Laser Hair Removal Is Not The Same As IPL

IPL vs laser hair removal -

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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 between the 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 direct 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.

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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.

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c) How do I identify laser from IPL?

IPL device with filter -
IPL Device with Filter

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.

Nd:YAG laser device -

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IPL can destroy hair, work to smooth lines and even pigmentation all at once. This makes the device popular in light to medium skin tones. The downside of this mulit-faceted approach is that the energy is spread amongst different targets. This could mean IPL would not work as well to destroy hair as it would laser since laser is singular, directing all the energy to the hair only.

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 due to cost.

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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 receive IPL.

IPL for skin rejuvenation in skin type 1-3. IPL skin rejuvenation is not recommended to skin types 4-6. Chemical peels work much better for dark/deep skin.

Understanding your Fitzpatrick skin type. Learn how the skin is commonly categorised for aesthetic treatments.

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