Light-based home-use devices for hair removal: Why do they work and how effective they are?

Lasers Surg Med. 2019 Aug;51(6):481-490. doi: 10.1002/lsm.23061. Epub 2019 Jan 25.


Objectives: This review has the following objectives: Firstly, it provides an explanation of the evolution of laser/intense pulsed light (IPL) hair reduction modalities from high fluence professional devices to low fluence home-use appliances. Secondly, it summarises published literature reviews on home-use devices (HUDs) as evidence of their growing credibility. Thirdly, it proposes mechanistic differences in light delivery regimes and the resulting divergences in mode of action.

Materials and methods: An extensive literature search was performed to review the progress of laser/IPL-induced hair reduction and determine what evidence is available to explain the mode of action of professional and HUDs for hair removal. Establishing the likely biological mode of action of professional high-fluence systems versus home-use low-fluence appliances was performed by combining data obtained using ex vivo hair follicle (HF) organ culture and the clinical results involving human participants.

Results: Significant basic science and clinical evidence has been published to confirm the clinical efficacy and technical safety of many laser and IPL home-use devices for hair removal. Clearly, HUDs are different compared to professional systems both in terms of fluence per pulse and in terms of biological mechanisms underlying hair removal. Here we presented data showing that a single low fluence pulse of both 810 nm laser (6.6 J/cm2 , 16 ms) and IPL (9 J/cm2 , 15 ms and 6.8 J/cm2 , 1.9 ms) leads to induction of catagen transition. Catagen transition was characterized by morphological changes similar to what occurs in vivo with occasional detection of apoptosis in the dermal papilla and outer root sheath cells. This suggests that high hair reduction can be expected in vivo and longer-term treatment might result in HF miniaturization due to a cumulative effect on the dermal papilla and outer root sheath cells. In line with this hypothesis, in this review we demonstrate that long-term application of a commercially-available home-use IPL appliance resulted in persistent hair reduction (80%) one year after last treatment. These data are in line with what was previously reported in the literature, where clinical studies with home-use IPL appliances demonstrated high efficacy of hair reduction on female legs, armpits and bikini zones, with full hair regrowth after four treatments following cessation of IPL administration. Limitations of HUDs include lack of hair clearance for very dark skin types and low speed of treatment compared with professional devices. Numerous uncontrolled and controlled clinical efficacy studies and technical safety investigations on consumer-use appliances support many of the leading manufacturers' claims.

Analysis & conclusions: Manufacturers make consumer appliances safe and easy to use by considering "human factors," needs and capabilities of a variety of users. Safety is of primary concern to manufacturers, regulators and standards bodies as these appliances may be accessible to children or their use attempted on unsuitable skin types without full awareness of potential side effects. Consumer cosmetic appliances are provided with warnings and obvious safety notices describing the nature of any ocular or dermal hazard and precautions for reducing risk of accidental injury, infection, etc. HUDs employing optical energy are provided with design and engineering controls such as safety switches, alarms and sensors to prevent their incorrect operation or eye exposure. In-vivo studies demonstrated that low fluence home-use hair removal devices can result in high hair reduction efficacy after a short treatment regime, while prolonged and less frequent (once in six weeks) maintenance treatment over a year can lead to high and sustained hair reduction even one year after cessation of treatment. Home-use hair removal devices can be a useful adjunct to professional in-office treatments with high professional awareness. There are sufficient positive arguments for practitioners to make the case to patients for HUDs as "companion" products to professional treatments. In addition, devices for hair removal can be used effectively as stand-alone products by the consumer if they are willing to adopt a regime of regular or frequent use. Further clinical studies involving dynamic observation of HF cycle stage and type (terminal vs. vellus) over the total duration of treatment, for example, using biopsies or non-invasive imaging are necessary to confirm the proposed mode of action of low fluence pulses in a combination with treatment and maintenance regimes. Lasers Surg. Med. 51:481-490, 2019. © 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hair Removal*
  • Humans
  • Intense Pulsed Light Therapy*