Laser vs. IPL for Hair Removal: Is There a Difference? Yes!

If you’ve been looking at permanent hair removal treatments, you’ve probably come across two options: laser vs. IPL (intense pulsed light). While these two are often used interchangeably because they remove unwanted hair using light energy, they are not the same. These treatments use different wavelengths of light and deliver this light in a different manner. While these may seem like subtle differences, they have a big impact on how each treatment works, their efficiency and the final outcome. Laser hair removal offers over 90% permanent reduction in unwanted hair, while IPL uses light energy that is weaker and more dispersed, making it less effective at achieving the long-term results you want.

At SMooth Solutions Medspa in Naperville and Oswego, we want our clients to be fully informed about the treatments we offer. To help you learn more about using laser vs. IPL technology for hair reduction, here is a quick rundown of each treatment.

How Light Removes Hair

Laser and IPL technologies have both been in use to remove unwanted facial and body hair since the 90s. However, laser hair removal is widely considered the gold standard for reducing unwanted hair in treated areas and achieving smoother, silkier skin year-round.

These technologies work by emitting light that is absorbed by the pigment (melanin) of the hair you want removed, where it is converted into heat. This heat damages and disables the hair follicle, cauterizing off its blood supply to slow or stop the growth process.

Laser devices emit a single, coherent wavelength of light that’s highly selective, targeting only the melanin in the hair while leaving the surrounding skin unharmed. It also penetrates deeply to effectively destroy the hair at the root and stop regrowth.

IPL emits varying wavelengths of light with weaker intensity that only temporarily stop the growth of new hair. It is also less precise, requires more treatment sessions and can lead to paradoxical hypertrichosis (an increase in hair density) or burns on darker skin.

hair removal

Because hair grows in cycles, it takes a series of treatments to achieve a significant reduction in unwanted hair. Both laser and IPL can only work when the hair is attached to the root in the anagen (growth) phase. Not every hair is in the growth phase at the same time, so multiple treatment sessions ensure that every hair in the targeted area is reached while it is in the correct phase. However, laser technology works quicker and more efficiently than IPL, and can actually provide you with long-lasting results.

Benefits of Laser Hair Removal

Laser hair removal offers several advantages over IPL, such as a permanent reduction in unwanted hair and faster results. Some other advantages of laser hair removal include:

Safe for All Skin Tones

At SMooth Solutions, we use the GentleMax Pro by Candela for laser hair removal, which is considered the gold standard in reducing unwanted hair. Unlike older devices, the GentleMax Pro is safe for both light and dark skin tones because it offers two wavelengths: a 755 nm (Alexandrite) wavelength for skin types I-III and a 1064 nm (Nd:YAG) wavelength for skin types IV-VI. The 1064 nm wavelength bypasses the epidermis and selectively targets melanin at the level of the hair follicle, making it a safe option for those with darker skin tones.

Over 90% Permanent Hair Reduction

Laser hair removal with Candela’s GentleMax Pro is able to provide an over 90% permanent reduction in unwanted hair. Laser energy penetrates deeper than IPL and is able to target and damage the hair at its root, destroying its blood supply to prevent future growth. Hair that does grow back in treated areas tends to be thinner, finer and much easier to manage.

Fewer Treatment Sessions

Laser hair removal is a powerful, highly selective technology that is extremely effective at reducing unwanted hair. This means fewer treatment sessions to achieve your desired results. However, hair growth on the face, head and body is not synchronized and follows a mosaic pattern, with nearby hair follicles being in different stages of growth at different times. Since the hair follicle can only be destroyed while it’s in the growth phase, you may experience a minimal amount of regrowth in the months or years following your treatment. This is normal and can be managed with low-cost touch-ups or electrolysis to maintain your results.

No Harm to Surrounding Tissues

Laser hair removal uses concentrated light that is only absorbed by the targeted hair follicles, leaving the surrounding tissues intact. IPL uses broader, more scattered light that is also absorbed by the skin, increasing the risk of burns or blisters. And with IPL, a lot of the energy goes to waste, making laser hair removal the safer and more effective option.

Drawbacks of IPL Hair Removal

At SMooth Solutions Medspa, we do not use IPL for hair removal because it is less efficient, less effective and unable to provide a permanent reduction in unwanted hair. Other drawbacks of IPL for hair removal include:

Less Powerful Technology

IPL uses diffuse, scattered light that is weaker and less focused than laser energy. During treatment, much of the light is absorbed by the surrounding skin and other superficial structures, making it harder to reach the correct temperature in the hair follicle. Because of this, it cannot deliver the amount of heat required to permanently stop hair growth.

Costs More Over Time

A single IPL hair removal treatment typically costs less than laser hair removal per session. However, you will need significantly more treatment sessions to achieve noticeable results. Additionally, IPL only temporarily stunts hair growth, so the hair will eventually grow back.

Not an Option for Darker Skin

IPL for hair removal is only suitable for white, untanned skin. Instead of a single beam of concentrated light, IPL uses a broad spectrum of light that is polychromatic and non-coherent, meaning it delivers several different wavelengths of light at once. The shorter wavelengths tend to target melanin in the skin, which is more abundant in those with darker skin tones. It is also less precise, so the skin absorbs this energy during treatment. These factors increase the risk of burns, hyperpigmentation, scarring and other long-lasting side effects.

Patchy, Uneven Results

The multiple wavelengths of light and larger spot size of IPL are less predictable and harder to control than the single, coherent wavelength emitted by laser devices. This can lead to a varied distribution of energy in treated areas and leave you with patchy, uneven results. Compared to IPL, laser hair removal has a much higher satisfaction rate among patients.

What About Electrolysis?

Both IPL and laser hair removal are ineffective on blonde or gray hair. That’s because the hair needs to contain dark pigment for these technologies to work. Plus, these treatments don’t always guarantee 100% permanent hair removal. Their efficiency depends on how well the hair absorbs light and other individual factors.

Electrolysis can be a great alternative, as it offers guaranteed permanent hair removal, even on light hair.

This treatment uses very fine wires, which are inserted directly into hair follicles, to release electric currents that destroy the follicle. Like with other hair removal treatments, your provider needs to catch the hairs in their active growth phase, so multiple treatments are needed to remove all unwanted hairs from an area.

Choosing SMooth Solutions Medspa for Hair Removal

At SMooth Solutions Medspa, we offer laser hair removal with Candela’s GentleMax Pro system. This is a versatile laser that uses two different wavelengths of light to treat patients of all skin tones and types. We also offer electrolysis to remove all types of bothersome hairs on the face: black, gray, white, coarse and fine. To learn more about your hair removal options in Naperville or Oswego, contact us today!