Laser hair removal reviews: salon or DIY?

by Bernadette Fallon
woman following laser hair removal

Laser hair removal has increased in popularity so much in recent years that now, in addition to professional clinic treatments, professional-style laser machines are available to buy for home use. But are they as good? While it may work out cheaper to buy a home laser machine, is it money well spent, will the hair reduction be the same for both?

We decided to investigate and try out three different hair removal treatments simultaneously – a professional clinic treatment for bikini area hair at The Private Clinic of Harley Street, and for legs, the Boots Smooth Skin PLUS and a French model just launched in the UK, the E-One. For more information on how each treatment works, scroll down to the end of the page.

Professional laser: first test

I’ve had laser treatments before many times and with great success, on my face and, most recently, on the hair under my arms. So I’m really not worried about this one when I turn up at The Private Clinic of Harley St for my patch test – how different can it be?

Er, very different. The area is oh-so-sensitive, each little laser flash on my skin is so intense but I manage to grit my teeth and get through it – well, the patch test lasts only for seconds. At the first treatment two days later however I wimp out and ask for the intensity to be turned down by one setting.

You don't have to suffer to be hair free but a good therapist will be able to see the laser killing the hair as they work. The machine must be set high enough to do this, otherwise you're wasting your time. And unfortunately this will usually be a little uncomfortable, though should be a feeling of intense heat rather than one of pain. From previous experience I’ve found that my body adjusts to the discomfort, so while the first treatment may be quite uncomfortable, the second one will be less so and so on through the course. Phew!

After the treatment the bikini area is red for a while, which is normal and to be expected - I've experienced this every time. What lasts a bit longer is a rough bumpy feeling on the skin's surface and I decide to skip a visit to a swimming pool as I'm not sure I want to reveal the tops of my legs to the world in this condition. It also looks like I have a bit of hair stubble in this area, again I decide to save the swimming pool crowd the sight.

A week later
But by the end of a week it has all calmed down nicely and my skin looks smooth. The hair growth has slowed down a lot and I am using my trusy Gillette razor a lot more sparingly in the shower. (You may be tempted to throw away your razor straight away - don't! The hair regrowth is slower but will still continue throughout the first few treatments and shaving is the only method of removal you're allowed to use. Treatments like waxing that remove hairs at the root just mean that these hairs are missed by the laser and you're wasting your money.)

Boots Smooth Skin PLUS: first test

The Smooth Skin PLUS is packaged in a compact white vanity case and is easy to set up; just plug in, set to the correct intensity level (there's a little handheld device that reads your skin to give you the correct setting), apply the enclosed activator gel to the area of skin you are treating and away you go.

The laser is contained in a streamlined gadget that looks and feels a bit like a Ladyshave razor. When it's positioned correctly on the skin a light comes on, this is the signal to hit the trigger button for a blast of laser action. The light is bright - it is advised to look the other way and I also wear sunglasses which helps - and the sensation on my skin is one of intense heat, though only for a second. And it's not quite as hot as the heat from the laser used in a professional clinic. Though there is eventually the rather disconcerting smell of burning hair.

It's a bit fiddly to use at first, particularly when it comes to reaching round to the back of my leg but I get used to it quite quickly and the fact the laser won't activate until it's positioned correctly is very reassuring - I know I'm doing it right. It doesn't take as long as I expected; from start to finish, including setting up the machine and doing a skin test, takes just about 20 minutes for one leg.

Afterwards I apply cooling Aloe Vera to my leg - essential - and spray it with Avene thermal water - not essential but nice - to reduce the redness. Again, this is not as bad as I expected it to be, my leg feels warm but not hot and the skin is certainly not as red as it is normally after a professional treatment.

A week later
I don't use the laser on my other leg for a week afterwards so I can compare treated versus untreated hair. There is a definite difference in growth between both legs - the treated leg now has a few hairless patches, even after just one treatment. The hair is growing a lot faster however than the hair on my bikini line - so it looks like the professional treatment has done a better job after one treatment at least. A long way to go yet however!

