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a) How does laser hair removal differ to IPL hair removal?
Laser and IPL are light-based treatments that have the ability to inhibit or delay hair growth. Often used interchangeably, the technology of each device differs. By having a basic understanding of how that affects the treatment, we can make informed decisions as to when one system would be preferred over the other.
Skin type and hair are strong determining factors when it comes to laser hair removal. A fair-skinned individual with dark brown or black hair is the ideal candidate. The contrast between skin tone and hair will be distinguished by the device. A deep skinned individual that has black hair, will have less of a distinguished contrast and depending on the device and its settings, treatment can range from successful to contraindicated.
Most light-based hair removal devices target melanin. Problems arise when the device is unable to make a clear distinction from pigment in the skin and pigment in the hair. As a result, the skin may absorb light energy during treatment. The same light energy intended to damage the hair follicle may instead destroy the surrounding skin.
Lasers utilise one wavelength of light, meaning they operate selectively. Laser machines can be set to an exact required wavelength to treat hair. This allows deeper penetration and energy that is directed and absorbed by the melanin in the hair. By operating selectively, lasers are less likely to cause skin damage.
Nd:YAG, a long-pulsed laser doesn’t target melanin. It targets the blood supplied to hair follicles and in doing so prevents the hair from thriving. Because the blood supply lies deeper within the skin, Nd:YAG works on a deeper level and is great for thick, coarse hair.
And because NdYag has less interaction with the skin’s surface, it’s the optimal choice for skin types 4-6. See – Nd-YAG the optimal laser for dark skin hair removal.
IPL which stands for intense pulsed light is not a laser device. It has a much less targeted approach by utilising a broad spectrum of visible light. This means multiple wavelengths operate at once targeting more than one chromophore.
The chromophores are blood, melanin and water. If we are having light-based hair removal that targets the melanin in order to destroy the hair, we want a device that has the ability to channel all it’s energy to that source. We don’t want a device that directs energy to multiple sources, ultimately weakening the energy to the desired source.
IPL wavelengths are dispersed at varying depths and only some of these are effectively absorbed by the hair follicle. This produces substandard results when compared to laser whose wavelength will deliver much stronger energy to it’s targeted source. Obtaining sufficient enough energy to destroy hair requires energy to be increased in an IPL device. This further increases the risk of skin burns, hyperpigmentation, blistering and scars.
IPL is most effective for skin rejuvenation in skin types 1-3. It’s less effective for hair removal in all skin types. A poor choice for skin types 4-5 and completely contraindicated in skin types 6.
In the case of IPL offered to skin types 4 & 5, overall more sessions are likely to be required. In order for the treatment to be tolerable, energy levels will need to be adjusted accordingly. The settings will likely be lower than those used for fairer skin. Therefore, treatments in deeper skin are likely to cost more overall.
b) Can IPL be used on dark skin?
It can be ‘safe’ to use but we must think about how effective it will be. Paying for something that is safe, but doesn’t work too well is a waste of our hard-earned cash.
Skin type 6 is completely contraindicated to all IPL treatments. An IPL device cannot differentiate between the pigment in the hair and pigment in the skin. Generally, the deeper your skin, the greatest risk of burns. Skin type 6 being the deepest skin should never be offered IPL. Medical grade lasers, however, may be an option.
Due to advancements in technology, IPL is more frequently offered to deeper skin tones. Specific attachments encourage the device to work like lasers. This allows therapists to advertise treatments to a wider client base. However, IPL is unlikely to yield the same results as laser. The initial cheaper price will likely exceed laser as we exceed the sessions required.
A therapist may not be forthcoming about the preference to laser. This may be due to lack of experience or more likely business resources. IPL devices can be had for £5000 or less. Lasers typically cost £50.000+
c) How do I identify laser from IPL?
Some therapists will offer ‘laser’ but it’s really IPL. It is worth asking what kind of laser it is. It’s absolutely worth having a simple understanding of the different systems and how they work.
In the case of dark skin, Nd:YAG is superior for dark, deep-rooted hair. A diode laser is a good choice for softer/finer hair on the thighs for example.
Explain to the therapist you’ve heard IPL and laser work differently. What is best for you? If the therapist insists they are the same, that’s something for you to think about.
Laser and IPL are not the same. Some clients, however, will see good results from IPL. It would be wrong to assume the therapist is being deceitful or IPL is useless. Everybody is different. It would be wise and cost-effective for all skin types to opt for laser hair removal whenever they can.
I’ve included a typical picture of a laser device and one of an IPL. Not all lasers will look like this but many long-pulsed do. This is a typical IPL device.
d) Why is IPL for hair removal so popular?
IPL is cheap. It’s cheap for both the client and therapist starting out. A lot of therapists will choose to invest in IPL as a business decision. Professional grade IPL devices can be purchased for around £2,000. Cheaper if purchased unbranded from places such as China. Medical grade lasers, on the other hand, can cost upwards of £40,000. That is a huge business investment. Such devices can be financed but ultimately, IPL devices are far more accessible.
Until recently, possessing a qualification in laser therapy was not required. It was enough to have a beauty therapy level 3 qualification and a manufacturers training day. This doesn’t teach the therapist the fundamentals of laser. And now we have these filters for IPL that enables deeper skin, some therapists will not know better. IPL is a quick start to business setup.
In clinic environments, treatment for hair removal will be majority laser. IPL will most likely be found in beauty salons occasionally under the guise of laser. This is by no means exclusive. Many beauty salons will offer true laser, this is merely a personal observation with some thought thrown in.
IPL can work. It may take longer but some individuals will receive satisfactory results over time. When this occurs, it will most often be fair/light skin, the majority group. This keeps IPL popular.
e) When should I choose laser hair removal over IPL and vice versa?
Hair removal skin types 1-6, choose laser. Skin types 1-3 may see results from IPL overtime. IPL may be available for skin types 5 & 6 but not recommended. Skin type 6 must never have IPL.
IPL for skin rejuvenation in skin type 1 & 2, 3 with caution. IPL skin rejuvenation is not available to skin types 4-6. Specific skin rejuvenation and skin resurfacing treatments are available to all skin types through medical-grade lasers.
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