What's the difference between laser and IPL
Laser Hair Removal | 26 July 2021

What is the difference between an IPL and laser?

There are a number of differences between IPL (Intense pulsed light) and laser. Firstly,  there is much more published clinical evidence for medical grade lasers. These lasers undergo clinical trials to ensure they are safe and effective. Secondly, IPL’s are considered to be ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ meaning that they do a little bit of everything but are not as focused as lasers at delivering energy where it is needed. 

IPL’s use a broad spectrum of light with multiple wavelengths. The light from an IPL is created by a flash lamp and is then filtered using a hand piece. Light created this way is weaker and less effective as it is not as focused as laser light. Lasers use one specific wavelength to reach a defined target making it much more effective for hair removal


How laser is different from IPL

What is a laser?

Laser is an acronym for Light Amplication by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Put very simply a laser is a device that emits light of a specific wavelength. When the atoms in pure gases or solids are excited specific wavelengths are emitted. This happens when bulbs within the laser are in operation. Each wavelength of light targets a different chromophore. Chromophores are specific structures that are targeted by the laser i.e. melanin (pigment) haemoglobin (blood)

In the case of hair removal for pale to medium skin tones an Alexandrite laser uses a wavelength of 755nm. This delivers heat and energy from the laser and it’s specific target is melanin. This means that the main focus of the laser beam is the dark hair within the skin. Heat from the laser will be absorbed quickly resulting in thermal damage to the hair. The surrounding skin and tissue will contain less melanin so little to no heat will be absorbed. Nd:Yag is a different wavelength used for darker skin tones for hair removal. This laser uses a wavelength of 1064nm.  Instead of targeting melanin this wavelength targets the blood supply that nourishes the hair. 


Depth of penetration of laser for dark skin types


Laser uses a combination of pulse widths and joules of energy to deliver heat into the skin. Other factors must be considered during treatment to ensure it is safe.  Medications, recent sun exposure, topical products are just a few examples. 

What is IPL? 

IPL or Intense pulsed light is a multi functioning device. IPL’s are not true lasers and function in a different way. IPL’s use flash lamps to create pulses of light.  Light is created but is filtered down using different hand pieces. This light is not as selective as laser light.  Lasers use one single wavelength of light that is specifically designed to target one thing. However, IPL uses pulses of broad spectrum,  non-coherent light.  During treatment the hand piece of the IPL will touch the skin and a gel is used to cool the skin. 


How does laser hair removal work?

Laser hair removal works by using a combination of light and heat to target hair follicles. Pulses of laser energy are applied to the skin from the laser in order to heat up hair follicles.  This energy transfers heat into the hair follicle in order to disable it. Laser can treat all skin types safely but different wavelengths of light must be used for safety reasons.

For laser to work hair must contain dark pigment, this is essential. If hairs are blond, red, grey or white laser will not work. Brown or black hairs will absorb laser energy and respond to treatment. Hair density is also important, thicker hairs will respond much quicker than thin hairs. It is not uncommon to need more treatments on areas where hairs are finer in texture and lighter in colour. 


How can laser treat all skin tones?

Laser can treat all skin tones because different wavelengths of light can be selected. For pale/medium skin tones Alexandrite laser is used. The main target for this energy is melanin, this is the substance that gives hair it’s colour. This wavelength is completely focused on absorbing into any structures that contain this dark pigment. If hair does not have any dark pigment i.e. blond, red, grey no absorption will take place. However, if hairs are brown or black in colour laser will rapidly absorb into these hairs.


How Alexandrite laser treats pale skin


This wave length of laser is not suitable for darker skin tones. Nd:Yag is used to safely treat darker skin tones. This lasers main target is the blood supply that feeds the hair. It absorbs poorly into melanin and that is why it is safe to use on darker skin tones.


How Nd YAG works on Dark skin for laser hair removal

IPL can’t treat all skin tones because the light generated by this light source is non selective. This means that the energy is not as focused and can potentially cause issues if too much heat is delivered into the skin. 


How is laser light more selective and effective for laser hair removal?