E-One: first test

The E-One is delivered to my house in a very large box. Inside the machine looks quite similar to the Boots system, but a whole lot bigger. The handheld device has a wider laser beam so moving around my leg will be easier. There’s an electronic LED screen where I can set heat intensity, skin type, hair thickness and gender. And it comes with black glasses for protection, activating gel, a white makeup pencil to mark the area I will be working on, and cleaner fluid to clean the laser. If the Boots model is a nifty Mini Cooper, the E-one is a powerful off-road 4x4. So far at least.

Setting it up involves a lot of looking at the instruction book and confused jabbing at the LED screen but I’m not the most technically literate person in the world. However when I read the instructions carefully I find that it explains step-by-step exactly what I have to do.

First, the settings. I need to choose my skin type - easy, I’m fair - and hair thickness - the Boots machine doesn’t ask for this so I have to give it some thought. Faced with four options from ‘very fine’ to ‘very thick’ (which the instruction book seems to suggest is a hairy man), I opt for setting three.

The are five levels of intensity and the instructions advise starting at level one and working up as the body adjusts to the temperature. To use I have to press the device firmly against my leg and push the button to release the laser. If it’s not correctly in place it won’t fire and, as with the Boots model, this is re-assuring as I know I’m doing it correctly when it fires.

This is easy I think as I move up my leg, the heat released is minimal, there’s hardly any redness and no discomfort whatsoever. Half way up and I remember I’m still only on the lowest setting, which is obviously not going to give best results. I crack it up a few notches and now I can feel more heat coming through. Still though, there is very little redness at the end of the treatment.

A week later
There are a few clear patches on my skin but only a few - I wonder if this is because I have used a low setting on half of my leg? It does seem to have worked better on the skin around my knee, there are a few bald patches here where the hair seems to have disappeared altogether. But a week is hardly long enough for a full review - I’ll press on and let you know what happens!

Bikini line professional laser: second treatment

I’m so impressed with the professional results after six weeks – there are large areas of my bikini line which are completely hair free and my skin is baby soft. I mean it. After about 25 years of shaving, it hasn’t been this soft and clear since I was a baby.

The second treatment hurts less than the first, though I do have to steel myself against each sharp prick of laser flash. And my bikini line is as red as a turkey cock, as my granny would say, by the end of the treatment. The therapist says this is totally normal for this area of extremely sensitive skin and I can see her point, this area doesn’t see the light of day very much.

One week later
In just a few days the redness reduces and I’m left admiring baby-soft hairless (mostly) skin.

Home treatment on legs: second test

After a six week gap since my last treatments, both legs are in a similar condition – still plenty of hair, though with the occasional bald patch where hair has not grown back. However I hadn’t been using the E-one at full intensity during the first test.

This time around I find the Boots Smooth Skin PLUS system a lot easier to use, just because it is more compact and lightweight. The device is smaller to hold than the E-One which makes it more comfortable to use - on the down side it has a smaller laser surface, so it takes longer to work around my leg. The E-One is noisier, beeping each time it is ready to fire another laser, Smooth Skin just flashes a light to let me know it’s ready to fire.

But half way through the Smooth Skin leg, the huge over-riding benefit of the E-One becomes clear. Working on this leg I hardly experience any discomfort at all, there is a cool air blower on the device which cools the leg after the heat of each laser flash. Smooth Skin, being a lot cheaper, doesn’t have this little extra and it really makes a difference. The laser gets very hot after a while, and I have to take a few breaks to steel myself to keep going. Afterwards, the E-one leg is hardly red; the Smooth Skin leg is red and has a slight rash in places. And it remains sensitive and a bit itchy for the next few days.

One week later Redness has totally disappeared on the Smooth Skin leg and regrowth is much slower with some hair-free patches. On the E-One side these hairless patches are larger. At the moment though, the winner by a long way is the professional treatment.

