What It’s Really Like To Get IPL Hair Removal

As a 10lb baby with a mass of black hair that pretty much started from her eyebrows, HintMD writer Georgia Gould would always have a love-hate relationship with her locks. Thick hair on head? Good. Dark body hair? Not so good. But would Intense Pulsed Light treatments give her the baby-smooth legs she’d always dreamed of?…

I distinctly remember the day my furry legs finally became too much to bear. It was about 7pm on a school night and I was sat in my bedroom staring down at my shins wondering why they looked like they belonged to a teenage boy rather than my lanky, 12-year-old frame. I was also acutely aware that summer was on its way and I could no longer cover my slightly hirsute gams with knee-length socks or 100+ denier tights.

So, I decided to take action.

My older sister had left her razor in the bathroom, so I quickly grabbed it and ran to my room with not a scrap of knowledge on how to shave (in my defense it was 1987 and the internet hadn’t even been invented). Ten minutes later, after scraping a slightly rusty, disposable razor up my dry legs – with not a scrap of water or shaving cream in sight – I was left with slightly bloody, albeit hair-free legs.

Shameful.

Fast-forward 25 years and my hairy legs were still the bane of my life. Even after carefully shaving most mornings (with shaving foam and everything), by the evening my legs were prickly at best, visibly shaggy at worst. I’d tried waxing and loathed it, so decided to bite the bullet and try out something far more permanent: Intense Pulsed Light (IPL).

Not to be confused with laser hair removal which is a process that uses one specific wavelength to target the hair follicles, IPL has multiple wavelengths that are able to scatter themselves within the skin. This may sound like a plus-point for IPL but it actually makes it less powerful. It’s also more painful.

So, how was my experience? Well, I signed up for a course of six lower leg IPL treatments over around nine months. Each session was nailed in a lunch-hour (bonus) and they were pretty much pain-free. My therapist first had me strip off my pants (so yes, respectable underwear is a must) and lay on a bed with towels over my lower limbs. She then gave me goggles to protect my eyes from the laser beam, then lubed up one leg with a cooling gel, before setting up the machine to perfectly suit the color of my skin and hair. The machine was then worked up and down small areas of my skin at a time and it felt warm and a little prickly, but certainly not painful. My ankles were probably the most sensitive to the machine (thinner skin and all that), but even they didn’t hurt and it was a helluva lot nicer than that ‘ole devil called waxing.

After completing the front half of both legs – with some extra effort over my knees which are notoriously stubborn when it comes to giving up their hair – I was then asked to roll over onto my front so she could complete the backs of my legs.

Around 20 minutes later, after discussing vacations, significant others, office gossip etc, my lower legs were totally zapped and I was done. She wiped down my legs to get rid of any gel residue, applied a cooling moisturizer, then I got dressed and was out of the door.

Were my legs miraculously bald a week later? No. Did I see hairs fall out in the shower? No. In fact I didn’t really notice any difference until after the second session, which was a good few months later. But by then, it was like a moulting miracle. I reckon I had less than half the hair I used to have, and what was left was finer, softer and, maybe it was just my eyes, but even a little fairer. Eureka. Another couple of sessions later and all my lower leg hair was practically gone.

I’m now four years down the line and can honestly say that while my legs are not totally hair-free, I can still go a good few weeks without having to shave the random hairs that still sprout up (the knees, STILL the knees!). I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that IPL was the best, most effective course of beauty treatments I’ve ever had. Life-changing in fact. I loved it so much I even had my thighs treated a year later and am currently considering other body parts. Thankfully now, I also get the option of including IPL in my treatment plan, meaning I can split the cost into easy monthly payments. Fist. Bump.

Just remember, however, my experience was great because I refused to trust my limbs to the hands of any Tom, Dick and Harry who claimed they could nuke leg hair for half the price of the next guy. As with all medical-grade aesthetic treatments, seeking a qualified, experienced and knowledgeable expert is the single most important factor in getting excellent results.

Other points to remember:

1. It’s advisable to visit the doctor for a patch test first.

2. You MUST shave before every session, which I forgot to do once but thankfully my therapist did it for me ­– yes, she was that good.

3. You cannot wax or pluck hairs between treatments. Definitely an important consideration if you’re thinking about having IPL on your bikini area.

4. Your skin will become very sensitive to the sun during your course of treatments, so you should either save it for the winter, or be super-vigilant about never exposing the treatment area unless you’re doused in broad-spectrum sunscreen.

5. Lasers target pigment in the skin, which can cause scarring, so any kind of tanning (even the fake stuff) is a double no-no.

6. You might experience temporary redness (I didn’t) or a slight warming effect (nope), but these will both disappear in a matter of days.