Lasers and intense pulsed light (IPL): both sound about equally scary, yet both have the reputation of being very safe and effective. At the same time, some people think of them as two varieties of exactly the same thing, while others will tell you that they’re really quite different.
Given the number of opinions out there, which method is really going to work best for you if you are interested in hair removal?
The Similarities Between Laser and IPL Hair Removal
In a medical setting, both techniques are used to treat a variety of skin and eye conditions. Recently, both have also found application in a process called photorejuvenation, where many of the visible signs of aging are reversed by actually triggering skin cells to behave as if they were younger.
Both are similar in terms of their working principle: using light to heat up hair roots, and thereby destroying the follicle without harming the skin. This means that instead of the hair soon growing back, as with waxing or shaving, it’s removed permanently (although new follicles will continue to develop over time).
Both can be done at either a clinic or at home, and both require several treatments spread over months for best results. Either method reduces hair growth, but neither destroys all hair follicles permanently. While pursuing either course of treatment, you can continue shaving normally, but should be careful of too much sun exposure.
Knowing all this, it may seem that the difference between the two can be thought of as six of one and half a dozen of the other. The devil is in the details, however, and in certain cases one specific hair removal method is most definitely superior.
Hair Removal Methods for Different Skin and Hair Types
IPL devices produce bursts of light that actually consist of a range of colors, while lasers shine in only one wavelength.
Now, if you have light skin and dark body hair, your hair contains a much greater concentration of melanin and will be better at absorbing the light energy. Your hair roots will therefore be eliminated much more easily, without needless pain or damage to your skin.
If you have darker skin, however, more light is taken up by the skin before it penetrates down to the follicles. This can result in skin irritation a little like a sunburn, and may lead to discoloration lasting from days to months. Light-skinned people aren’t immune to these side effects, but problems are much more common with darker coloration.
If this describes you, you’ll be happy to know that different kinds of lasers are available for hair removal purposes, and some of them are safe for use on all skin types. You might prefer to have your laser hair removal done professionally, though: DIY products like the Tria Beauty 4X, for example, are not necessarily suitable for use on dark, tattooed, or even heavily freckled skin.
Laser vs IPL Hair Removal at Home
The above exemplifies a major problem in the world of IPL and laser hair removal: although the real risks are minor, many manufacturers go out of their way to extol the virtues of their products while totally glossing over their limitations and drawbacks.
Both IPL and laser hair removal are essentially unregulated in much of the world, so they’re allowed to get away with these sales tactics. It’s therefore highly advisable to read a few reviews by someone with some experience in hair removal methods, and ask questions about anything which continues to bother you. Some devices are indeed approved by the FDA, but it’s not clear exactly what this implies.
Also, both methods hurt; how much depends on your skin structure and pain tolerance. Some people report that it feels a little like being flicked with a fingernail, while others compare it to getting a tattoo or worse. Luckily, on most home use units, the power level is adjustable. Lower power, of course, means less effective hair removal, but if you’re in agony something is definitely not right.
Another thing to keep in mind is that professional hair removal therapists, many of whom have some medical training, will sometimes be willing to work on your eyebrows. This is not something you want to try at home!
Both IPL and laser devices can be used below the nose, but only with care. And don’t forget, adequate eye protection should always be worn when treating your face, even when you’re going over an area well away from your eyes.
So, Laser or IPL? The Cliff’s Notes Guide
- If you have any type of skin condition, or have the kind of complexion that can get you sunburned while walking past a window, you should definitely consult a dermatologist before considering either laser or IPL hair removal.
- Both hair removal methods cause a significant reduction in hair growth, particularly of dark, thick hairs, but neither will leave you completely hairless.
- Statistics show that, all things being equal, laser and IPL hair removal are about equally effective, but minor side effects are more likely with laser.
- Although this depends heavily on your body type, most people find IPL treatments less painful.
- Lasers’ higher intensity makes them better at removing very thick hairs, although top-of-the-line IPL products offer comparable results.
- Individual IPL treatments take less time, but laser hair removal shows results in fewer sessions.
- Whether at a salon or especially when buying a home treatment unit, IPL is usually much cheaper than laser.
- Generally speaking, IPL is more effective at treating large areas, while lasers are better for localized hair removal.
- If your skin is any darker than a coffee-with-milk shade, professional laser treatment is the safest route to follow
- Conversely, IPL will yield better results if you have pale skin and light hair.