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The Difference Between IPL and Laser Hair Removal

Laser hair removal and intense pulse light (IPL) has been the ‘go-to’ method for long-term hair removal for many years. Health Centre states: “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,…

The Difference Between IPL and Laser Hair Removal

Laser hair removal and intense pulse light (IPL) has been the ‘go-to’ method for long-term hair removal for many years. Health Centre states: “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 has been much easier to achieve long-lasting results with laser and IPL than with any other treatments. According to 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 laser vs IPL removal technologies. If you are trying to decide between treatments, we’ve prepared 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 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 London Premier Laser Clinics, we do not use IPL technology for hair removal treatments, as it is not as efficient or effective as laser hair removal techniques. 

What is the difference between IPL and Laser Hair Removal?

Both laser and IPL use light to successfully remove unwanted hair. However, several key differences mean IPL often doesn’t produce final results as impressive as a laser can. These include the wavelengths of light, the technology used, capable precision, the number of sessions needed to see results, and more. Let’s explore the laser and IPL comparison in greater detail:

IPL wavelength does not penetrate as deeply as laser

laser hair removal

The technology

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.

Our Conclusion:

IPL: Not as powerful

LASER: More powerful and effective

 

laser hair removal

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 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. 

OUR CONCLUSION

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, to heat deeper targets, IPL requires higher energy levels. This energy is also absorbed by the surrounding tissue. 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.

OUR CONCLUSION

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 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 as precise target shooting as the laser.

Hence, fewer hair follicles can be destroyed at each session, leaving you with the need for more sessions.

Our conclusion:

IPL: More sessions

LASER: Fewer sessions

laser session

Treatment time

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. 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.

Our Conclusion:

IPL: Quicker sessions – longer to notice results

LASER: Longer sessions – quicker to notice results

Cost

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.

Our Conclusion:

IPL: Cheaper but requires more sessions

LASER: More expensive but sees results quicker

laser hair removal

Safety

As the laser uses a stronger beam of light, you might think the IPL is safer. However, the 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 a laser but as mentioned to get the same results you need to treat the same area more than once, causing your skin to be exposed to more light than a 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.

Our Conclusion:

IPL: Skin more exposed

LASER: Skin less exposed

laser hair removal

Pain level

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 that 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.

Our Conclusion:

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.

Our Conclusion:

IPL: Damage to surrounding skin and pigment on darker skin means avoid IPL

LASER: Nd-Yag lasers are specifically designed to work on darker skin type

laser hair removal

IPL vs Laser hair – a client’s 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!”

Book a Free Laser Hair Consultation in London & Surrey

See all of our clinics to find one near you, why not speak to us today about your laser hair removal needs. We offer a free consultation where you can talk over your goals with us.

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