Lasers are much more selective at seeking out a target. In the case of hair removal this is melanin for pale/medium skin types and haemoglobin for darker skin types. This makes laser a much safer option for the skin as it offers a more controlled delivery of precise energy into the skin. 


How laser light is more effective and selective for laser hair removal


Why is it important for laser to penetrate the skin deeper?

Hair follicles lie approximately 3-4 mm under the skin. Medical grade lasers deliver energy directly into the skin at this depth. The majority of the energy coming from the laser  is absorbed exactly where it is needed. This ensures a more effective treatment outcome as very little energy is wasted.


When IPL’s pulse energy into the skin it is delivered very superficially and reaches a depth of approx. 2mm under the skin. IPL relies on the hair to transfer heat deeper down into the follicle for it to have an effect. Dark, coarse hairs will do this to some effect but for hairs that may be lighter in colour and texture not enough heat will be delivered to the hair bulb for it to be successful. Therefore, IPL may work on some areas of the body where hairs are thicker but not be as successful in others. 


Is it safe for all skin types to have IPL and laser?

No, it is not safe for darker skin types to use IPL, all skin types can be treated using laser. Different wavelengths of laser are needed to treat different skin types. If the wrong wavelength of energy is delivered into the skin it can cause damage to the skin.

Some areas of the body have different skin tones i.e. bikini area. It is not uncommon for the inner and bum areas of the bikini to be slightly darker in colour. Care must be taken to ensure the skin in these darker areas are treated correctly. IPL may be suitable for the paler areas but it must not be used on the darker parts of the bikini. Because lasers use different wavelengths to treat specific areas all areas are suitable regardless of colour. 


Which is more effective, IPL or laser?

Without a doubt, lasers are more effective than IPL. This is providing the laser specialist has been fully trained and is confident to use the laser. Laser hair removal is the only treatment our therapists perform. They are experts at what they do and are fully certified and trained to the highest standards.

We only use medical grade lasers in our clinics and do not use IPL. 

With these lasers we can deliver the safest, most effective laser treatments to all our clients.  You will see results fast and will have a long lasting effect from your course of treatments with us. As you can see lasers offer a much better treatment outcome. They are more comfortable and deliver superior results. Our medical grade lasers allow us to remove your hair fast without compromising on the safety of your skin.   


How many treatments are needed for IPL and laser?

Typically less sessions are needed with laser than with IPL. This obviously depends on other factors also. Treatment intervals, tolerance to treatment, colour and density of hair and laser operator experience all impact on how many treatments will be needed. However, because of the way laser energy is delivered it is much more effective per treatment. The majority of people will need somewhere in the region of 6-10+ treatments with a laser. A reduction of approx 80-85% can be achieved after a full course. This reduction is long lasting and minimal growth will return after a full course.

Results from IPL can vary a lot and reductions from an initial course may not last as long because heat from the IPL has not been delivered in the same way as a laser. 10+ sessions may be needed with IPL and more frequent top ups may also be required especially on areas where hairs may be lighter in texture. 


Which hurts less IPL or laser for hair removal?

Laser hurts less for laser hair removal. Lasers are equipped with cooling systems. These deliver cool air or cryogen during treatment. As the laser is pulsing over the skin a jet of cold air is applied to the skin in the treatment area. This has a numbing effect and makes treatment much more comfortable. 

IPL’s rely on gel to cool the skin before treatment. A clear gel is applied to the treatment area and the IPL is pulsed over it. This can feel quite uncomfortable as it’s cooling effect is minimal. This can also be quite messy and leave the skin feeling dry if it has not been removed completely from the skin. 


Take the first step and book your consultation with us today.

If you have been considering laser hair removal talk to us. We ask you to attend for a free consultation and patch test before you start. This way we can assess your area before treatment to make sure your hair is suitable. We also run through all the information you need to know about laser before you start. There are a couple of very important pre treatment requirements we run through everything with you so you are fully prepared.

Laser is a commitment and it can take time to see results by meeting with us you get to see our clinic and get a feel for what we do. Our consultation is not a sales pitch and you are free to decide what areas you want to have treated. If you feel laser is something you want to start take your first step today and contact us to arrange your consultation.



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