What is Intense Pulsed Light Hair Removal?

Drue Tibbits

Intense pulsed light (IPL) hair removal is the use of specifically tuned light wavelengths to remove unwanted hair. The light is projected through a colored filter to create the desired wavelength. Different colored hair absorbs different wavelengths of light. As the hair absorbs the light, the light generates heat and vaporizes the hair. Intense pulsed light can permanently lessen the amount of hair and diminish regrowth rates.

In some cases, intense pulsed light hair removal treatment will cause an outbreak of oral herpes.
In some cases, intense pulsed light hair removal treatment will cause an outbreak of oral herpes.

This technique works best when there is a great difference between hair color and skin tone. Intense pulsed light hair removal is somewhat effective in removing blond or red hair. It is least effective in removing dark hair from a dark-skinned person, because the light may absorb into the dark skin as well as the hair. It does not remove white hair.

Intense pulsed light diminishes hair growth rates.
Intense pulsed light diminishes hair growth rates.

Intense pulsed light hair removal works well when there are large areas of hair to be removed. As the pulsed light wand is moved over the skin, the tuned wavelength targets only the colored hairs and not the surrounding skin. Both the hairs and the developing hair buds are vaporized. The hair is permanently removed from some follicles, and other follicles might continue to grow hair. Most hair that grows after intense pulsed light treatments is lighter in color and softer in texture.

Laser hair removal is more permanent than IPL, but also much more expensive.
Laser hair removal is more permanent than IPL, but also much more expensive.

A dermatologist performs the intense pulsed light hair removal procedure. Before the procedure, the patient is advised to avoid tanning. Even light tanning can interfere with the light’s ability to distinguish between skin color and hair color. The dermatologist might prescribe oral antibiotics to be taken several days before the procedure. The patient can continue to perform routine shaving up until the day of the procedure.

A topical anesthetic cream can be applied to the skin at the start of the procedure to minimize discomfort. Most patients report minimal pain associated with the procedure. Afterward, there might be swelling and redness of the affected skin for several days. The skin might develop blisters as a result of the heat generated by the intense pulsed light. These side effects are minor and usually resolve themselves after a few days.

Intense pulsed light hair removal rarely causes serious side effects. The procedure might cause a herpes simplex outbreak. The irritated skin might develop a bacterial infection. As with any skin procedure, intense pulsed light hair removal might cause unexpected results. There might be permanent changes in the skin color or even scarring.

Patients should avoid sun exposure prior to a session of intense pulsed light hair removal.
Patients should avoid sun exposure prior to a session of intense pulsed light hair removal.

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