Laser Hair Removal & IPL: What are the Differences?

If you’ve been looking at treatment options for permanent hair removal then you may have come across both Laser Hair Removal and IPL and may be wondering what the difference is. These treatments involve producing light energy, which is then absorbed into the dark pigment of the hair to ultimately cause damage to the hair follicle. The goal is to destroy the hair root and also reduce hair growth.

Laser has 3 unique properties

  • Laser is monochromatic meaning that the light emitted from a laser is of one wavelength (color). In contrast, ordinary white light is a combination of many different wavelengths (colors).
  • Laser is coherent, meaning the light is totally reinforcing and does not cancel itself out. The coherent light produced by a laser differs from ordinary light in that it is made up of waves all of the same wavelength and all in phase (i.e., in step with each other); ordinary light contains many different wavelengths and phase relations.
  • Laser is collimated; the light waves are parallel and divergent. This makes laser light very powerful, as nearly 100% of the light can be effective in the treatment of hair reduction.

Lasers utilize one wavelength to selectively target one specific chromophore, which is melanin. This allows for deeper penetration and the energy is directed straight to the target and not absorbed by the other chromophores in the path of the beam. Lasers will selectively destroy specific targets and not cause harm to the surrounding tissue when used properly. Laser machines are set to emit the exact wavelength required to treat you hair.

IPL (Intense Pulse Light)

IPL devices on the other hand are not lasers. These devices produce a broad spectrum of wavelengths (like a bulb) and cannot be focused to a concentrated beam. Because a range of different wavelengths is dispersed at a variety of depths only some of these are effectively absorbed by the hair follicle, causing substandard results.

  • Intense pulse light (IPL) is NOT monochromatic, meaning that IPL has many different colours and only a small percentage of these colours are effective in the treatment of hair reduction.
  • IPL is not coherent and is not reinforcing making it less effective in the treatment of hair reduction.
  • IPL is not collimated and so therefore is quick to spread out making it less effective in the treatment of hair reduction.

Intense Pulsed Light – Not so Intense…

IPL’s typically use a range of wavelengths from 500 – 1000nm and in the method that these wavelengths are exposed to the skin there is no ability for the light to discriminate between chromophores.

IPL devices provide a broad range of wavelengths that are absorbed by various chromophores within the skin and due to the broad spectrum of light, obtaining sufficient energy to destroy certain deep targets such as hair often presents a challenge. Smaller moresuperficial targets such as pigment and vascular legions absorb the majority of the energy. In order to heat deeper targets, higher energy levels need to be employed which increase the risk of burns and various complications. These adverse effects include hyper-pigmentation, hypo-pigmentation, blistering and potentially scarring.

The advantages of using Laser over IPL

  • IPL is a cheaper, less effective technology for reducing body hair.
  • Lasers are far more precise and can selectively target dark, coarse hair while leaving the surrounding areas undamaged.
  • Each laser pulse takes a fraction of a second and can treat several hairs at a time.
  • Laser settings can be adjusted to suit your specific skin tone and hair colour.
  • Lasers have the capability to safely treat all skin colours, whereas IPLs can cause burn on darker skin types.

The main difference between Laser and IPL for hair removal purposes mainly lies in the technology that each use to generate light as well as the different properties of light being used.

Laser technology is simply much more effective, and achieves substantially better results than IPL with most clients achieving optimal results of permanent hair removal of 80% or greater after 4-8 treatments.

IPL’s do however have an important place in the treatment of skin. IPL provides adequate treatment for skin problems such as superficial pigmentation, redness and capillaries but do not provide preferable results with hair removal. In addition, these devices are not suitable for darker skin.

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