[Update 30th August 2013: A newer model called Boots SmoothSkin Extra is now available at Boots.com with £150 off (no promo code required). This takes the price down to £249.99 (free delivery or collect from store). Plus don't forget to use your Boots Advantage cards for 996 points!]
It's finally here! A new, improved Boots Smooth Skin PLUS is now available to buy in-store or from here on the Boots website! As you know, I'm a huge fan of home IPL hair removal, having bought the original Boots Smooth Skin exactly two years ago.
However, as much as I loved the hair-free results, the original Boots Smooth Skin wasn't without its issues - overheating and the long wait between zaps were my major complaints. Then in November last year, I was really excited to hear that the iPulse team had taken on customer feedback to develop a more user-friendly model. I was sworn to secrecy until launch, but can now give all the details as well as some answers to frequently asked questions.
Make yourself comfortable... it's going to be a long one!
Quick recap on Boots Smooth Skin iPulse
The Boots Smooth Skin brand (or just "iPulse" as it's called in other countries) is an IPL (intense pulsed light) system that offers clinically proven, permanent hair reduction. It uses flashes of light to target the pigment (melanin) in hair, to disable follicles and stop new growth. The suggested usage is once a week for 6-12 weeks, at which point hair growth should be significantly reduced, and a quick top-up session is then only required every three months or so to keep the strays away.
Note that once results are achieved after 12 weeks, you still need to keep hold of the unit for top-up treatments every few months (more frequently at first) to stop new hairs from appearing. Don't be disappointed if hairs do start growing back at first. The regrowth becomes less over time until the point that it's barely visible, even up to six months from the last treatment. Trust me, the perseverance is worth it!
What's the difference between Boots Smooth Skin PLUS and the old model?
The new model has 20,000 shots of power (compared to 10,000 from the original Boots Smooth Skin). This is more than enough to treat the whole body for the entire course of use, and for subsequent top-up treatments. I've personally never had to replace the handset on my old model.
There is now significantly less waiting time required between shots, meaning a much faster treatment time. The pulse repetition rate is 3-6 seconds as opposed to 6 seconds on the old model.
The internal cooling system has been improved, which means less overheating.
There is a new, ergonomically-designed handset which will feel more familiar to using an electric shaver or epilator. Treating the underarms will require much less awkward positions!
The iPulse PLUS now comes with an "Electronic Skin Tone Sensor" device which takes the guess work out of choosing the appropriate skin type setting for each part of your body.
There are now four skin type settings instead of just three.
The new model looks infinitely better and more streamlined than the original Boots Smooth Skin. Gone are the foot spa resemblance and lilac trimmings.
The new model boasts a longer handset cord, which means more flexibility on the physical location you can have your zapping sessions. No more sitting right next to the power socket. The cord can now also wrap around the base for tidier storage.
The Boots Smooth Skin PLUS is a little more expensive than the original model at £399.99 vs the current price of the original model at £281.90. The old model will still be available to buy, so the new model is more of a "deluxe" model rather than a complete replacement.
Why can I not use Boots Smooth Skin on my tanned or dark skin?
Darker skin tones absorb too much light during treatment which can cause serious skin injury (or a painful burning sensation at the very least) and will mean that the IPL is ineffective on the hair. The same is true if a tan is achieved from fake tanning products (so give the fake tan a break before using Boots Smooth Skin!).
See below for a photo I took of the skin tone chart from the product box (the colours will look different on different screens so I'd recommend checking against the box in-store).
Why does IPL work better on some areas of hair than others?
The hairs on our body, face and head are completely different types of hair and will respond differently to IPL or laser treatment.
The hair that most of us generally want to remove is "terminal" hair, the visible, pigmented hair, as opposed to "peach fuzz" hair. There are different types of terminal hair - asexual hair (e.g. eyebrows), ambisexual hair that appears from puberty (e.g. armpit, pubic and lower leg hair) and sexual hair (e.g. facial hair).
IPL will achieve the best results on ambisexual hair which is why women find that it works so well on underarms and the bikini line. I can personally vouch for this!
However, "sexual" hair, the hair that is stimulated by the male hormone, androgen, is the hardest to treat and the slowest to respond to IPL. This includes facial hair, which on women is caused by hormonal imbalance. Women using IPL on facial hair are likely to find that hairs grow back, even after 12 weeks of treatment. This is not because IPL was unsuccessful on those treated follicles, but instead due to brand new hairs growing from previously inactive follicles (i.e. hair that hasn't been treated by IPL).
Unfortunately, as we're completely covered in dormant hair follicles, and our hormones mean that these follicles can start sprouting hair at any point, we can only really use IPL as a "maintenance programme" on facial hair, rather than a truly permanent solution. Having said this, women find that facial hair becomes finer, lighter and less visible once they start using Boots Smooth Skin, and can go months between top-up treatments.
Note that IPL only works on pigmented hair - not blonde, red or grey hair. The light energy needs to be attracted by pigment and carried down the hair shaft to the follicle to disable it.
