IPL Hair Removal vs Laser Hair Removal

When you are shopping for laser hair removal, know what type of treatment you are paying for.  Different shops, be they physician offices or spas, offer different light based treatments and they tout them all as “Laser Hair Removal” to unsuspecting consumers. 

IPL stands for “intense pulse light” and is not a laser but rather as is implied, a mixture of wavelengths.  A true laser is a single wavelength of light.  Whereas, a single wavelength has a specific target, IPL has many targets due to its many wavelengths of light.  IPL causes greater scatter in the skin as it strikes the skin and therefore is ideal for treating pigmented lesions like freckling and facial blood vessels.  IPL is not so ideal on hair because of this scattering effect.  IPL can cause hair reduction but usually on lighter skinned patients with dark hair and after many more treatments than using a true laser.  Additionally, IPL treatments with its diffuse wavelengths heat up the skin more because energy travels into several different targets like pigment and vessels, and therefore, IPL results in more painful treatments than pure laser. 

So, IPL is both a less effective laser hair removal treatment than laser and more painful than a true laser. Why would a spa sell you something like that?  Many shops are going to sell you what they have available with regard to light treatments.  If they only have an IPL machine, that’s what they will tell you is the best treatment.  But, you, as they savvy customer, will have done your homework, and that is why you are reading my blog!

Here are the facts:

  • If you are light skinned, and untanned, the best wavelength for hair removal is going to be an Alexandrite (aka 755nm wavelength) laser.

  • If you are tanned or darker complexioned, your laser of choice for hair removal is going to be an Nd:YAG (aka 1064nm wavelength) laser.

  • Darker skinned and tanned skinned individuals will burn if treated with an IPL.

  • Do not believe anyone who claims to be able to get rid of lighter colored hair like white, red, blond or gray.  If you have light colored hair, I am sorry but you are not a candidate for laser hair removal. 

  • IPL is generally less expensively priced because you will require more treatments toward becoming hair-free.  I have seen many consults who claim their previous “laser” treatment did not work.  I believe that many of them had IPL treatments rather than laser.  

Do yourself a favor, get it done right the first time; it’s your money.