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Hair Removal 101: Laser vs. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)


There’s plenty of confusion around two of the most popular hair removal treatments available to consumers. Laser and Intense Pulsed Light, or IPL, are different options that offer the same results, and are often talked about interchangeably.

While both treatments produce energy in order to disable the hair follicle to reduce hair growth, this is where the similarity ends.

How Laser Works

A laser is an intensely concentrated beam of light. The energy is extremely focused and very precise, offering powerful, accurate results. Technicians carefully tune laser settings to match individual skin and hair types, ensuring positive results on all shades of skin and hair.

For example: the ruby laser (the first laser that received FDA approval for permanent hair reduction) works well on fair skin and fine hair, but is not recommended for those with darker skin tones. The Nd:YAG laser can treat a wider range of skin tones, and is regarded as the gold standard for clients with darker skin tones.

The science behind laser hair removal sounds complicated, but the process is relatively simple. Selective photothermolysis targets only the follicle without damaging the skin around it. When the heat is absorbed by the hair’s melanin, the follicle is destroyed.

How IPL Works

It is important to note that IPL’s are not lasers. The machines used during treatment produce a broad spectrum of light wavelengths that cannot be concentrated in the same way. Only some beams are effective for hair reduction on certain skin types, making treatment less effective in the short term.

IPL’s target the melanin inside the hair follicle. The melanin absorbs the light, which damages the follicle to inhibit new hair growth. IPL’s are unable to penetrate as deeply as lasers, meaning that thicker, darker hairs are generally not treated effectively. In addition, some of the light can be absorbed into the surrounding tissue, leading to a higher risk in burns for darker skin types.

Just like with most laser treatments, hair and skin color are important factors to consider when undergoing IPL therapy. Intense pulsed light typically works best on clients with light skin and dark hair, and does not always provide ideal results for darker skinned clients.

While IPL is generally believed to be less effective than laser therapy for hair removal, it does have a special place in the treatment of skin. The nonspecific nature of an Intense Pulsed Light is what makes the treatment so effective when targeting skin problems, such as superficial pigmentation, acne, and fine blood vessels.

The Final Word

So, which is the better option – Laser or IPL? Ultimately, it all boils down to the practitioner that you ask. Each treatment technique has its own set of benefits, and may work differently on a case by case basis. Thankfully, there is good news: opting into a more permanent solution like laser or IPL will save consumers time and money. According to the American Laser Center, the average woman will spend roughly 58 days and $15,000 on temporary solutions battling arm, leg, and facial hair over the course of her lifetime.

If you or someone you know would like more information about hair removal, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!

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