Lasers and IPL have traditionally been used to treat a number of different things such as capillaries, pigmentation and they can also be used for the removal of unwanted hair and tattoos.
So what is the difference between laser and IPL (intense pulsed light)? To put it simply laser is a single wavelength of light. If you imagine a rainbow which is a full spectrum of light, a laser takes one single part of the rainbow, one colour, one wavelength and uses this for treatment. IPL, on the other hand, uses a band of light, so it takes a number of wavelengths, or colours from the spectrum of light and uses them for treatment.
Laser is a more selective and precise treatment, due to a larger number of wavelengths IPL is less targeted and more likely to affect surrounding tissues during treatment and cause them damage. For example, when IPL is used for treating pigmentation in the skin it is more likely to pick up the surrounding skin structures and components such as capillaries and water which in turn can cause heat damage and other unwanted side effects.
The important thing to remember when considering hair removal is not to be fooled by the word ‘laser’. There are a large number of clinics that are currently advertising laser treatment, when in fact what you will be receiving is IPL treatment. The truth is that there is a world of difference between IPL and laser treatment.
There are a lot of very cheap IPL machines currently available on the market. In fact, you can probably find a handheld IPL machine in your local drugstore or chemist. These machines can successfully work on some skin and hair types but in the majority of cases, they will just stun the hairs for a short period of time. This is due to the machines not producing enough energy to be truly effective. These machines can also be quite painful, causing discomfort in the area being treated. For sensitive areas such as the bikini line IPL treatment with no pain relief, such as a local anaesthetic, would not be advised. That is not to say that laser hair removal is pain-free, the procedure can cause a small amount of discomfort but is said to be less painful than waxing whilst causing less damage to the skin.
With IPL what you are actually doing is exposing your skin to a flash of light, which in most cases has very little difference to the flash lamp on your camera. It is a large, uncontrolled explosion of light which is more likely to cause burns and skin damage than that of the pure light used in a laser hair removal device.
IPL in the right hands can be very effective but a laser, particularly the diode laser is the gold standard in hair removal. This is due to its ability to specifically target the colouring or pigment present in the hair.
For more information on laser hair removal see these pages: