Laser and IPL hair removal: are they safe?

We expose a number of untrained operators aiming lasers at your body.
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Permanent hair reduction is becoming increasingly popular, and hair removal businesses are cropping up as fast as the hairs themselves. We take a look to see if it’s all it’s cracked up to be.

On this page we look at:

Through this investigation into permanent hair reduction practices in Australia, CHOICE has found several examples of customers paying for ineffective treatments, or even worse, being injured.

  • Laser Danger  CHOICE spoke to a range of experts, including dermatologists, and medical professionals who have highlighted the dangers involved in getting laser and IPL treatments, especially in an unregulated environment.
  • The CHOICE shadow shop  We also sent a shadow shopper into a mix of beauty salons and walk-in clinics, and discovered that a number of laser and IPL operators are failing to give accurate advice, ask neccesary questions, and provide adequate information about the training of staff.
  • What to look out for  If you're considering laser or IPL treatments, CHOICE has compiled a list of tips to help you make an informed decision.

The marketing hype will tell you that with a few sessions of laser or intense pulsed light (IPL) hair reduction, and some slight discomfort, you can be hair free forever. To anyone who has battled with unwanted facial or body hair this sounds like the perfect solution.

However, with the exceptions of Queensland, Tasmania and WA the laser industry is unregulated, and powerful medical lasers and IPLs are accessible to untrained  and inexperienced personnel. Even in the states with some legislative controls, clinical application training isn't covered.

For more information on Hair Removal, see Beauty and Personal Care.

How it works

Lasers and IPL (intense pulsed light) devices, (which are not technically lasers but work on a similar principal), can be used for hair reduction and skin treatments such as removing spider veins, improving skin tone and to remove tattoos.

  • Permanent hair reduction involves the use of either a single wavelength of light (laser) or a flash of light containing hundreds of wavelengths (IPL or broadband light BBL).
  • Melanin within the hair follicles is targeted, heating and damaging the follicles in an active growth cycle.
  • Only hairs that have colour can be treated, so white and grey hairs won’t respond.
  • Success of the treatment depends on your colouring, with laser generally working best on fair skin and dark hair.
  • Fairer skin and red hair will respond to a lesser degree and those with darker skin can be treated, but only with a great deal of care.

All the experts CHOICE spoke to agree that laser or IPL treatment, in the hands of an experienced and trained operator can be very effective. Melbourne dermatologist Dr Philip Bekhor says its the best way to remove unwanted hair, as long as you're a "suitable candidate".

CH1011_LaserHRemoval_headlaser_WEB Is it permanent?

Many adverts claim that laser or IPL treatments can leave you permanently hair free. Sydney dermatologist Dr Phillip Artemi, says many operators have been quite loose with their definition of the word “permanent” in their advertising.

He says up to 20% of hair will continue to grow (albeit in a finer and slower way), and many hair follicles will recover from the laser injury over time.

Dr Artemi says a better term for the procedures is “permanent hair reduction".



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