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Permanent hair removal is the ultimate solution to not continually having to deal with removing hair from your legs, forearms, and face. In truth, there are no true “permanent” hair removal methods apart from flaying your skin off.
By the way, although that method is absolutely effective, we strongly recommend against using it because of the whole dying thing, which sucks. However, there are safer methods you can use to effectively keep desired areas of your skin hair-free for long periods of time.
What we are talking about here is Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy. For those of you who have never heard of this, IPL devices are not some voodoo channeling crystal phase-of-the-moon things but are effective devices for hair removal that are based on science.
|1. mē Smooth
|2. Silk’n Infinity
That’s right, science. You know, the dissecting frogs and baking soda volcanoes stuff.
So, let’s talk about how these IPL devices work and whether they are right for you.
How IPL Works
Intense pulsed light devices use high-intensity xenon bulbs to produce flashes of light in a particular band of wavelengths (500-1200 nm) that are absorbed by the hair and skin. Pigmentation of skin and hair is the result of a mixture of two different tyrosine polymers known as melanins, eumelanin (brown pigment) and pheomelanin (yellow pigment), in differing ratios that produce the range of skin and hair colors we see.
IPL devices typically must distinguish between skin and hair pigmentation levels before they can become active for purposes of safety. That is because the absorbed light temporarily produces heating in the hair shaft which stuns the matrix cells in the follicle of the hair.
That same heating effect in the hair is avoided in the skin because of the contrast between hair and skin pigmentation. This also leads to a limitation for IPL devices (with two exceptions) in that people with either white or grey hair or people with dark skin pigmentation (or loads of tattoos) cannot safely use IPL devices without getting burned.
To prevent this unfortunate outcome, nearly all IPL devices have built-in activation sensors that prevent bulb flashes if there is not enough contrast between pigmentation in the hair shaft and the skin. So, when the bulb does flash, wavelengths of light are absorbed by melanins and re-emitted in the infrared band, which produces heat.
Hair consists of keratin polymers and squamous skin cells, with the only active parts of the hair being the matrix cells at its base which produce the hair shaft. Brief, intense pulses of heat can stun these matrix cells, arrest hair growth, and cause the hair to be shed.
However, this only can occur in certain stages of hair maturation of which there are three: anagen, catagen, and telogen phases. IPL devices specifically target anagen phase hairs, which are in an active state of growth and development.
This stage typically represents about 80-90% of body hair, whereas the transitional phase (catagen) and shedding phase (telogen) are the remainder and are also unaffected by IPL treatment. For this reason, IPL treatments must be performed over a period of about 6-8 weeks (roughly the timespan of telogen phase hairs) to ensure that all follicles cycle through their anagen phase and are available to be flash stunned.
After a couple of months of treatment, it sounds rather permanent, right? Well, that’s where biology throws its curveball.
Even stunned hair follicles will eventually transition back to the anagen growth stage, so periodic maintenance treatments are necessary about every three to six months, depending on your rate of hair growth.
There are several really good choices for IPL devices you can purchase out on the market. Here we will review our top three picks for “permanent” hair removal.
3 Good Choices for IPL
Among the devices reviewed here, all of which are good choices, the top pick on our list is the mē Smooth by elōs mē. We like this product more than other choices on the market because the elōs technology has several advantages over your typical IPL device.
As we stated above, IPL technology is quite effective but does have limitations. For people with very pale hair colors or very dark skin pigmentations (or a dark tan or tattoos), IPL devices cannot distinguish between skin and hair due to lack of contrast (Fitzpatrick tone scale I-V, but not VI).
Safety mechanisms in these devices prevent the bulb from firing if sufficient pigmentation contrast is not detected between the skin and hair. elōs Technology uses an additional trick to boost light exposure of hairs: A galvanic plate that imparts an electrical charge to the skin area.
This contact plate does two things to broaden the effective range of hair treatment. By applying a current that causes piloerection and dilation of the follicle pore, light exposure to the hair shaft is increased, and through the emission of radiofrequency energy, matrix cells in the follicle cells are also stunned.
This little addition in the elōs technology expands the treatment range to include people with Fitzpatrick scale VI pigmentation and also has been effectively demonstrated to work with people who have Fitzpatrick scale I skin with light blonde hair. No formal tests have been done with grey hair, however.
The Infinity by Silk’n is a standard IPL device (Silk’n refers to their technology as Home Pulsed Light or HPL therapy) that also uses galvanic energy and is very well constructed with a long bulb life for the xenon bulb. The device is rated to provide 300,000 pulses of light, which is way more than enough to remove body hair and do maintenance treatments for about 5 years or so, depending on the thickness of your hair.
The difference between the Infinity and the Smooth with respect to galvanic effects, and the way Silk’n got around the elōs patent, is the use of a grounding plate (base electrode) on the underside of the device that must be in contact with your hand for the metallic faceplate to emit a current. Although there are several other IPL devices made by Silk’n, the Infinity is the only model to feature this galvanic plate and has the same advantages in terms of the range of treatable skin tones.
The Veme IPL device is another popular optical hair removal machine and has an unusually long-lived xenon bulb: 500,000 flashes. Only about 15,000 to 30,000 flashes are necessary for hair removal over the initial 6-8 week treatment period, so the Veme will function for many years of periodic hair removal maintenance.
Bear in mind, that the Veme only works on Fitzpatrick scale skin tones I-V.