Everything you need to know about at-home laser hair removal
To DIY, or not to DIY? We answer your top questions
Lazy? We like to think smart. Why shave, wax or epilate when you can take a more permanent approach to removing unwanted body hair? And you don’t even need to see a pro any more.
When professional laser hair removal became an accessible treatment, it changed everything. No more knicks, razor rashes or missed patches… if you could afford the cost and lengthy road to becoming hair-free. Around eight to 10 treatments are recommended for in-clinic laser hair removal (and this can vary depending on the area being treated and your natural hair colour); and for a full leg, it’s about $200 per session. That’s $1600+ and you haven’t even touched your hairy underarms or rogue bikini line yet.
Then laser hair removal at home became a thing. But are at-home laser hair removal devices a dream come true or is laser hair removal better left to the professionals? We did a little digging and found out all the answers for you.
The difference between laser hair removal and IPL
When it comes to hair removal, you actually have two options: laser or intense pulse light (IPL). All at-home hair removal devices are actually the latter, whereas you can get either laser or IPL treatments in-salon.
There are similarities as well as a few key differences between laser and IPL. Both use concentrated light to inhibit hair growth at the follicle. The light penetrates through the skin’s surface and is absorbed by the pigment in hair, known as melanin. It heats up the hair shaft and follicle, damaging the follicle to prevent future growth, all without harming the skin. Dark hair is the most responsive to light energy as it contains a higher concentration of melanin.
Laser hair removal uses just a single wavelength of light to target hairs, while IPL uses multiple wavelengths. IPL is able to treat a broader area at once; but laser is able to penetrate deeper so results may be more effective.
Why you need a few sessions to see the best results
Removing hair with laser and IPL is a process. It doesn’t matter whether you do it at home or in a salon, you’ll need a handful of sessions, at least. The hair growth cycle has three phases and hair needs to be in the growing stage (known as anagen) for IPL and laser to work their magic. It’s during this stage that hairs contain the most pigment. Annoyingly, not all areas of hair on your body are in the same growth cycle at the same time, hence why multiple treatments are necessary. Plus, a full growth cycle lasts anywhere from 18 to 24 months. So yes, it’s a bit of a commitment.
Are the results permanent?
Neither at-home IPL or in-salon laser and IPL hair removal are 100 per cent permanent, but they're pretty darn close. Hair follicles may recover from the injury caused by IPL and laser over time. Think of these hair removal procedures more as permanent hair reduction than permanent hair removal.
How many sessions do you need with an at-home device?
Many at-home devices claim to deliver results in as quick as three sessions. Hair will start to fall out during the first week or two post-treatment. To reap the full benefits of your DIY device, you should have your first four sessions once every fortnight. Then, have a top-up every four weeks. Within the first six months of regular use, you should feel practically hair-free.
Can anyone use at-home hair removal devices?
IPL (when using a reputable device) is safe for all skin types, even sensitive skin, although a patch test is always recommended. However, not all skin tones will have success with this type of hair removal. Since darker skin tones contain more melanin, IPL devices can struggle to determine the difference between hair and skin. For this reason, very dark skin tones run the risk of absorbing too much light energy, which may cause skin damage. A good IPL device will have an in-built skin tone sensor that detects when the skin tone is too dark; in which case, it won’t even switch on. If you have a dark skin tone, chat to a pro for their advice on your safest treatment options. Most at-home IPL devices also won’t work on very blonde hair, red hair and white and grey hairs as they don’t have enough melanin. At-home devices work on most areas, however some areas of the face (generally anything above the cheekbones) and a Brazilian is best left in the hands of a pro.
Does at-home IPL hair removal hurt?
Most people describe the pain as being similar to someone flicking them with a rubber band. Annoying, stings a little, but the pain quickly subsides. Some IPL devices allow you to adjust the power levels so you can reduce how painful it is if you’re finding it too much. It will reduce the effectiveness of the IPL, but you will still see significant results.
Things to avoid pre-hair removal
To get the best results out of each of your at-home sessions, you should avoid these three things:
- Applying fake tan as it affects results, and the device may not work if your skin tone is too dark
- Chemical exfoliants or other laser treatments as they can make skin sensitive
- Waxing or epilating: the root of the hairs need to be in the follicle to work
How to use an at-home hair removal machine
#1 / Shave the area you’re going to be treating at least 12 hours beforehand. The area needs to be clean, dry and free from oils, perfume, makeup and any skin care before you begin.
#2 / Choose your setting - a high-quality device will automatically change the setting to suit your skin tone and hair colour. Some devices have different power levels that can be adjusted to match your pain threshold.
#3 / Press the device to your skin (it should be directly touching you - most won’t work if they aren’t in full contact with your skin) and hold at a 90 degree angle. When the indicator on the device signals it’s ready, press the button to activate the IPL wavelengths.
#4 / Once the light flashes and the wavelengths have been released, move on to the next section. Avoid treating the same patch twice as you run the risk of causing skin irritation.
*Note all devices are different so read the instructions.
