What’s the difference between laser and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light)?
Both laser and intense pulsed light (that’s IPL to you and me!) use light to heat the hair follicle and prevent regrowth. However, the technology used to deliver the light is really quite different – with the key difference being the kind of light itself.
In short, lasers produce a very specific type of light consisting of one wavelength or colour of light all going in one direction, which creates a single beam like a laser pointer. IPL devices produce a wide range of wavelengths of light to produce a single white flash. This light is closer to natural light and can appear with an orange/red glow when the device is flashed against the skin, like a camera flash.
Ok. But how does it work?
For the purposes of hair removal, both laser light and IPL light work by exactly the same mechanism:
- The light (laser or IPL) enters the skin and is absorbed by the melanin (pigment) in the hair shaft.
- The absorption of light causes the hair shaft and follicle to heat up.
- If the correct amount of light energy is used, the hair follicle cells are heated up to a critical temperature that results in an interruption of the hair growth cycle.
- Dependent on a number of factors, the effect can be permanent or temporary.
One of the primary objectives for light-based hair removal using either laser or IPL is to achieve this critical temperature in the hair follicle whilst at the same time not heating up the surrounding skin to a temperature that could cause damage such as a blister. This is achieved by careful control of the amount of light output.
What does all this mean in relation to the actual treatment?
Due to the way the technologies themselves work, laser and IPL treatments vary in terms of:
- Treatment time: Because the beam of light used in laser treatments is very concentrated, laser devices have a very small treatment window. Thanks to the broader flash of light used in IPL, IPL devices feature a bigger treatment window and so can cover a much larger area at once, meaning a much faster treatment time in comparison to laser.
- Pain rating: The single, more pointed beam of light used during laser treatment is often reported to be more painful than IPL treatment.
- Cost: Laser light is expensive to generate, and so, in salons especially, laser treatment comes with a hefty price tag whereas IPL is often much more affordable.
- Longevity of results: As a trade-off for the increased price tag and pain level, the results from laser treatment can mean fewer top-ups are required between sessions. But, as with any kind of light-based hair reduction, you’ll always need to continue with top-up treatments to stop hairs from growing back.
- Safety: Laser light is very powerful and can even be dangerous. Because of this, at-home laser hair removal devices use significantly reduced power, especially in comparison to their expensive salon equivalent. The bonus of IPL treatment is that it’s much safer to use as the light is less concentrated, and so can be used at-home risk-free for long-lasting results.
So, which one is better for me?
To summarise, IPL can give the same standard of results as laser-treatments, as long as you follow the prescribed treatment regime – and keep on top of top-up treatments. In return for your dedication to your regime, you can save time, money and endless trips to the salon, completing your treatments in the comfort of your own home. What’s not to love?
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