Laser Hair Removal vs IPL – What’s the difference?

Laser hair removal is often used to describe all treatments where a light based energy source is used to achieve permanent hair reduction on a given body area. However, this term is often used incorrectly to describe IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) systems as well as genuine laser based systems. So what is the difference?

If you search on the internet for the difference between laser and ipl then you will find many conflicting articles about which is the better of the two technologies, and certainly both technologies do have similarities but also many differences.

First the similarities:

  1. Laser and IPL systems both rely on the process of ‘selective photothermolysis’ to achieve their stated goal of permanent hair removal. In simple terms this means the use of light energy of a specific wavelength to selectively heat the melanin (the pigment found in skin and hair that gives it colour) in the hair follicle as opposed to the melanin in skin, to the point that it is damaged and hence unable to grow another hair.
  2. Both systems use similar looking machines that require a hand piece which is placed against the skin, through which the light energy is delivered to the skin.
  3. The systems usually require the operator and the patient to wear special glasses that protect the eyes from the light emitted from the hand piece.

Now the differences:

  1. Laser systems use entirely different technology to generate the pulse of light that is emitted from the hand piece, when compared with IPL systems.Lasers produce a single wavelength light (i.e. a pure light consisting of one single colour and form), which is specifically designed to maximize absorption by the melanin in the hair root. In comparison IPL systems use an impure light (i.e. a light with a broad spectrum of wavelengths determined by different filters), where the degree of absorption of the energy in the skin is higher than in the hair root, relative to laser.Subsequently, laser based systems cause relatively more heating in the hair root than IPL systems, thereby achieving better hair removal results, whilst at the same time causing less heating in the skin itself, and so decreasing the risk of burning the skin when compared with IPL systems.
  2. Laser based hair removal systems are generally more effective and safer for darker skinned individuals, such as those of Mediterranean, Asian, or Afro-Caribbean origins. Although IPL systems can be used on darker skin types, there are often higher complication rates, and results tend to be inferior and less predictable. Many IPL systems are also contraindicated in certain skin types due to the high risk of burning or pigmentation of the skin following treatment. Most laser based systems are able to treat darker skin types safely, and certain lasers such as the Soprano XL Blue laser possess an exceptional safety record on all skin types, even on those with the highest risk.
  3. Clinics that use laser based hair removal systems are on the whole more expensive that those where IPL systems are used. This is usually because laser systems cost between two and ten times more than IPL systems, and are also costlier to run and maintain. As a result the greater costs are reflected in higher prices charged by these clinics.
  4. Laser based hair removal systems are generally found in higher end clinics who usually specialise in cosmetic procedures. In comparison IPL systems are usually located in beauty salons, who provide a wide variety of beauty services one of which is hair removal.