How does Laser Hair Removal differ from IPL?
Both Laser and IPL (intense pulsed light) have been used commercially for hair removal since the 90’s. Both use light energy to target the dark pigment, melanin, surrounding the base of the hair follicle, in order to damage it and cause the hair to fall out.
What is the difference?
The main difference between laser and IPL hair removal is technological and is the way in which light is used.
Lasers uses a monochromatic beam i.e. light rays of a single wavelength. Wavelengths are measured in nanometres (nm’s), which are equal to one billionth of a metre.
Conversely, IPL (sometimes termed flashlamp) uses polychromatic i.e. full spectrum light and low-range infrared radiation, which is filtered to allow range of wavelengths (between 500 – 1200 nm’s).
Lasers tend to cover a smaller area in a round spot of light, whereas IPL light tends to be oblong shaped and covers a larger area.
What does this mean?
Basically, the practitioner can set up a laser to a specific wavelength to target the hair follicle, depending on various factors such as skin tone, hair colour, hair texture.
IPL, on the other hand, uses many different wavelengths and uses a scattered approach, covering a larger area in a less targeted way.
Both have always been most suited to treating individuals with light skin and dark, coarse hair and this is still the case with IPL.
However, advances in laser technology mean that some lasers can now effectively treat those with darker skin.
Which is more effective?
There are many differing claims made concerning the efficacy of both lasers and IPL hair removal, however many are made by clinics using either one or other of these technologies and are therefore biased.
It is generally accepted that both can be effective provided they are performed correctly by a properly trained, experienced practitioner. There is no published clinical data to substantiate claims that either one is more effective than the other.
According to the British Journal of Dermatology, a comparative study was carried out by the University Hospital in Regensburg, Germany to address this question. It was limited as it only involved one type of laser and one type of IPL. It included 30 participants, who were treated with laser on one side and IPL on the other side.
The results proved that both were effective in significantly reducing hair growth, and this was measured immediately after treatment and at 3 months and 12 months following treatment.
Although laser was found to be more painful, the treatments were quicker.
Is the hair removal permanent?
The FDA has endorsed both Laser and IPL hair removal as effective treatments for permanent hair reduction. This is defined as the long term stable reduction in the number of hairs re-growing after a treatment regime.
Neither can legitimately claim permanent hair removal , and there is limited clinical data as to how long hair reduction lasts, and how often it occurs.
It is generally recognised that hair growth can be reduced by up to 80%, but that usually follow up treatments annually are required to keep levels steady.
Good quality laser equipment is much more expensive than IPL equipment. This means that IPL can be a more cost effective option, although laser hair removal treatment is quicker.
It is important to remember that both IPL and Laser hair removal utilises very powerful equipment that has the ability to cause severe damage if placed in the wrong hands. Therefore, thorough research should be carried out into any prospective clinic prior to commencing treatment and your decision should not be based on cost alone.
Both will require considerable investment over time. You will require a series of treatments initially, probably 6 – 8, depending on area of body, amount of hair, thickness etc., followed by annual follow ups (sometimes more).
Both laser and IPL are effective for covering large areas of dense, coarse hair e.g. back, chest, legs.
Lasers can be more targeted than IPL and certain types of laser can now be effective for darker skin or lighter hair.
Neither can effectively be used for grey, white, blond or red hair.
Uses single wavelength, targeted rays
Multiple wavelength, scattered rays
Some can treat darker skin/ lighter hair
Only effective for light skin and dark hair
May be more painful
May be less painful than laser
Slower than laser
You are treated by professionals
Some IPL lasers can be used at home
- Effective treatment of large areas
- FDA approved permanent hair reduction
- Limited clinical data
- Not effective for white, grey, blond or red hair
- Safe if performed correctly
- Lack of information concerning possible long term effects
- Series of treatments and follow ups required