As long as humans have been altering our looks, we’ve been removing unwanted hair. Whether for looks, religious ritual, or even disease control, we’ve invented numerous ways to remove hair from our faces, scalps, and bodies – any place our current culture deemed we might be better off bald.
Ancient Hair Removal Methods
Some of these methods are time-tested throughout the ages – shaving methods involving sharpened flints and shells have been around for about 25,000 years, and the first metal razors were fashioned from copper around 3000 BC.
Other hair removal methods were known to the ancients as well: depilatory creams containing quicklime and arsenic quickly dissolved hair, even if they might have been poisonous, and sugar-waxing methods were developed in Papua New Guinea as early as 1900 BC.
Removing Hair in the 21st Century
Modern technology has brought new ways to remove and reduce unwanted hair. We can now “zap” our unwanted hairs with electricity and laser technology. And the results are longer lasting – an actual reduction in hair growth, which is often permanent.
But light-based hair removal systems require a commitment to a series of expensive treatments over several months, which can be painful to both our skin and our wallets. How much pain is involved? We’ll never know unless we sign up for a treatment. Which is of no use unless we are committed to the whole series of treatments. It’s not an easy thing to experiment with.
So the low tech methods of hair removal remain popular. Shaving is cheap, usually painless, and low commitment. Plucking is easy and cheap for small areas where precision matters, like eyebrows. And waxing? Well, it hurts, but it’s fast, and the results last long enough to forget the pain involved. And for those who prefer chemicals to sharp instruments or hot wax, there are still depilatory creams that will melt the hair away.
Light-based Hair Removal: Lasers and IPL
Now companies are developing FDA-cleared, at-home versions of the permanent hair reduction devices used in salons and dermatology offices. Some of these devices use laser technology – actual lasers that emit focused light at a specific wavelength. Others use Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), which emits a strong pulse of more diffuse light at different wavelengths.. What both technologies do is destroy individual hair follicles by targeting the melanin in the hair and blasting them with heat. Since both home technologies rely on the contrast between hair and skin to destroy the hair follicle, their use is limited to people with dark hair and light skin. And which is better? There’s evidence that both are effective, but when you ask a salon owner, they generally prefer whichever system they’ve invested in.
The Veet Infini’Silk
The prospect of a more permanent reduction of unwanted hair is almost universally appealing, so when Veet offered to send me their new Infini’Silk, I said yes without a second thought. If I could stand the discomfort, I could do this on my own time! And if I couldn’t take the pain? I could pass the device on to a heartier beauty buff. The Infini’Silk uses what they call Home Pulsed Light, which I assume is the FDA-cleared version of Intense Pulsed Light (the diffused-wave-technology). The device looks like an overgrown computer mouse, (or a very ladylike taser):
It comes packaged with a power adapter and a pictorial quick-start guide, but I wasn’t going to start zapping myself with a formerly-available-only-to-trained-professionals device without reading the manual. And I’m glad I did: the list of warnings and contraindications is 6 pages long and intense. Here are a few of the biggies:
- Do not use on naturally dark skin.
- Do not use on tanned skin.
- Do not use after recent sun exposure, even if your skin doesn’t seem to tan quickly.
- Do not use near the eyes. (Well, yeah, it’s intense light that can easily blind you).
- Do not use around tattoos, moles, dark birthmarks or freckles.
- Do not use if you are taking medications that cause sun sensitivity, including aspirins, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen.
- Do not use if you’re using AHAs, Retin-A, Accutane, etc.
- Do not use if you suffer from epilepsy.
- Do not use flammable liquids (alcohol, perfume, sanitizers) on the skin before using.
This is a serious list! But since the device uses intense pulsed light to target dark hair roots under lighter skin tones, there is good reason to avoid moles and suntanning. And there are some built-in safety features to keep home users from truly screwing up:
- There is a skin sensor that will not allow the device to pulse if the visible skin tone is too dark to safely use. (The manual states that any tanning within four weeks of using the device could cause burns or scarring, even in skin that doesn’t seem tan. )
- The Device is designed so that the light pulse cannot be triggered unless the treatment surface is in full contact with the skin, so that the lasers cannot be triggered into open air (or into someone’s eyes). So protective goggles are not needed.
This is what the ‘business end” of the device looks like, with the light and the skin sensor:
There’s one thing that keeps me from giving this thing a serious workout: I received the device in mid-June, and I’ve already been doing some summer sunbathing. No, I am not taking four weeks off from summer beach visits for hair removal. Maybe the product is having its big launch in the Southern Hemisphere, but here in North America, it’s beach season. Normally I would test a potentially painful device on my forearms first – they’re used to being assaulted. But my arms are most definitely tanned, and the hair there is sun-bleached, which is not a good combination. I’ll have to test somewhere more sensitive. Ugh.
I settle on a patch test on my upper thigh, since I’m not tan there. Since the area to be treated should be clean shaven and dry, it’s an easy test too. I plug in the device and hit the ‘central’ button on the back and the fan turns on. It’s kind of loud. How hot will this thing be? I place the light end of the device on my skin and get ready for whatever is coming:
As it turns out, there is very little sensorial heat at Energy Level 1. I see an extremely bright light flash between my skin and the device – even with the device flush against the skin, the light that escapes is massively bright – and hear a pop, but there’s no pain at all. I test out the device on a few spots running down my leg, careful not to re-zap any areas. I’m not sure if I should try a higher level, but mostly I’m relieved that the flashes don’t hurt. Then I turn up to Level 3 and try it on the other side – no pain, just a little warmth. I try levels 4 and 5 – 5 feels like a little snap – not painful or hot, but I can definitely feel the intensity of the light.
I’ve only had the device for a few weeks, and I’m not giving up my summer beach days to use a product that states I Should Not Tan At All While Using It. I also haven’t done anything resembling an organized hair reduction treatment schedule. That will have to wait until January and February, which are perfect months to spend an evening every other week holing up in my bathroom zapping unwanted hair – for social reasons as well as the Do Not Tan Anytime While Using This Product cautions. I’m hoping that Veet sent the device to bloggers in South America and Australia, where it is winter now, so that they can test it properly and tell us how well it works.
I’m excited about the prospect of permanently reducing hair, especially at a reduced price – the Veet Infini’Silk retails for $299 (though less at the link), which is about what a single IPL salon treatment costs. I’m happy to know that it has safety features to keep the very intense Pulsed Light from blinding me, and I’m even happier to know it’s not painful. Those are baby steps, but for a low-tech hair remover like me, they’re essential. I look forward to properly testing the device in January/February to find out if it works to truly reduce hair growth for me. Stay tuned….