If you've been looking at treatment options for permanent hair removal, you've probably come across both laser hair removal and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) and wondered what the difference is. The main difference between the two - and the main difference you need to understand when considering which treatment to choose - is the light source used in both. IPL uses a broad spectrum of visible light wavelengths that acts more like the beam of a torch and covers wider areas of the skin. Laser Hair Removal uses actual laser technology that targets specific, small, controlled areas of the skin, significantly reducing the risk of skin damage.
Both treatments have been commercially available since the mid-1990s, but are distinctly different. The issue is that many hair removal boutiques claim to offer "laser" hair removal, when in fact they only use IPL. In this article, we will clear up some misconceptions and clarify the difference between laser hair removal and IPL hair removal. After reading this, you will know what to be aware of.
In both hair removal treatments, light energy is produced, which is then absorbed into the dark pigment of the hair to ultimately damage the hair follicle. The goal is to destroy the hair root and also reduce hair growth (without damaging the surrounding skin).
Laser hair removal
A laser has three unique properties:
- Laser is monochromatic, which means that the light from a laser has one wavelength (color). Ordinary white light, on the other hand, is a combination of many different wavelengths (colors).
- Laser is coherent, meaning that the light is fully amplifying and does not cancel itself. The coherent light of a laser differs from ordinary light in that it consists of waves that all have the same wavelength and are all in phase (i.e., in sync with each other) - ordinary light contains many different wavelengths and phase relationships.
- Laser is collimated (unidirectional), which means that the light waves are parallel. Thus, it can emit over a long distance while remaining in a narrow beam. This is also evident when using a laser pointer, for example. This makes laser light very powerful, as almost 100% of the light can be effective in treating hair reduction.
The lasers used in laser hair removal use concentrated beams of light that emit focused and controlled bursts of light that penetrate small areas, damage hair follicles and cause hair growth to slow significantly or, in many cases, stop altogether. These lasers precisely target the follicles and do less damage to the surrounding skin and tissues.
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)
Unlike Laser, an IPL device produces a broad spectrum of non-coherent light, somewhat like a standard light bulb; and this cannot be focused as a concentrated beam.
IPL systems typically produce a spectrum with wavelengths between 500 and 1200 nm. Different separation filters are then used to filter out lower frequencies and narrow this spectrum to target specific structures and chromophores.
IPLs are neither monochromatic, coherent nor collimated.
Because numerous wavelengths are produced, only some of which are absorbed by the targeted chromophore, results can vary; and there is a lot of wasted energy that is either absorbed by the body - increasing the risk of side effects and heat damage - or filtered by the device before it reaches the patient.
IPL equipment is more versatile because it can perform a number of skin treatments in addition to laser hair removal. So it really is an all-in-one device.
Laser hair removal
- More effective and selective
- More published clinical evidence for laser hair removal compared to IPL
- Penetrates deeper into the skin, more effective for darker, thicker hairs - IPL penetrates only 2 mm
- Lasers are more expensive to purchase than IPLs
Hair removal with IPL
- Less effective hair removal technology
- IPL can be used for treatments other than hair removal
- IPL is more uncomfortable - more intense flashes of light
- IPL is slow with a long pulse duration