About IPL

What are the benefits of an IPL hair removal

If you’ve scrolled through BeautyTok recently, there’s a strong possibility you’ve come across an enthusiastic review of an at-home IPL hair removal device. The main claims: These handheld gadgets can zap away unwanted hair and it won’t grow back right away—or maybe ever. We haven’t vetted every single one of those videos, but research suggests these TikTokers might be onto something. 

IPL, or intense pulsed light, is a broad wavelength of light. That means an IPL device releases multiple types of light—red, yellow, green, and infrared—that together can target different elements of the skin, including melanin (the pigment that gives skin and hair a particular color) and hemoglobin (a protein in blood cells that can contribute to skin redness—or lack thereof). 1 Because of that, IPL can have an effect on blood vessels, dark spots, and hair follicles.2 “IPL hair removal works by targeting the pigment in the hair follicle, heating it, and ultimately destroying the follicle,” Aanand Geria, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Verona, New Jersey, tells SELF. 3 

You can get IPL hair removal as an in-office treatment, during which a dermatologist, nurse, or certified laser technician moves a large handheld device along the skin. You can also do it yourself in the comfort of your own bathroom using those smaller devices that may have popped up on your social media pages. 

You’re free to do whatever you please with your own body hair, of course, but if you’re looking for smooth skin from a hair-removal method that’s longer-lasting than others you might’ve tried (like waxing or shaving), IPL hair removal could be for you. Keep scrolling to learn more about the potential benefits and risks of IPL hair removal (it's not for everyone!), how it compares to laser hair removal, and how to prep your skin for IPL treatment. 

What’s the difference between IPL and laser hair removal? 

Both IPL and laser hair removal rely on light to damage hair follicles, as SELF previously reported. Professional-grade laser and  IPL devices also typically have built-in cooling systems to decrease the risk of burning and relieve pain. The main difference is that laser treatment uses a specific wavelength of light meant to solely target melanin, whereas IPL is a broadband of light with multiple wavelengths and endpoint targets (again, that light reaches both melanin and hemoglobin, which is why IPL can also treat some forms of hyperpigmentation like melasma and birthmarks, as well as spider veins).2 Laser hair removal also tends to be slightly more expensive: about $300 to $400 per in-office session, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. IPL hair removal may cost between $150 (for a facial hair removal session) and $300 (for body hair removal), but the price depends on the size of the treatment area. 

IPL may require more sessions, however—expect to book four to six 20-minute appointments every three to six weeks to complete the IPL treatment cycle. To compare, laser hair removal might only involve two to six sessions every four to six weeks to see results, per the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Neither treatment is permanent permanent, but the results for both IPL and laser hair removal can last for months, and both devices are FDA-approved for reducing the amount of hair regrowth over time.4

The IPL treatment might save you some discomfort compared to laser, though.5 With IPL, your practitioner will typically apply a cold gel to the area before the treatment to offset the heat radiating from the IPL device. With laser hair removal, people who have sensitive skin and are only targeting smaller areas (like the underarms) might receive a numbing gel beforehand, but pain-wise, that might not offset the intensity of the laser. (On that note, for the safest laser treatment, you should always visit a board-certified dermatologist who is experienced in working with these devices, as recommended by the AAD.)

What are the potential benefits of IPL hair removal?

Research suggests that in-office IPL treatments can reduce hair growth by up to 77% in just one month.6 Professional IPL devices are more powerful than their at-home counterparts because they emit more light energy, Dr. Geria says. However, IPL hair removal devices designed for home use can also deliver promising results: One 2019 study found that users had an 80% reduction in hair growth (specifically on the legs, armpits, and bikini area) more than a year after they stopped using an at-home device.7 And another small study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that participants experienced a 78% reduction in hair growth in just four weeks of using a home device.8

Whether you go the in-office or DIY route, the results can vary based on several factors, such as skin tone, hair color, and the quality of the device used, Dr. Geria notes (see some dermatologist-recommended at-home IPL devices below).3 In general, he says, IPL works best on areas that typically have coarse, dark hair, like the legs, underarms, and bikini area, because the device targets the melanin in the hair follicle. In many skin tones, IPL can also help eradicate redness, dark spots, and visible signs of sun damage, as those also tend to involve excess pigment in the skin, Dr. Geria adds.1

Price and pain aside, are there any other potential downsides to IPL hair removal? 

