Laser hair removal and intense pulse light (IPL) has been the ‘go to’ method for long term hair removal for many years. “In the 1990s, it was proven that intense pulsed light was an effective method of hair removal, and IPL machines were developed and marketed for this purpose.” Since then, with advanced technology, it is much easier to achieve long-lasting results with laser and IPL than any other treatments. According to the new studies the average woman spends around £23,000 during their lifetime for hair removal. While unwanted excess hair is such a problem, many of us are looking for long term solutions.
When it comes to choosing the right treatment the most common questions are:
- Should I choose IPL or Laser?
- What is the difference between IPL and laser?
- What gives the best results and best value for money?
- Which one is faster?
- What is safer for my skin type?
Is IPL and laser hair removal the same?
Many people confuse laser hair removal and IPL. IPL is not a laser. They both use light but that is where the similarities end. Not many people know there is any difference between IPL and laser hair removal technologies. If you are trying to make a decision between or IPL treatments, we’ve prepared you a comparison guide for you to help you make your decision.
Understanding Laser Hair Removal
Laser hair removal is selective photothermolysis (SPTL). The crucial element in laser hair removal is matching specific wavelengths of light and pulse duration to the hair target. The hair target is the melanin found in the hair follicle. Melanin is a naturally occurring pigment in our skin and hair is associated with determining colour. Importantly for safety and comfort, the laser energy is focused and absorbed only into the follicle, thus avoiding the surrounding skin tissue area.
The process works by destroying the hair root. This prevents blood flow to the follicle, disabling the hair growth long-term.
Understanding IPL hair removal: Hair Removal Using Light
IPL technology, also known as intense pulsed light technology is actually not a laser treatment. Compared to laser hair removal, it uses a broad spectrum of light with multiple wavelengths. This means it has more unfocused energy around the hair and skin area. The light is like the flash from a camera which spreads over a large area, which is vastly different from a focused beam of light from a laser.
That’s why at Premier Laser in London we do not use IPL technology for hair removal treatments, as it is not as efficient or effective.
What’s the difference between Laser Hair Removal and IPL?
Both laser and IPL use light to destroy the hair follicle and prevent further growth. However, the kind of light and the technology used to deliver the light is quite different. Hence the treatments, process, and results are not the same. Let’s see the laser and IPL comparison under most asked segments.
IPL wavelength does not penetrate as deeply as laser
As mentioned the main difference between laser and IPL is the type of light.
- Laser machines provide a very specific type of light wavelength which is targeted and concentrated. The wavelength of light going to one direction creates a strong and highly effective light.
- IPL machines provide a broad range of wavelengths to create a single flash of light, like a flash on a camera which covers a larger area. This decreases the power of the treatment and causes less effective results.
IPL: Not as powerful
LASER : More powerful and effective
Area of target
When the light enters the skin, it is absorbed by the melanin pigment in the hair follicle. The absorption of the light heats the hair follicle and interrupts the hair growth cycle. Concentrated light in the laser finds the target and shoots the hair follicle. With the effective direct light, only the hair follicle gets struck by the laser. On the other hand, while IPL shoots with a broader and scattered light, the critical temperature for the hair follicle cannot be reached as easily. The majority of the energy is absorbed by the smaller more superficial targets.
IPL: Unfocused wide area targeted
LASER : Pinpoint focus on hair follicle
Safety on skin
IPL using scattered light also causes the surrounding tissue to absorb the light. While the light is not as focused as a laser, in order to heat deeper targets, IPL requires higher energy levels. This energy is also absorbed by the surrounding tissue. And it can lead to skin damage such as burning, hyperpigmentation, blistering and scarring.With laser as only one targeted wavelength is used, deeper penetration occurs. The energy directly targets the hair follicle and it is not absorbed by other chromophores in the path of the beam, so the surrounding skin is unaffected.
IPL: Hair and surrounding skin damaged
LASER : Only hair damaged
Number of sessions needed
Hair grows in different cycles and laser and IPL can only treat the hair follicles at a certain stage called the anagen phase.
As the laser cannot determine which hair is at which stage in the growing cycle, the laser can only destroy the 10% of the current hair follicles. Hence, it is advised to have 6-8 sessions of laser hair removal for the best results.
IPL works with weaker and scattered light. It doesn’t provide a precise target shooting as the laser.
Hence, less hair follicle can be destructed at each session, leaving you with need for more sessions.
IPL: More sessions
LASER: Fewer sessions
As the light beam used in laser treatment is highly concentrated and targeted; one shot with a laser at the area is enough for the results. The IPL devices feature a larger pad for the treatment and it might seem like the session can be completed quicker as the machine’s head is bigger. But because the light is weaker, the practitioner often needs to treat the same area more than once. Which leads your session to take longer than laser.
IPL: Quicker sessions – longer to notice results
LASER : Longer sessions – quicker to notice results
Laser requires more advanced technology and the machines are more expensive costing up to £100,000 at 2020 prices. However as we’ve mentioned, IPL usually requires more sessions for good results and you are more likely to end up spending more for IPL in the long run.
IPL: Cheaper but requires more sessions
LASER : More expensive but sees results quicker
As the laser uses a stronger beam of light, you might think the IPL is safer. However laser only targets the hair follicles and unlike IPL, it doesn’t affect the surrounding skin tissue. IPL is not as strong as laser so will need more sessions. This puts your skin under more stress, and it will spend more time healing. One shot over the area might seem to make it safer than laser but as mentioned in order to get the same results you need to treat the same area more than once causing your skin to be exposed more light than laser. At Premier Laser & Skin we use FDA approved Candela lasers which are also being used in Hospitals. So you are definitely in safe hands.
IPL: Skin more exposed
LASER : Skin less exposed
On the technical level, the more concentrated the light, the stronger you can feel it. Hence IPL machines may seem to cause less pain. However modern laser machines are designed to be as comfortable as possible for the client. They are built-in with a cooling system where it blows constant cool air to the skin where the laser is being processed. So it significantly decreases the pain level. Most clinicians also use wet wipes to clean the area. When your skin is damper, the cooling air works much stronger.
Many of our clients report they don’t feel any pain during their laser treatment. If you have low pain tolerance, you can also always ask your clinician to use numbing cream.
IPL: Less painful
LASER : more painful
Suitability for skin and hair types
Both laser and IPL machines are highly sensitive to skin colour and melanin. Which means that it is hard to treat dark skin. However our FDA approved medical-grade lasers are suitable for all skin types on the Fitzpatrick skin scale. And can be used on brown and dark skin as well.
IPL: Damage to surrounding skin and pigment on darker skin means avoid IPL
IPL vs Laser hair – a clients personal experience of both
If you are thinking about IPL or laser hair removal Premier Laser Client Tihan shared her experience with us when she visited the Soho clinic for laser hair removal. She visited our clinic after experiencing unsatisfying results with IPL elsewhere.
“I came to this Clinic after my disappointing experience with IPL. I had over 10 sessions of IPL and I still have a lot of hair and have to shave. I also have patches and there were no real improvements in my last few sessions so i decided to look into laser hair removal.
From the start, my experience with the Clinic has been great
Alex provided me with all information as well as answered all of the questions I had. Transparency was crucial for me to decide whether to take a treatment with them or not, because of the lack of transparency that I had in another place where I started (but haven’t finished) my IPL package.
I am still doing laser at the Clinic, and I expected some results after one-two sessions, but that is an understatement.
The results are incredible.
I do not know where that is because of my skin type, but I am so happy with the results already, and cannot wait for the final result. So happy with my choice!”