IPL vs Laser for Hair Removal: What’s The Difference?

We have many different choices when it comes to hair removal: shaving, waxing, threading, electrolysis, IPL, and laser. Among the two most popular cosmetic procedures, IPL vs laser hair removal is widely debated, as both treatments are effective at reducing the appearance of unwanted hair.

Choosing the right method often depends on the results an individual wants, their skin type, how much money they’re willing to spend, and how often they want to have to maintain hair removal (in other words, the longevity of the results). As with any investment, it’s recommended to consider all the available options before choosing a treatment.

Below is a a head-to-head comparison of IPL vs laser hair removal, and which treatment might be the best option for certain patients.

Similarities Between IPL and Laser Hair Removal

Both of these technologies have been on the market for years, so chances are we all know someone who has had one or both of these treatments done. IPL and laser hair removal both have similarities in how they work.

Follicles Absorb Energy

Both IPL and laser hair removal work similarly, since hair follicles absorb the energy from these devices to prevent future hair production.

Series of Treatments

With either of these procedures, it is important to see an experienced professional, as patients will typically need a series of treatments for best results.

The reason for this: not all hair follicles are producing hair at the same time. Some are in dormancy while others are in the active growth phase.

Hair growth is a cycle, which is why it seems like there is constant hair growth. The truth is, everyone does, but just not from the same follicles. It takes about 6 weeks for the follicles to run through that cycle, which is why it is recommended to get treatments every 6-8 weeks. However, there are some differences between IPL and lasers for hair removal:

Differences Between IPL and Laser Hair Removal

Basics

Let’s start with some basics. IPL stands for “intense pulsed light,” which means it has multiple wavelengths of light.

IPL is not a laser, since a laser describes just one single wavelength. For example, an Alexandrite laser is a 755nm wavelength.

So one is laser and the other is not.

Skin Types

IPL can only be used on lighter skin types and is not safe for dark skin.

On the other hand, with laser hair removal, there are several options available for lasers to treat different skin types.

For example, the Alexandrite laser is safe for lighter skin tones, while the nd:YAG is safe for darker skin types. Both are very effective for stopping hair follicle production. (These are just two examples: there are even more options for lasers to use depending on skin type.)

Results

While patients may see some initial reduction in hair growth after an IPL treatment, the treatment is just stunting hair growth of those follicles rather than completely disabling their ability to make future hair like with laser hair removal.

Why? The IPL device lacks the wattage or power necessary to cause thermodynamic damage in the hair follicle.

Thermodynamic damage simply means the hair follicle is heated and is unable to cool down quickly enough, thus killing off the blood supply to the follicle. Without blood supply, the follicle can no longer produce hair. Lasers are strong enough to cause this damage and better able to get rid of treated hair.

So, while patients may see some temporary hair reduction with IPL, the follicle will likely reawaken and begin producing hair again. As it simply stunting the hair growth. Using IPL for hair removal is kind of like putting a kink in a hose: it stops the water for a time, but once the hose unkinks the pressure and water restores.

To Recap…

Laser Hair Removal

  • Should be done by a professional
  • Requires a series of treatments
  • Options available to treat different skin types
  • More long lasting solution for hair removal
  • Kills off blood supply to the follicle

vs…

IPL for Hair Removal

  • Should be done by a professional
  • Requires a series of treatments
  • Only safe for lighter skin types
  • Impermanent solution for hair removal
  • Merely stunts the growth of hair follicle

Hopefully now the similarities and differences between IPL and laser for hair removal are clear. Before choosing any skin or hair removal procedure, make sure to be informed, seek a licensed professional for treatment, and have realistic expectations. Schedule a free consultation at WIFH to learn more.

About the Author

Shayna Flash, PA-C, MPH

Shayna Flash is a licensed Physician Assistant and Senior Cosmetic Laser Practitioner licensed by the Georgia Composite Medical Board. With more than 14 years of laser experience, she administers treatment for laser hair removal, tattoo removal, vein treatments and skin rejuvenation procedures. Shayna currently sits on the Georgia Composite Medical Board’s Cosmetic Laser Services Advisory Committee, which develops rules, regulations, and application materials for both Senior and Assistant practitioner levels of licensure.