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What is the difference between IPL and Laser Hair Removal?

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.

Both treatments have been available commercially since the mid 90’s yet are distinctly different. The issue here is that many clinics in Glasgow claim to provide Lasers, when in fact they only use IPL. In this article, we aim to clear up some misconceptions and shoot straight when talking about the difference between Laser Hair Removal and IPL Hair Reduction.

What is the difference between Laser and IPL?

Laser IPL
Technology that has been proven to provide permanent hair removal for face & body for the past 10 years Technology that treats a wide range of skin conditions. Widely used through a process called photo-rejuvenation for face & body
Recommended for hair removal Recommended for removing freckles, age spots, fine lines, etc.
Attacks the hair and its root (hair follicle) Attacks the skin and the hair
Quickly & efficiently eliminates hair from all parts of the body no matter how deep the follicles reside Attacks the hair but does not reach the hair follicle
Ideal for permanent hair removal Ideal for short term hair reduction
Hair never grows back again Hair grows back thinner & lighter

 

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.

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IPL (Intense Pulse Light)

IPL devices 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.

Light is absorbed best and attracted to dark objects. We have all heard about wearing dark clothes in summer and being much hotter compared to wearing white; the reason is because it’s true! In a similar way, laser energy is absorbed much better by dark material (pigment) in the skin (but with much more speed and intensity). This dark target matter (chromophore) can be naturally-occurring or artificially introduced. Melanin is considered the primary chromophore for most lasers. Hair removal lasers selectively target one of three chromophores: Carbon, Haemoglobin or Melanin.

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 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 more superficial 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.

The main differences between Laser and IPL, used as a hair reduction treatment, mainly lie in the technology that each use to generate the light, as well as the different properties of the light being used.

Laser

Laser machines produce a single wavelength of light (pure light consisting of one single colour and form), which has a very concentrated beam and specific target (the melanin in the hair follicle).

The type/colour of your hair and skin will determine the tuning settings of the machine and will be discussed with you during your test patch consultation. Laser machines are tuned to emit the exact wavelength required to treat your hair.

IPL

IPL’s are not lasers. The machines produce a broad spectrum of wavelengths (like a light bulb) and cannot be focused to a concentrated beam. Because a range of different wavelengths are dispersed at a variety of depths only some of these will be effective for hair reduction.

A more shallow penetration in comparison to laser means that deeper, thicker hairs are not treated effectively. In addition, some of the light can be absorbed into the surrounding tissue as well, leading to heating of the pigment in the skin. This is why there is more of a risk of burns for a darker skin type.

Laser machines create more heat directed at the hair follicle than IPL systems, hence achieving better results. Because the heat is absorbed by the follicle, and not the skin, there is a decreased risk of burning when using Laser machines. This also makes Laser a safer option for darker skinned individuals.

Laser treatments may be more expensive than IPL, but the effects are much more prominent.

IPL’s have an important place in treatment of the skin. The non-specific nature of an Intense Pulsed Light is what makes the treatment so effective when we are targeting skin problems, such as superficial pigmentation and fine blood vessels.