Permanent Hair Removal: What To Know Before You Get Laser Hair Removal
Laser and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) are quickly becoming the most popular words to spill from everyone’s lips. I’ve tried it, a handful of my friends have been zapped, and I’ve heard my fair share of horror stories on how it can all go painfully wrong for those seeking slinky and smooth limbs.
If you’ve ever wondered what these treatments really involve, who are actually qualified to perform them, and how you should prepare before your first session, this will become your go-to guide on laser and IPL permanent hair removal treatments.
I contacted two experts from one of Australia’s most prestigious beauty education colleges, the Australasian College Broadway, to help explain everything for us. The lovely Jennifer Taylor (head of the beauty faculty at the college) and David Adamson (senior educator in IPL & laser hair removal, as well as owner of The Laser Clinic in Broadway) have shared with me the importance of girls (and boys!) picking a qualified technician to perform the procedures so that you get the best results that you deserve.
IPL and laser treatments both fall within a category called ‘light therapy’. Its grown fast in popularity because it offers permanent hair reduction opposed to waxing and shaving – and currently it can be as cheap, or even cheaper than waxing!
What’s the difference between laser and IPL?
I asked David (senior educator in IPL & laser hair removal at the Australasian College Broadway) what the difference between IPL and Laser technology was.
“It’s the machinery used and the light itself. Fundamentally laser operates with a single wave length light, whereas as IPL is broad spectrum light. If you were to compare the two, 80% of the time there is no real impact to the quality of your treatment. The difference is the operator and whether they know how to use either of the machinery efficiently and safely.”
Teaching students how to use the technology safely is something both David and Jennifer see as paramount within the laser and IPL beauty sector. Every chance they get, they reinforce this with their students at the Australasian College Broadway.
“Laser can permanently blind you (IPL isn’t so risky), the technician or even someone just walking past the clinic if the light shines into their eyes, the danger is high. If you are burnt by a laser it can damage your skin for life. In some cases it can cause hyperpigmentation (hyperpigmentation is an excess of melanin in your skin which can make it look browner). It can take days, weeks and in a few cases it may never go away but this is more common for people with darker skin.”
Hyperpigmentation and burns aren’t the only bad outcome of laser being performed by a technician who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Hypopigmentation can take place, the opposite of hyperpigmentation, and this is when the melanin in your skin is completely destroyed (basically the loss of skin colour). When this devastatingly occurs (more evident with darker skin tones) it’s even harder to treat.
So does IPL & Laser work for everyone?
Before I spoke to Jennifer and David, the closest form of education I had on how lasers work came from Dr Evil from the psychedelic comedy Austin Powers:
For laser or IPL to work well, you essentially need to have colour (melanin) in your hair shafts to cause the heat – okay, so Dr Evil was kind of onto something when he mentioned the sophisticated heat beams.
“Imagine walking out on a hot summer’s day. If you wear a white t-shirt you’re not going to get as hot as if you were wearing a black t-shirt. You need that darkness in the hair shaft to absorb that heat to kill the follicle” says David.
His thoughts on clinics that claim to have lasers that work on dark skin and light hair colours?
“You’ll find that lots of people will say, their equipment will get rid of blonde and grey hair, and that is 80% lies. Take what they say with a grain of salt. You will get some hair reduction, but you won’t get the sort of reduction that you’re expecting. Even machines that claim to get rid of blonde hair can only do so by 20% – opposed to brown to black hair that is 90 to 95% effective – it’s a big difference.”
How can you check if a laser or IPL clinic is certified?
In Australia almost 90% of salons don’t have staff that with proper qualifications to operate laser machinery. The minimum education that any technician should have is the Vocational Graduate Certificate in Intense Pulsed Light and Laser Hair Reduction. If you decide to go to a salon for laser, you should be asking if the person who will be treating you has this under their belt, or even a higher education like a Bachelor of Health Science.
I asked Jennifer Taylor (head of the beauty faculty at the Australasian College Broadway) what type of things we should be looking out for, and what questions to ask to make sure a clinic is safe.
“I think that when you call the salon, or when you go in, you should be able to see right from the very beginning their qualifications displayed, everyone should be displaying their certificates. Also, if you walk past a salon and it says “come in and have some lunch time laser” that’s got to be a big warning bell. Because you need a full consultation, and then what we call a test patch which is a testing on a small area to see how your skin will react. We would never ever suggest that someone could have a laser or IPL treatment without that full consultation and test patch because we need to find out so much about you and your skin.”
Does someone have to be trained at a college, or can they be taught on the job?
“We think the Australian beauty industry has been formulated on learning on the job, and it is a valid form of training, but IPL is what we consider a paramedical treatment because the light’s reaction on the skin can have effects that may scar that skin forever. There’s a scientific element to laser and IPL as well, where you have to understand and judge the machinery, the devices, the laser wave lengths, the skin types, the medication the client might be on. This is where you need to be trained by someone who is qualified. Here at the college we’re with our students all of the time and they have us mentoring them even when they are treating clients, I think that’s the confidence that you need to have in someone who’s about to be operating light therapy on you” said Jennifer.
How should we prepare before our first laser or IPL appointment?
1. “Limit the amount of sun exposure. It would be really sad if you came in for a treatment and you’ve just had a spray tan, and even though it’s not a real sun tan, it’s still going to stop the operator from doing the treatment because the laser loves dark pigmentation and there is more chance of getting burnt, so they won’t perform the treatment” Jennifer says.
2. Don’t use numbing creams says David, at least for the first treatment “numbing creams for me as a practitioner are highly contentious, because what that actually means, is that the therapist loses touch with the patient, and because this is so potentially dangerous, it’s better for the laser or IPL therapist to operate with an awareness of the patient’s pain perception. When you lose touch, you can end up burning or hyperpigmenting your client.”
3. Don’t shave before you go in! “If your clinic is saying shave before you come in, I wouldn’t go there. Have you ever heard the expression “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it?” David suggests going to your first consultation with your natural hair showing so that your therapist knows how much hair they are really dealing with. “Also, when a client comes back in for follow up treatments I want to see at least 2 or 3 millimetres of hair so that I can see whether my treatment has been effective and to see if the hair has come back less, or thinner. If they shave it bald, how do we know how effective the treatment was?”
4. David also advises if after 2 to 3 treatments you don’t see any significant hair loss (that is, hair that hasn’t gown back at all), you need to stop going to this clinic and speak with a qualified laser practitioner instead. If your hair is still growing back, it may mean your laser therapist doesn’t know what they are doing and how to operate the machinery properly. Instead, out of fear of burning you, they have the laser set too low and your hair follicle is being stunned rather than killed. When the hair follicle is stunned it will continue to grow back thinner and lighter, and sadly this will decrease your overall chance of removing hair for good because those hairs will be harder to detect and remove by any laser in the future. For this reason, clinics that try to sell laser packages with 10 or more treatments could be ripping you off and ruining your skin, essentially they don’t know how to operate the machinery properly and could be unsafe.
5. If you do decide to go to a clinic without any qualifications in Laser and IPL then there’s a big chance that they probably also don’t have any appropriate medical malpractice insurance. This is extremely important for the clinic to have incase things do go wrong, and you are injured from the laser. Think about it, there’s a higher chance of this happening because they don’t have any real training behind them!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for Australians to be able to go to any salon and know that they are getting a laser treatment that will work as promised without fear of being hurt or wasting their time and money?
Because this isn’t the case, the client (you and I) need to be better informed, we have to know the risks and where best to seek expert treatment. I personally believe that all therapists should at least have their Vocational Graduate Certificate in Intense Pulsed Light and Laser Hair Reduction before they even think about treating any client.
If you’re considering IPL or laser and want to know which clinic will look after you best with the most qualified staff, I recommend The Laser Clinic in Broadway where you will get a free consultation and test patch or The Beauty Space in Double Bay. If you’re wanting to pursue a career in beauty and would like to one day operate a laser machine (way to go!), make sure you are taught at a college that can offer you a professionally acknowledged qualification like the Australasian College in Broadway.