Why does facial hair keep growing back even after 12 weeks of treatment?
Can I use Boots Smooth Skin if I have PCOS?
In the past, there was confusion over whether Boots Smooth Skin could be used by women with PCOS (Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome) as the Boots website said it shouldn't be used, yet scores of women with PCOS were leaving rave reviews about Boots Smooth Skin changing their lives.
To put it simply, Boots were just more zealous than CyDen (the company behind iPulse technology) with their usage advice. Boots have loosened up their advice to reflect the real situation and now say "The Boots Smooth Skin PLUS system may be less effective if you suffer from Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome (PCOS)", instead of forbidding usage outright.
The reason why IPL may be less effective if you do have PCOS is again because of "sexual" hair growing from previously dormant follicles. This is not to say that IPL doesn't offer help for women with PCOS - any regrowth should be softer, finer and lighter in colour.
I should mention that some drugs and thyroid issues make the user more sensitive to light, so if you are using any drugs, check the list in the manual before using Boots Smooth Skin.
Can I use Boots Smooth Skin for a full "hollywood" / "brazilian"?
I can never remember which is which.. or whether they're the same thing, but yes it is possible to achieve the completely bald look if that's your thing. But I quote from the manual:
"DO NOT treat the delicate, highly sensitive areas such as the inner area of the vagina (known as the Labia Minora) as this is a mucous membrane and treatment will cause a serious adverse reaction.
DO NOT treat directly on the anus as this is also a mucous membrane and treatment to this area can cause a serious adverse reaction."
Just remember that results are permanent! You'll probably be grateful for some "coverage" when you're 90 years old and everything's wrinkly and saggy. Think about it.
How short should the hair be prior to treatment?
Hair needs to be shaved before treatment to get the hair shaft short enough for the light to reach the follicle. However, don't epilate, wax or treat the area with hair removing creams because this may remove too much hair and stop the Boots Smooth Skin system from working effectively.
Note that Boots Smooth Skin may still work on hairs that haven't quite reached the surface of the skin yet. So make sure you treat entire areas even if it looks like hair hasn't grown through yet.
[Update 12th June 2011: I saw that the people at iPulse posted this very useful guide in reply to a question on their Facebook page about shaving prior to treatment: "IPL uses the hair to travel to the base of the follicle and disable it. Hair should be just visible above the skin. Depending on the razor used, you may need to shave the day before to allow the hair to regrow a little so that it is just visible on the skin's surface. We recommend using a single blade razor of clippers to trim the hair down to the skin. In both cases the hair should not be more than 1mm. Be aware that some of the more complex razors can actually pull the hair out. This is not what we want with IPL as the hair is needed to act as a conduit for the light, hence recommending simple single blade razors."]
Can I use Boots Smooth Skin on my eyebrows
Use of Boots Smooth Skin (original or PLUS model) on eyebrows or around the orbital bone is not approved. The reason being that eyebrow hairs grow erratically under the skin you might quickly end up with no eyebrows (not a good look).
Can I use Boots Smooth Skin during pregnancy
If you are pregnant, it's advised that you avoid using any electrical device due to changes in body temperature. It's recommended that women start or resume usage of Boots Smooth Skin after breastfeeding. Again, the reason being that hormonal changes during pregnancy and breastfeeding can lead to body hair coming back with a vengeance from dormant follicles, and any IPL treatment before stopping breastfeeding may be less effective.
Why do I need to use the Activator Gel?
Don't skimp on the Activator Gel - it serves a few important purposes. One purpose is simply to cool the skin down during sessions. I personally keep the gel in the fridge to get it even cooler. Just remember the fridge is good, the freezer is a no-no. Ice particles in the gel will reflect light and render the IPL less effective.
The Activator Gel also acts as a "light coupler" which basically means that it helps trap and guide the light the right way. It is similar to the gel used in ultrasounds, but has been specifically designed for use with Boots Smooth Skin iPulse, so don't be tempted to use any other gel!
Another purpose of the gel is just to help the user see the areas they've already treated (i.e. through the flattened areas of gel).
If you're treating large areas like the legs, it's better to apply the gel in patches as you go along rather than slathering it all over at the beginning. This will minimise mess and drying out.
Do the shots get less powerful over time?
No, the last shot (right up to the point that the handset needs to be replaced) is the same strength as the first.
Is there a risk of cancer when using Boots Smooth Skin?
Not at all. The light used in IPL is visible light that is physically incapable of penetrating the lower levels of skin.
Will the light from Boots Smooth Skin damage my eyes?
The Boots Smooth Skin device has the British Kitemark which means that it has been independently tested and exposure to this level of light is not expected to cause adverse health effects. However, it is still not advised to look at the light directly. It should be quite difficult to look directly at the light anyway, as the trigger only will fire a shot if all contact points of the handset are in contact with the skin.
Note that epilepsy sufferers should not use Boots Smooth Skin. You should also avoid using Boots Smooth Skin if there are children or pets in the room.
