Many of us want to achieve silky smooth hairless skin without the hassle of dealing with hair growth and control. Silky smooth legs, hairless armpits, and even the absence of facial hair are all common targets for hair removal.
Of course, you can target all of these areas with a variety of different methods. However, a lot of us are tired of shaving or painful waxing. And the results aren’t always great, anyway.
There’s always the option to go to a salon for costly professional laser hair removal. But there are many new home devices, using similar technologies to what are found in professional salons. Many of these home laser hair removal devices use IPL technology, though some use traditional laser technology.
In this article, we’ll look at IPL vs Laser Hair Removal, and go through all the details of these powerful, effective at-home hair removal techniques.
IPL vs Laser Hair Removal
IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light, and is not quite a laser. But the technology is close enough that many of these systems are referred to as laser hair removal devices, though technically they’re not.
The only FDA approved hair removal system that actually uses lasers is the Tria 4x Laser Hair Removal device shown above, which we reviewed here. The rest are various flavors of IPL. We’ll compare and contrast these technologies now.
Similarities of Laser and IPL Hair Removal
Laser and IPL devices are frequently blended together because they work using the same principle. They use light and heat to prevent hair growth. Focused light gets absorbed by cells that are pigmented, such as hairs. These get heated up, which damages the follicle and inhivits the natural hair growth cycle. This process slows down the hair growth, and eventually causes hair to stop growing completely.
Both methods can be found at home or in clinics and salons. And both technologies require several treatments, spread out over months, to see lasting results.
Immediate results are not really noticeable. But through regular treatments, hair growth can be strongly reduced to near elimination. Occasional maintenance treatments may be necessary, but after several treatments, typically the results are practically permanent.
Differences Between IPL And Laser Hair Removal
The main difference between the laser and IPL hair removal devices is the source of light used. For the IPL devices, broad-spectrum visible light is used. Laser hair removal devices use laser light.
IPL technology, which stands for Intense Pulsed Light, uses visible light. This has shorter wavelengths and targets those cells that have high melanin pigments like hairs. When the light energy is absorbed by the pigmented hair, it heats up the hair and damages the hair follicles.
Laser hair removal also heats up hair and damages follicles but it uses specific wavelengths. It is more focused on its target and can travel further distances without spreading. This means that the light energy received by the hair can travel further into the follicle and would produce a more concentrated amount of light on a smaller area.
Laser light is more specific and precise than IPL, which means that lasers better target the hair follicles instead of the surrounding skin or tissues. Laser devices are less likely to cause irritation or damage to the skin other than the hair follicles.
One of the common issues among both Laser and IPL treatments is that they’re only suitable for certain skin colors and hair colors. Most devices will only work on those with darker hair and lighter skin. This is obviously a big problem for many people!
Laser hair removal tends to work on a wider variety of skin and hair tones than IPL does. But different models vary in their design, so always check.
As an illustration, the above chart is for the LumaRX IPL hair removal device (which we reviewed here). As you can see, the LumaRX is not suitable for those with darker skin tones, and lighter hair colors.
Most of the IPL systems available on the market have a test sequence before the system starts working. For example, on the Remington iLight Pro shown above, the unit tests the skin and hair color to confirm that it will be able to safely remove hair before the IPL system is engaged.
Do take note that both of these hair removal devices affect the darker areas of the skin. This is why it can essentially “zap” freckles or moles. If the area you want to use it on has lots of moles, freckles, or is darker in tone, then you’d have to find another option or else it will be painful for you because of the darker skin you’ll be zapping.
So Which is Better, Laser or IPL?
The answer, of course, is it depends. The one that will work best for you will depend on several factors such as your skin tone, hair color, as well as the results you want to achieve.
Also, you should consider your budget and how fast you want to see results. Tria 4x laser hair removal device (the acutal laser one) is 4x as expensive as many IPL devices!
If you ask clinics, there are many who would say that laser hair removal is better than IPL. Some say that it is the reason why they only offer laser hair removal. For them, the laser light is better at hair removal because it uses a more focused light, and therefore more concentrated energy.
