What is the difference between laser and IPL treatments? – is a question we get asked often. This purpose of this article is to help clarify the difference between laser and intense pulsed light.

Lasers have been around for decades. But, when the FDA approved cosmetic lasers for hair reduction in the 1990s, it sparked a beauty phenomenon and laser hair removal because the new pop star sensation. However, not every form of light-based technology used for permanent hair reduction is actually a laser.

Additionally, within the laser category, lasers have different purposes and different wavelengths, and each is targeted to a specific skin condition.

It has only been a little more than 20 years since intense pulsed light or IPL machines have been used as an alternative to laser treatments. While IPL is not a laser, it has grown quickly in popularity for skin rejuvenation and hair removal treatments.

Although, IPL is a more cost effective machine and multipurpose treatments can be performed such as remove hair and treat various skin conditions, the fact remains that the results will not be as good as a laser that was specifically designed to perform that specific treatment. A good analogy would be shampoo/conditioner combo — the results from the all-in-one product will not be as good as a separate bottle each of shampoo and conditioner.

Types of lasers

There are numerous laser manufactures and they all make various types of lasers. Nd:YAG, ruby, diode, and alexandrite lasers are just a few of the various types of lasers. Each of these lasers has a different wavelength, and certain wavelengths work better for certain skin and hair types. For example, the Nd:YAG laser energy is selectively absorbed by the deeper levels of the dermis and allows for treatment of deeper vascular lesions such as leg veins.

The Nd:YAG laser also has the longest wavelength (1064 nanometers) and can treat a wider range of skin tones. It is regarded as the gold standard for performing laser hair removal on clients with skin of color.

How does IPL work differently than lasers?

IPL or intense pulsed light uses an extremely bright light source; flashlamp, that is fired through a series of light filters to produce a band of light wavelengths. A laser produces only a very specific single wavelength of light verses a band of wavelengths like IPL.

Quick facts about IPL vs. laser

  • IPL stands for intense pulsed light.
  • The terms IPL and laser are often mistakenly used interchangeably. We use both technologies here at Thrive Skin + Wellness.
  • Different lasers can be used for different skin types in laser hair removal.
  • IPL produces a broad bandwidth of light wavelengths, whereas laser produces a single band of light.
  • Laser is more specific to a given target than IPL, and therefore is more effective than IPL and has fewer side effects and complications.

What to do next

If you would like to schedule an appointment for laser hair removal, or you want to learn more about our various technologies for your skin concerns, call (919) 557-6400 to schedule an appointment with a Thrive Skin + Wellness skincare specialist, or schedule a consultation online.

Disclaimer: Information and content within this blog is provided for informational purposes only. This blog is not intended to provide medical advice, and anything read here should not be construed as such. Reading this blog or communicating with our staff does not create a physician-patient relationship. If you have questions about any health issue, including something you may have read here, please consult a licensed, trained physician or health professional immediately.