3 best at-home laser hair removal devices
You have a number of options for at-home laser hair removal in Australia. While there is a decent up-front cost involved, they work out to be cheaper than going to a professional. Our team share their reviews for the best laser removal machine they’ve used.
#1 / Remington i-LIGHT® Smooth Sense IPL Permanent Hair Removal
Suitable for use on the face (female hair only, sorry guys!) and body - it comes with two attachments: one for large areas like the legs, stomach and back, and a smaller one for the face (areas below the cheekbones only) and underarms. This dermatologist-recommended handheld IPL device has been clinically proven to reduce hair by up to 94 per cent after just three sessions. The built-in skin tone tester measures your skin tone before each flash to ensure the area is safe to treat, and adjusts the power level accordingly to suit. There is a Sensitive Mode for anyone who finds the regular setting too uncomfortable.
The review: “Recently I’ve started using the Remington i-LIGHT® Smooth Sense IPL Permanent Hair Removal device and it has been amazing so far. It is incredibly easy to use which was a relief as I was nervous that it would be too time-consuming or cumbersome to use. Unboxing it, I was actually surprised to see how small and light it is. Yet it must pack a powerful punch as I’ve only done two treatments on my legs so far and am already noticing a big reduction in the number of hairs coming back through. I’m looking forward to seeing my final results after some more treatments.” Isobel Larkin, Beauty Crew’s Beauty Writer
#2 / SmoothSkin Bare
Speedy, compact with a sleek design, the SmoothSkin Bare IPL device has a lot to love about it. It claims to do the full body - lower and upper legs, bikini line and underarms in 10-minutes flat! It produces 100 flashes per minute and wastes barely 0.6 seconds between flashes, which is why it’s such a speed machine. If you like things to be as simple and straightforward as possible, then this one fits the brief. Just one button for off and on. For those who think that sounds a little too basic, you’ll be pleased to know that it still checks your skin tone before each flash so it only works when it’s safe to do so. It’s also face-approved, so you can zap unwanted facial hair from your upper lips, jaw line and side burns, too. This handheld device has two modes - Glide and Stamp, which you can alternate between (without having to fuss around with attachments), depending on the area being treated. In clinical tests conducted in the UK, SmoothBare was found to reduce body hair by up to 92 per cent after just four weeks of treatment.
The review: “I’ve only dipped my toes into at-home laser hair removal once (you can read about my full experience with the SmoothSkin Bare here), but it was thankfully a successful experiment. I was terrified of being the one responsible for my hair removal and something going wildly wrong, but thankfully this ergonomic device was so easy to use (and made it so easy not to stuff up). After a few weeks of use, I definitely noticed my leg hair growth slowed down, and the hair itself became softer and finer. My only gripe was that you had to use the device while plugged in, but this wasn’t a deal breaker for me.” Carli Alman, Beauty Crew’s Editor
#3 / Philips Lumea IPL
Philips Lumea IPL is the brand’s most powerful at-home hair removal device, and it comes with four attachments to suit each body area - body (legs, arms, stomach), face (upper lip, chin), bikini and underarms. It’s been developed with dermatologists to ensure it’s gentle on skin, while still delivering impressive results, like up to 92 per cent hair reduction after just three treatments, and hair-free results for six months after 12 treatments with the device (these stats are based on studies conducted by Philips). If you’re hesitant about doing damage - don’t be. The Lumea has a SmartSkin sensor that automatically tells the device which setting is best for your skin tone. It’s cordless too, which is mighty convenient; and two lower legs takes all of 10 minutes to treat. Sure beats hours at the salon! What also sets this device apart is the fact that it works on naturally dark blonde, brown and black hair and on skin tones from very white to dark brown. That just leaves out light blonde, red and white/grey hair colours, and very dark skin tones. Not too shabby as IPL is generally not suited to these hair and skin colours anyway.
The review: “This at-home device is easy to use and is almost painless, even on more sensitive areas like underarms and the bikini line. I’ve also noticed a significant decrease in hair growth after using it religiously (you do have to stick to the program after all), and it’ll be my summertime beauty staple for sure.” Iantha Yu, Beauty Crew’s Beauty Editor
What *not* to do in-between your at-home sessions
Finally, here are just a couple of things to keep in mind between sessions:
- Still no waxing, epilating or plucking your hairs as you need them to remain in the root for IPL to work. Shaving is ok between sessions.
- Steer clear of excessive sweating, pools, sauna’s, very hot showers and tight clothing in the first 24 hours post-treatment.
If you’re happy to stick to shaving, then follow these steps to getting a closer shave.
Have you used an at-home laser hair removal device before? Would you recommend it? Share with us your thoughts below.
Main image credit: Getty
Chelsea is BEAUTYcrew’s Contributing Editor. She has a sweet spot for anything that claims to make skin glow and won’t leave the house without a slick of mascara. Chelsea has 10 years of experience as a beauty editor and her words can be found on BEAUTYcrew, Women’s Health, Daily Addict, The Joye and Primped.