However, the science is unclear. Clinical studies don’t conclude that one is better than the other. The results show that the difference between the IPL and laser hair reduction can’t be considered significant enough to conclude that one is better than the other.
Some say that clinics reason out that laser is better to differentiate themselves from spas that offer IPL since the laser machines are more expensive than IPL, and are clearly more powerful. That also means they can charge higher prices and position themselves as more “luxury”.
As mentioned above, there aren’t many true at home laser hair removal devices. Most of them are IPL, and although the intensity that a true laser produces is more powerful than what most IPL can produce, that doesn’t mean that laser is automatically better than IPL.
Both the home laser and IPL laser removal devices are effective at reducing hair growth. Each of them have their own benefits and that should be part of your consideration when choosing between the two.
Benefits of IPL Hair Removal
As IPL uses a broad spectrum light, you can expect that it spreads out more significantly. This means that the IPL devices can cover a larger area and that is great news to home users because that means it’s going to take less time for each session.
Additionally, those who have a tighter budget will find that IPL devices are more budget-friendly than laser hair removal devices. If you just stick to regular session, you’ll eventually achieve the same results that it’s more expensive counterparts have to offer.
The broad-spectrum light that IPL uses for hair removal can also be used for other skin conditions. It can be altered or varied like the VPL or variable pulsed light. The VPL allows the user to set the device so it can better fit the area where the hair is to be removed. You see the hair on the bikini line is much coarser and may require a different setting as compared to removing the thinner hair on the arms or for facial hair removal.
Benefits of Laser Hair Removal
With a more focused light that the laser uses, you can expect that it comes closer down to the follicle to prevent it from regrowing hair. With laser hair removal devices, you can expect the results to appear much sooner than IPL. That also means that you’d have to do fewer sessions to achieve the results you want.
Additionally, it is more specific and precise than IPL, which is good news for those who have darker skin. This is because the laser light can better penetrate deeper into the skin so it can bypass the pigmentation on the skin and just target the hair follicle. This also helps decrease the risk of burning the skin or areas of the skin which are more pigmented.
Still, there are limitations with lasers on certain skin tones as well.
What To Expect With IPL And Laser Hair Removal Devices
During treatment, you may experience at least some pain due to the laser hair removal process. If you hate the idea of any pain, then laser hair removal may not be for you. But if you’re willing to withstand some pain, it usually isn’t severe, and it gets less painful as you go through multiple treatments.
Once you’ve used hair removal through an IPL or laser device, you have to wait for a couple more sessions before seeing the results. The results are not immediate like what you would see in waxing, threading or shaving. Also, not all hair will stop growing at the same time. It is possible that some hairs would grow thinner before they won’t grow at all.
Although the results are not immediate, permanent reduction of hair growth is possible through this method as long as you continue with the sessions. Over time, you’d have to go for sessions less frequently for maintenance.
Permanent hair loss can be observed between 1-10 treatments. Different people react differently and the method of your choice will also affect how soon you’ll achieve permanent hair loss.
Side Effects of IPL And Laser Hair Removal
Due to their similarity when it comes to how they work, you may also expect similar side effects when using either of the devices. One side effect would be skin irritation. Due to the use of light energy to heat up the pigments, it is possible that the skin can experience redness, itchiness, or swelling.
However, these should only be temporary and wouldn’t last for more than a day. The best thing to do here is to moisturize the area.
Additionally, the area treated can also be more sensitive to sunlight, making it easier to get sunburned. With that, you should make sure to apply adequate sun protection in case you are exposing that body part to the sun.
The treatments may also cause the skin to become more sensitive and delicate especially after the treatment. This is why you should make sure you don’t scratch it!
IPL And Laser For Facial Hair Removal
Aside from the body, some also want to use these devices for hair removal on the face. Both the IPL and laser devices can be used for hair removal on the face but they are not advised to be used on the scalp or eyebrows.
Most advise limiting their use to just below the cheek line. Avoid using it near the eyes because it can harm the eyes due to the light it produces. Eye protection should also be used when the devices are used on the face.