IPL vs. Laser – All you need to know about Laser Hair Removal
In determining what light source is better for laser hair removal, we should first start out by pointing out the differences between and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) and a Laser.
Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. An IPL is NOT a laser.
In laser physics speak, a laser beam is generated by amplification, which is stimulated emission repeated innumerable times. The end result is that there is a massive amplification of light when a laser is fired.
Light, visible and invisible, ionizing and non-ionizing, is really energy measured by wavelengths along a scale called the electromagnetic spectrum. As you can see, different lasers are defined by the specific wavelength of light or energy that they produce. Rather than using a specific wavelength of light, Intense Pulsed Light applies a broad range of light (515-1200 nm) Filters are used to determine the wavelength range.
Wavelength is discussed in nanometers when dealing with lasers. One nanometer is 1/1millionth of a millimeter. Wavelength is relevant because of what different wavelengths do to tissue. Chromophores (different colored structures in tissue) respond to different wave lengths of light.
Differences between Laser and IPL
Monochromatic- light composed of one wavelength will represent only one colour (or non-colour if it falls within the invisible range of spectrum). Because regular and intense pulsed light have many wave lengths, they produce a broad spectrum of light
Coherent: Laser light is both spatially and temporally coherent, which means its light waves are not only identical in wavelength and frequency, but that they are also “in phase”-they remain exactly the same relative to one another in terms of time and space. Lasers are the only source of coherent light.
Collimated: In addition, laser light is collimated, related to coherence. Because of one wavelength, the light is able to travel distances without diverging or losing energy. Ordinary or intense pulsed light tends to spread out and diverge over time and space.
Like other forms of radiation (Radio waves, Incandescent light, heat), Laser or Intense Pulsed Light are non-ionizing. Meaning, exposure to these waves is safe.
In layman terms, IPL’s are a light source that will produce a range of light from roughly 515nm to 1200nm’s. Filters are used to block out the unwanted wavelengths. For example, in hair removal in light skin, the gold standard for lasers is the 755nm wavelength. So, what an IPL filter for laser hair removal will do is to filter out the wavelengths from about 700nm and lower and from 800nm and higher. Leaving the user with a range of about 700nm to 800nm which will mimic the 755nm lasers results.
If a laser centre is offering laser hair removal and using an IPL, then technically, you are not getting laser hair removal.
So why do hair removal with an IPL instead of a laser?
The answer to this question is clever marketing. Laser Hair removal device makers – Bareskinco that IPL sales people position this device as a “does it all” device at a price point that doctors like. They are a low-cost box for start-up and you can add different handpieces (filters) as needed. The IPL box will cost in the range or $30,000-$50,000 with handpieces costing $10,000-$20,000 each. You can treat tattoos, acne, hair, wrinkles, veins and more by buying multiple handpieces. To effectively treat all those applications with a laser, you would need to buy multiple machines each ranging from $50,000 to $90,000.
IPL’s are often called “Jack of all trades, master of none” by the end users. They will do a decent job on almost anything, but it’s hard to compare the results to the much superior, more powerful laser.
Most practices agree that the lasers are more predictable, safer, and more effective and offer better cooling options than IPL’s.