Getting rid of unsightly hair is a cosmetic procedure that sits somewhere between improving looks and convenience. Men, who don’t feel that the five-o’clock shadow look suits them, and women, who just want something a bit less painful than waxing, may go this route.
Over the years, various manufacturers have tried to revolutionize hair removal with varying degrees of success. There are three major approaches to semi-permanent and permanent hair removal on the market:
• laser hair removal
• IPL (pulsed light)
The last one sounds like a variation on laser hair removal, but it doesn’t use laser light. Instead it uses xenon flash lamps that put out light across the whole spectrum, rather than selectively pulsing light of a given wavelength.
Without getting too technical, it is the possibility of narrowing the wavelength of light which makes lasers more effective than other light-based techniques.
How Does Laser Hair Removal Work?
The process is easy enough to appreciate: Laser light is directed at the hair and heats it without burning the surrounding skin, thereby destroying the follicle and preventing future hair growth. Different hair colors can be targeted using different wavelengths of laser light. And as long as the hair color isn’t close to the natural skin color, no skin damage will take place.
Of course, since the process involves heating, there may be some redness, and a pin-prick sensation, but various solutions ranging from numbing agents, to locally active anesthetics, have been proposed to help manage any level of discomfort.
Clearly, the treatment will be most appropriate for people whose hair color is vastly different to their skin pigmentation, and the technique favors darker hair color over lighter shades. Luckily, other approaches can offer results across all hair colors and skin pigmentations, but are they as effective?
How Does Laser Hair Removal Compare to Other Approaches?
Electrolysis was, for a long time, the gold standard in permanent hair removal. The process is simple — a needle is inserted into the hair (hair by individual hair!) and a short burst of electrical current ensures that it will never produce hair again.
The treatments might be cheaper, but they will take a lot longer, as each hair is targeted separately. And there are some drawbacks for darkly pigmented skin — it can be lightened significantly by the process. However, electrolysis works for all hair colors, really is permanent, and is accepted by the FDA as such.
Hair removal using the IPL method works in the same way as laser removal; light heats the follicle and destroys it. They are accepted as being roughly equivalent as reported in the Lasers in Medical Science Journal back in 2006.
Under FDA rules, the action of IPL and lasers cannot be claimed to lead to a permanent removal of all hair; there just isn’t enough data. However, scientifically speaking, correctly applied therapies that permanently damage the follicle will lead to a permanent reduction in the amount of face and body hair.
The best advice seems to be to use electrolysis for the face, and IPL for the body. So, if you never want to shave or wax again, have a session with your local salon!