If you’ve been looking at treatment options for permanent hair removal then you have probably come across both laser hair removal and IPL and are wondering what the difference is. In short, laser hair removal is safer, more effective, and the only way hair removal should ever be performed.
Both treatments have been available commercially since the mid 1990s, but are distinctly different. The issue here is that many hair removal clinics claim to provide “laser” hair removal, when in fact they only use IPL. In this article, we clear up some misconceptions and shoot straight when talking about the difference between laser hair removal and IPL hair reduction. After reading this, you’ll know what to look out for.
Both hair removal treatments involve producing light energy, which is then absorbed into the dark pigment of the hair to ultimately cause damage to the hair follicle. The goal is to destroy the hair root and also reduce hair growth.
Light is absorbed best and attracted to dark objects. We have all heard about wearing dark clothes in summer and being much hotter compared to wearing white. It’s true! Darker clothes absorb the light energy and convert it into heat, while lighter clothes reflect it. In a similar way, laser energy is absorbed much more by dark pigment in the skin (but with much more speed and intensity). In more technical terms, this dark target matter (chromophore) can be naturally-occurring or artificially introduced. Melanin is considered the primary chromophore for most lasers. Hair removal lasers selectively target one of three chromophores: carbon, haemoglobin, or melanin.
Laser has three unique properties
- Laser is monochromatic meaning that the light emitted from a laser is of one wavelength (colour). In contrast, ordinary white light is a combination of many different wavelengths (colours).
- Laser is coherent, meaning the light is totally reinforcing and does not cancel itself out. The coherent light produced by a laser differs from ordinary light in that it is made up of waves all of the same wavelength and all in phase (i.e., in step with each other) – ordinary light contains many different wavelengths and phase relations.
- Laser is “collimated” meaning the light waves are parallel. This makes laser light very powerful, as nearly 100% of the light can be effective in the treatment of hair reduction.
Lasers utilise one wavelength to selectively target one specific chromophore, which is melanin. This allows for deeper penetration and the energy is directed straight to the target and not absorbed by the other chromophores in the path of the beam. Lasers will selectively destroy specific targets and not cause harm to the surrounding tissue when used properly. Laser machines are set to emit the exact wavelength required to treat your hair.
Intense pulse light (IPL)
IPL devices on the other hand are not lasers. These devices produce a broad spectrum of wavelengths (like a light bulb) and cannot be focused to a concentrated beam. Because a range of different wavelengths is dispersed at a variety of depths only some of these are effectively absorbed by the hair follicle, causing substandard results and increasing the risk of burns.
- Intense pulsed light (IPL) is not monochromatic, meaning that IPL has many different colours and only a small percentage of these are effective in the treatment of hair reduction.
- IPL is not coherent and is not reinforcing making it less effective in the treatment of hair reduction.
- IPL is not collimated and is therefore quick to spread out making it less effective in the treatment of hair reduction.
Intense pulsed light – not so intense…
IPL machines typically use a range of wavelengths from 500 – 1000 nm. As these wavelengths are exposed to the skin, there is no ability for the light to discriminate between chromophores within the skin. Due to the broad spectrum of light, obtaining sufficient energy to destroy certain deep targets such as hair is often challenging. Smaller more superficial targets such as pigment and vascular legions absorb the majority of the energy. In order to heat deeper targets, higher energy levels need to be employed, but this increases the risk of burns and various complications. These adverse effects include hyper-pigmentation, hypo-pigmentation, blistering, and potentially scarring.
The advantages of using laser over IPL:
- IPL is a cheaper, less effective technology for reducing body hair.
- Lasers are far more precise and can selectively target dark, coarse hair while leaving the surrounding areas undamaged.
- Each laser pulse takes a fraction of a second and can treat several hairs at a time.
- Laser settings can be adjusted to suit your specific skin tone and hair colour.
- Lasers have the capability to safely treat all skin colours, whereas IPLs can cause burn on darker skin types.
The main difference between laser and IPL for hair removal lies in the technology that each use to generate light as well as the different properties of light being used.
Laser technology is simply much more effective, and achieves substantially better results than IPL with most clients achieving optimal results of permanent hair removal of 80% or greater after four to eight treatments.
However, IPL machines do have an important place in the treatment of skin. IPL provides adequate treatment for skin problems such as superficial pigmentation, redness, and capillaries, but it is not suited to hair removal. In addition, these devices are not suitable for darker skin.
How can we help you?
We offer only the safest, most effective treatment options for laser hair removal and skin rejuvenation. Why choose us?
- We only use medical-grade lasers.
- All of our therapists are qualified and laser safety certified.
- We are “Candela Certified”, ensuring maximum safety and results with our laser devices.
- We are Victoria’s most experienced clinic, having founded in 2005.
Unparalleled service and innovative treatment options mean that effective laser hair removal treatments are now available to everyone.