However, I now realise I can use the Smooth Skin device more frequently – once a week, as opposed to the 5-week interval recommended for E-One and six weeks for professional treatment.

Professional laser: how it works

The treatment works by using light energy to heat up the hair follicles in the skin; when enough heat is produced the follicle is destroyed, preventing re-growth of the hair. As not all of the hair will be growing at the same time, several sessions are needed to capture all of it - most clinics recommend about six sessions for best results, though it does depend on how much hair you have to begin with and how receptive the hair is to treatment. Best results are obtained when treating pale skin and dark hair, though the technology has now advanced to allow darker skin be successfully treated also.

The Private Clinic uses a new state of the art system called Cynosure Elite System which uses two laser types – Alexandrite for fair skin and NdYAG for darker skin tones – both blow cool air throughout the treatment to make it a more comfortable experience. The Elite Laser hair removal system promises a dramatic improvement after just the first treatment, and also promises to be faster, less painful and more effective than most laser machines available on the market.
Find out more here

E-One: how it works

The good news is that this is a medically approved IPL hair removal device for home use, and claims to work on Asian and suntanned skin (many machines only achieve results on white skin). It's also the most powerful IPL device for home use. And the best news of all is its stamp of approval from the Good Housekeeping Institute, this year voted the best at home IPL hair removal device.

The bad news is the price; at £1299 it's the most expensive device in the market. But, as the makers point out, to have legs, underarm and bikini line lasered in a salon could cost in the region of £2,000 to £3,000. And the flash bulbs are replaceable (£97), meaning that your E-One will continue to work forever. You could also recoup some of your costs by selling it on to a friend once you are totally hair free!

The technology used is similar to flash bulbs used by professional salons, but these ones are smaller, lighter and more affordable. There are six levels of intensity which are charged depending on the area of the body being treated and density of the hair.
Find out more here

Boots Smooth Skin PLUS: how it works

The Smooth Skin PLUS also uses IPL technology and, according to the makers, is also suitable for use on skin tone 4 ie darker skin tones. It replaces an earlier model and is 30% faster than the original and offers 20,000 light shots - one light shot each time you press the button to treat a piece of skin. Once you have pressed it 20,000 times, the unit has run out. You can buy new bulbs to continue using it, however the manufacturers say that 20,000 laser shots should be sufficient to treat two to three poeple. The price, £399.99, is very affordable if you consider that a course of laser treatment on legs, under-arm and bikini line could cost in the region of £2,000 to £3,000.
Find out more here

After several months of testing, the final verdict

I've just had my fourth professional bikini line treatment and the results are very good. There is still hair regrowth between sessions but it's patchy and the hair is finer than before. After two more sessions (six is the recommended number) I'm expecting great things. The discomfort factor is still high however, this is a very sensitive area and the laser is quite hot. But the speed my therapist works at is fantastic so, all in all, it's bearable for the session. And seeing the great results makes the pain all the more bearable!

Results continue to be good for both the E-One device and the Boots Smooth Skin PLUS system, though the hair regrowth is much faster on these areas. Basically the home systems do work, the E-One probably a little better than the Boots system - looks like you get what you pay for - but at a much slower rate than professional treatments and with a bit more pain, discomfort and general hassle as they can be a bit fiddly to use.

Here's what I think: Despite the extra cost involved with the professional treatment I would choose this option over the home systems, just for the ease of use and the comfort of getting to lie down for 15 minutes while a therapist does all the work. So many nights I came home and just couldn't face a session of blasting my own legs with heat - it took me about 45 minutes to do each leg. I can see however the great attraction of the home laser systems for anyone who doesn't live close to a laser clinic. Rest assured, they do work, it will just take a little bit longer.

Prices and more information

The Private Clinic of Harley St has clinics throughout the UK, price for a single session is £130, or £650 for a course of 6; book a consultation on 0800 599 9911 or find out more here
Boots Smooth Skin PLUS costs £399.99; find out more here
E-One costs £1299; find out more here

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