producing a broad spectrum of light wavelengths, but more specific ranges of wavelengths can be chosen depending on the desired treatment.

In general, IPL works by targeting particular colors with specific wavelengths of light that correspond to these colors. When flashes of light are driven into tissue, the light is absorbed by the cells that contain the colors that correspond with these particular wavelengths. For laser hair removal, wavelengths are utilized that will target the hair color, which can range from light to dark brown. The surrounding skin tissue, being lighter in color, does not absorb very much of the heat, and therefore remains unharmed. It is for this reason that it is difficult to perform laser hair removal on persons with very light hair or very dark skin. The wavelengths of light must be specific enough to target the hair without affecting the skin. Some machines are capable of doing this safely, while others are not.

However, it will always be more difficult and require more treatments on these patients. When the IPL light is absorbed by the hairs, it is converted to heat, and destroys the hair. When the hair is in its active growth phase, it is attached to the base of the follicle with a blood supply. When we are able to destroy the hair in this growth phase, we also destroy the follicle itself, and render it incapable of producing future hair. However, in later phases of growth, when the hair is not attached, the follicle may not be destroyed, and will replace the destroyed hair some weeks later. This is why laser hair removal treatments must be repeated several times, and at specific time intervals. We are attempting to reach the maximum amount of hair follicles in their active growth phase in order to achieve the greatest percentage of long term hair reduction.

Nick Slenkovich, MD
Denver Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 46 reviews

IPL light absorbs hair during removal.

+1

An IPL, or intense pulsed light machine is essentially a very bright flashbulb. These machines are capable of producing a broad spectrum of light wavelengths, but more specific ranges of wavelengths can be chosen depending on the desired treatment. In general, IPL works by targeting particular colors with specific wavelengths of light that correspond to these colors.

When flashes of light are driven into tissue, the light is absorbed by the cells that contain the colors that correspond with these particular wavelengths. For laser hair removal, wavelengths are utilized that will target the hair color, which can range from light to dark brown. The surrounding skin tissue, being lighter in color, does not absorb very much of the heat, and therefore remains unharmed. It is for this reason that it is difficult to perform laser hair removal on persons with very light hair or very dark skin. The wavelengths of light must be specific enough to target the hair without affecting the skin. Some machines are capable of doing this safely, while others are not. However, it will always be more difficult and require more treatments on these patients.

When the IPL light is absorbed by the hairs, it is converted to heat, and destroys the hair. When the hair is in its active growth phase, it is attached to the base of the follicle with a blood supply. When we are able to destroy the hair in this growth phase, we also destroy the follicle itself, and render it incapable of producing future hair. However, in later phases of growth, when the hair is not attached, the follicle may not be destroyed, and will replace the destroyed hair some weeks later. This is why laser hair removal treatments must be repeated several times, and at specific time intervals. We are attempting to reach the maximum amount of hair follicles in their active growth phase in order to achieve the greatest percentage of long term hair reduction.

Nick Slenkovich, MD
Denver Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 46 reviews

IPL Hair Reduction

+1

IPL and Lasers both use light absorption to generate the heat within hair follicles to cause them to fall out. The difference is in the spectrum. IPL uses the full light spectrum (think of a strong flashbulb) whereas lasers deliver a specific wavelength of light (red, blue, green). Both can lead to hair loss when used properly. IPL may take more treatments than a laser, but may also be less expensive in the long run.

David Bogue, MD
Boca Raton Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 12 reviews

IPL Hair Removal

+1

Intense Photo Light (IPL) Hair removal treatments work by sending flashes of light in certain frequencies of light through skin which are preferentially absorbed by, heat and destroy hair follicles in their growth phase.

Peter A. Aldea, MD
Memphis Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 61 reviews

IPL for Laser Hair Removal

+1

We do not use IPL for laser hair removal as there are better laser choices that lead to better results with a lower incidence of side effects.

The main difference between IPL and lasers is that lasers use one specific type of light and IPL uses many types of light. This means that IPL cannot achieve the same peak energies because of the risk of side effects. In fact, in recent research, IPL treatments done on low settings can actually lead to hair growth.

Harold J. Kaplan, MD
Los Angeles Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 6 reviews

IPL for hair removal

+1

We do not use IPL for hair removal. There are far superior lasers for hair removal that work much faster and with less treatments.  

Alan M. Gardner, MD
Atlanta Dermatologist
4.5 out of 5 stars 5 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.