Laser, IPL, electrolysis,where are we now with hair removal?
Trudy Fleming is an electrologist of 27 years who having studied and had hands-on training with all modes of laser hair removal systems in the USA, now offers IPL hair removal from her 2 Melbourne clinics. She is a qualified teacher and runs classes on the Blend method of electrolysis, Blend Red Vein removal and Laser/IPL education in Melbourne, interstate and New Zealand.
Just as we thought laser was the way to go for modern hair removal, a new technology has blasted its way into the headlines. Intense Pulsed Light, often refered to as IPL is the new buzz word at medical and beauty conferences and trade expos worldwide.
IPL has been around for a few years but it is newer than laser as a hair removal option. It has only really been in the marketplace for the last 3 or 4 years, and has started to come to everybodys attention during the last 2 years.
IPLs are similar to laser in that they are a light source, but they are not in fact laser. Laser light has 3 specific properties that make it laser. The light is coherent, monochromatic and collimated. IPL has none of these properties. This does not mean that IPL is a less effective system, in fact there is evidence that it may be superior in many cases, but it does produces its light differently.
Lasers have a single specific wave length, which means they are monochromatic. For example a Ruby laser has a wavelength of 694nm. A Diode laser has a wavelength of 810nm. An Nd:YAG has a wavelength of 1064 nm. These lasers have the ability to be absorbed by melanin to different degrees. Laser light with lower, or shorter wavelengths is absorbed more easily than laser light of a longer wavelength.
The depth that the laser light is able to penetrate into dermal tissue will also vary according to their wavelength. In general, the longer the wavelength, the greater the depth of transmition into skin tissue. There are, however, other factors that affect transmition depth. Spot size of the application will have an influence. For example, a larger spot will transmit light to a greater depth then a smaller one.
Lasers are collimated, meaning the waves of light run parallel to each other as they leave their light source. This gives a narrow, concentrated beam. IPL is not collimated and leaves its source, not purely in a foreward projection but diverging out.
Laser light is coherent, which means the rays of light are in phase with each other. They are said to be temporally and spatially coherent. IPL is not coherent, its light waves are not in phase with each other.
The reason that lasers are so dangerous if the eyes are accidentally exposed to the light is that because the rays are coherent and collimated, there is an intense, concentrated beam of light entering the eye through the lens. The lens then focuses the light to a small point on the retina. This can increase the irradiance [or radiant exposure] at the retina by approximately 100,000 times the irradiance at the cornea. And can therefore cause severe retinal damage.
NOHD [Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance] for direct intrabeam viewing is the distance beyond which an unprotected person may stand in the beam with a naked eye and be exposed without injury. It is extremely important to be aware of the NOHD when operating a laser. If you are unsure of the NOHD, then you presume it is the distance of the size of the room the laser is operating in, and that anywhere in the room is within hazard distance if laser light accidentally hits the eyes. As a normal part of laser safety, everybody in the treatment room must wear safety goggles that are specific to the wavelength of the particular laser in use.
Because IPL is not collimated, [light spreads in all directions] there is less light entering the eye. IPL is not coherent so there is no focusing to a tiny spot of concentrated energy on the retina. The light focusing on the retina is a larger spot, without the damage that laser causes. For example, laser introduces 27 thousand times as much light into the eye as a 100W globe does, and 26 times more light into the eye than the sun does.
So what does all this mean to us as hair removal technicians?.
As far as I am concerned, it means that if there is a safer alternative to laser, then I would prefer to use it. When attending laser safety classes, one learns about hazards and risks. If one can substitute the hazard by using an alternative with less risk involved, then that is obviously a better path to take from a risk management point of view. Another view we have to look at though, is whether IPL is effective as a hair removal system. It is no good using it if we do not see any results.
IPL is a bright flash of white light created by a multi chromatic spectrum of light that is produced usually by a Xenon tube. It encompasses a range of wavelengths that are determined by the manufacturer. One typical IPL has a range from 520 to 1200nm.
As with laser, IPL can be reflected, scattered, transmitted and absorbed.
Some IPL are placed firmly on the skin during treatment pulses, thus minimizing reflection, others sit on a layer of gel, where there will be some degree of reflection. This all depends on the manufacturers design.
Because IPLs have a wide range of wavelengths, there will be a range of absorption levels taking place. Shorter wavelengths will be absorbed by melanin very easily, which means that hair with less colour will be able to absorb the light and be affected as well as hair with greater pigment. Most lasers in use today have wavelengths from 755 to 1064 nm and need fairly dark hair to absorb those waves. This means that only dark hair will be treated. If an IPL has wavelengths starting at 520nm, it will be able to treat a whole new group of people with less pigment in their hair, as these shorter waves are more easily absorbed.
The one thing to watch for, however, is the colour of the skin, as these shorter wavelengths can affect the pigment in the epidermis if the client has a tan or dark skin. Most IPL are safe to use on skin types 1 IV, but always do a test patch to check for pigmentation problems.
IPLs usually have a large spot size. This gives greater depth of penetration of the light rays, so they can treat deep terminal hairs. It also means they are much faster to work with. Some IPLs are 7 times faster than a laser. This means there is a greater client turn around and more treatments can be done in a day, creating greater profit.
Another hugely exciting thing about IPL is its photo-rejuvenative effects. Research has found that IPL will reduce solar keratosis, therefore evening up skin pigmentation and refining the texture of the skin.
Because of the shorter wavelengths of most IPLs, they can perform vascular work. Wavelengths between 400 and 600nm, [most particularly 400 to 500nm] have excellent absorption properties with oxyhaemoglobin. This means they can be used to reduce Telangiectasia on the face and upper body. Again it depends on the manufacturers specifications as to what range of wavelengths are available in different IPLs.
Although some IPLs are extremely expensive, most are very competitive these days, making it easier for the beauty salon to consider such a purchase. As more therapists are investing in this technology, so finance companies are getting more comfortable with leasing to them.
Some IPLs are rather complex to use, but a number are very simple and user friendly, making it easier to have staff using them. Some are also quite small and very portable, so they could even be used between a number of venues.
Some states have legislation in place to register the use of lasers. This will no doubt increase until all Australian states have restrictions as to who, how and where lasers are being used. IPL, not being laser, is not part of this restrictive legislation, at this stage, however, the UK is bringing in new legislation later this year for IPL use, which means it may eventually happen here, but this will take years.
So, the situation today, is more choice for the person offering hair removal and for the consumer.