Is Boots Smooth Skin really as effective as IPL in a salon?
The only differences between Boots Smooth Skin and salon IPL treatments are the cost, convenience and the range of skin types that can be treated (a salon may be able to treat darker skin types).
There has been a lot of comparison of "joules" (power) of different products, but the truth is that the joules from different machines will act differently. So "30 joules" from a salon device may actually be the same as "10 joules" from a home IPL device. iPulse just makes IPL more accessible. Not everyone wants to make recurring appointments at the salon or wants to have a therapist prodding at their hairy areas.
What is the difference between IPL and laser hair removal?
Laser is monochromatic which means it's a single beam. IPL (intense pulsed light) means multiple beams. They are both effective at permanent hair reduction but IPL is often reported to be more safer for a wider range of skin tones, less painful, and easier to use on large areas.
Most products on the market (at the time of writing) use IPL technology (the main exception being TRIA which is meant to be pretty good too). Beware - I've been told that some other home "laser" devices have as much power as laser pointer pens and as such are completely ineffective for hair removal.
Can Boots Smooth Skin be used on children or teenagers?
Using Boots Smooth Skin on children or teenagers under the age of 16 is not recommended. There are too many changes going on with young girls' skin and hormones which will mean new hairs may grow back and IPL just won't be as effective on them as on adults.
Why isn't the treatment window bigger than it is?
Ahh, if only the treatment window was 3x the size, it'd be so much faster to treat large areas like the legs! Alas, the size of the window is as big as it can be to direct the light energy at the required concentration to disable hair follicles. If it were any bigger, the light would be diluted and thus less effective. Unfortunately, even just a slightly bigger window would require a huge step up in energy, which just isn't physically possible at the moment. The treatment window is currently 12mm x 25mm (see below photo).
Can I share Boots Smooth Skin with a friend?
There's no technical problem with sharing Boots Smooth Skin with a friend and splitting the cost. But you might find that he or she ends up hogging it all the time. If you do decide to go halves on the device, at least think about getting your own handset so that you each have 20,000 shots and there's no chance of either party using more than their fair share of shots. An additional handset will be around £160.
[Update 23 May 2011: I just found out that the handset is not detachable from the Boots Smooth Skin PLUS unit so it won't be possible to purchase an additional or replacement handset. Once the 20,000 shots are used up, the whole unit needs to be taken in-store for re-servicing where it will take 3-4 weeks. I think this costs around £100.]
Also, remember that after you've achieved hair-free results after 12 weeks or so, you still need to have top-up treatments every 3 months (more frequently at first), so you can't hand down or sell the unit once you're "done" with it.
Will I get faster results I use it more than once a week on the same area?
No, using Boots Smooth Skin (or any IPL device) more than once a week is just a waste of your time and lamp shots. The reason you need to treat areas once a week is because IPL is only effective on hairs that are in their "anagen" (active growth) phase. As only a proportion (up to 90%) of hairs will be in the anagen phase at any one time, you need regular treatments to catch them all. Once a week is more than enough to keep up with them.
My tips for getting the fastest results is to use the highest strength that you can manage that isn't too painful, and to make sure you don't miss too many patches on each treatment. If you find it difficult to keep track of your progress on large areas, try using a white eyeliner to mark out a grid to follow before you start.
Why are there different levels of power if the minimum setting is enough for permanent results?
While all levels have been designed to achieve permanent hair reduction, the lower settings may just take longer to achieve desired results. Which means that if you are on the darker side of the skin type scale, you may find that you will need more treatments than someone with very pale skin. I recommend using the highest setting you can manage (obviously don't use a setting if it really hurts).
Is Boots Smooth Skin suitable for use by men?
Yes, although using it on the beard is not advised. Hairy cheeks, back (you'll need someone to help you), chest etc are fine.
Is it worth paying the extra £120 for Boots Smooth Skin PLUS over the original model?
I say it's definitely worth paying extra for. The original model has been out for two years now - which is a lot of time to take on customer feedback and improve the product. It would be crazy to buy the old model now!
How can I buy the iPulse outside of the UK?
Get in touch with the iPulse team using their international sales email address which you can find on the iPulse Facebook page.
The iPulse device is dual voltage so is also usable in the U.S.
Buy Boots Smooth Skin PLUS from here on the Boots website (free delivery or collect from store)
Download the Boots Smooth Skin PLUS instruction manual here (large PDF file)
iPulse website: www.ipulse.co.uk
iPulse on Twitter: twitter.com/iPulseSmooth
iPulse on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ipulse
My previous posts with reviews of Boots Smooth Skin and comparisons of different home IPL products:
Philips Lumea vs. Boots Smooth Skin iPulse vs. Remington i-Light
Boots Smooth Skin review (after 48 weeks)
Ok, I think I'm finished now... that was a looong post!
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Disclosure: Original Boots Smooth Skin unit bought by self, Boots Smooth Skin PLUS unit was provided for review.