Not all hair removal lasers are the same
So know your lasers from your IPL – they’re two different machines. “IPL is short for Intense Pulsed Light. It’s a form of light therapy that can be compared to laser but is slightly different,” says London’s top laser specialist Debbie Thomas. “A laser has one very specific wavelength so is very targeted and works best on dark skin. IPL has multiple wavelengths that scatter within the skin. It can be used for hair removal in lighter to medium complexions but not for dark complexions since this scatter effect would target the pigment in the skin as much as the pigment in the hair, meaning you could get a burn.”
But they are all attracted to pigment…
“All light-based hair removal treatments work by using a wavelength of light that targets pigment,” says Thomas. Hair follicles absorb this light energy, which is then converted to heat by the dark pigment found in hair. “It’s similar to how a black t-shirt absorbs heat on a hot day whereas a white one reflects the heat and keeps you cool.” Over the course of two to three months the heat destroys the hair follicle and stops it from growing new hair.
You can only zap hair when it’s growing (that’s why it takes so many sessions to see a difference)
“Only 20-40% of the hairs on your body are living at one time,” says Thomas. “Dead body hair can sit in the follicle for 2-3 weeks before you shed it so it takes 6-12 treatments at varying intervals to catch all the hairs in the growing phase.”
Steer clear of Groupon
Always go to a reputable clinic for your treatments. It will save you time and money in the long run if something goes wrong the first time around. “Quite often these offers are available because the salon or clinic has purchased cheap, substandard equipment and the staff won’t necessarily be trained to a high level,” advises Thomas.
Be prepared to feel the burn
“It does vary depending on the device but the most common sensation feels like you’re being flicked by a hot elastic band,” says Thomas. “The area can then feel warm and tingly for a few hours afterwards.” If the thought of being zapped makes you sweat, fear not: “Most laser devices can be adjusted to suit tolerance levels so they can be turned down if it’s too much for you.”
Pain-free options aren’t always the best
Even if you’re a bit squeamish when it comes to feeling the burn make sure you can still feel something. “Pain-free can mean effect-free,” advises Thomas. “You just don’t get as good as a result as you would from a standard treatment. You’ll likely need more sessions which some people are happy with to avoid the stronger zapping sensation or you might only see a 40-70% reduction in hair and never get rid of the last of the hair.”
Don’t skip the patch test
It should be done on each area you intend to treat. “The skin and hair reacts differently in various areas of your body,” says Thomas.
Avoid lasers if you’ve been sun worshipping in Ibiza
“If you’ve had recent sun exposure (within 4 weeks) on the area you want de-fuzzed you’ll have to wait four weeks to avoid any burns from the laser,” says Thomas. Steer clear of laser if you’re pregnant or breast feeding, ditto if you’re on medication or supplements like antibiotics or St Johns Wart which make your more sensitive to light.
You don’t have to put up with long hairs between sessions
“Shaving, trimming, bleaching and cutting the hair are all fine between treatments,” says Thomas. “For hair removal to work, the hair needs to be in the follicle, so avoid waxing, plucking and threading – anything where you pull the hair out from its root such as waxing, plucking and threading.”
Always shave before your laser treatment
It may sound backwards but trust us on this one. “Laser hair removal is much less painful if you don’t have any long hairs,” swears Thomas.
But you won't need your razor for long...
“Once you’ve finished your course you can live hair-free with only the very occasional bit of maintenance,” says Thomas.
Visit Debbie Thomas at Josh Wood Atelier, 020 3393 0977; www.debbiethomas.co.uk
DIY: The Top Three At-Home Hair Removal Lasers Our Beauty Team Swears By
We’ve trialled them all so you don’t have to! These hair-zapping devices aren’t as strong as their in-office counterparts but they’re still super effective. Used every other week for at least three months you’ll get equally as smooth, de-fuzzed gammes, arms and bikini lines. Bring on the light!
Best for: Underarms
Tria Hair Removal Laser Precision, £235, Tria Beauty
The targeted head means you can get into those small, hard-to-reach curved bits under your arms.
Best for: Bikini Line
No!no! PRO 3 Gold Limited Edition, £210, Harrods
The gold travel-friendly case means it not only looks chic on your bathroom counter but it’s small enough to fit in your handbag too so you can keep up treatments while on-the-go (we don’t recommend using it in public though!).
Best for: Legs
Philips Lumea Precision IPL hair removal system, £450, Philips
This gadget is well worth its hefty pricetag - it de-fuzzes lower legs in 15 minutes flat!