Like laser hair removal, IPL may not be as successful for people with darker skin tones, and they’re also more likely to experience side effects like scarring and blisters from the heat of the device, Angela Lamb, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the director of the Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology Faculty Practice in New York City, tells SELF. That’s because the device is specifically targeting melanin and can burn the skin instead of the hair follicle if there’s not enough color contrast. “The effectiveness of IPL depends on the contrast between the pigment in the hair and the surrounding skin. The darker the hair and the lighter the skin, the more effective the treatment,” Dr. Geria explains. If you aren’t sure if you’re a candidate for IPL based on your hair color and skin tone, book a consultation with a dermatologist before trying any light-based hair removal treatment, Dr. Lamb adds. 

On a related note, IPL may not be as effective for finer hair, because coarser hair absorbs more light. Likewise, IPL doesn’t work as well on light hair because there is not as much pigment to absorb all of the light energy, according to Dr. Geria.1

Another potential downside: You may experience some uncomfortable side effects, including skin sensitivity and pain. Whether your treatment is in an office or at home, IPL pulses will likely hurt at least a little, though it depends on your personal pain tolerance, according to the experts SELF spoke with. And if you DIY and don’t use the device correctly, you could end up applying too much heat and burning your skin, resulting in blistering, inflammation, scarring, or hyperpigmentation, says Dr. Geria. “Whether doing IPL treatments at home or with a professional, you must proceed cautiously,” he warns. 

The safest bet for professional IPL treatment is going to a board-certified dermatologist or a technician who is certified in your state to operate an IPL device, which will reduce your risk of burns and other adverse side effects, Dr. Geria explains. Many states require IPL practitioners to be a nurse or doctor—you can check your state’s medical board site to see what the regulations are where you live. And at home? Always follow the safety instructions that came with your device, he says. 

How to prep for IPL hair removal

Whether you’re prepping for an in-office treatment or trying IPL hair removal at home, you should take some important precautions. If you have a deep skin tone, check in with a dermatologist or certified practitioner before using an IPL device to ensure that you don’t burn your skin—if you aren't able to consult with a professional, you should avoid trying an at-home device altogether, as the risk of damaging your skin isn't worth it, according to the experts we spoke with.

About two weeks before your in-office procedure or at-home hair removal session, be sure not to lay out in the sun or in a tanning bed (which you should avoid anyway, by the way, since both can damage the skin)—UV light exposure can decrease the contrast between your skin and hair and increase skin sensitivity. You shouldn’t use retinoids or exfoliants in the week before the IPL treatment either, since both can cause irritation, says Dr. Geria. Waxing, too, can irritate your skin; however, Dr. Lamb recommends shaving before your IPL session to prevent any hair above the skin’s surface from getting burned during the treatment—which could damage the surrounding skin. 

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, even though IPL targets the follicles underneath the skin, it’s still possible to get ingrown hairs, Dr. Lamb says. She suggests using a gentle physical exfoliant after the treatment to remove any dead skin or debris, which might clog your pores and lead to ingrowns, as SELF previously reported. Follow that up with a thick-but-gentle moisturizer to hydrate tender skin, and consider a 1% hydrocortisone cream or a cold cloth to further calm potential irritation, swelling, or stinging. 

What are the best at-home IPL hair removal devices?

If you decide to DIY your IPL hair removal, just note that, according to the experts we spoke with, you should expect to spend a few hundred dollars to get a quality device that’ll be safe and effective. There are no concrete guidelines as to which IPL device is best for you, but the dermatologists we consulted called out devices with sensors that customize the intensity of the light based on your skin tone, as well as those with a cooling function to minimize pain. Here are some of their recommendations: 


SkinZeal IPL epilator provides a convenient and effective solution for removing unwanted hair permanently.

If your skin is sensitive above the average then this device would work perfectly: 

The cooling head of SkinZeal ICE IPL ensures a painless experience during hair removal