IPL vs Laser - the technology

IPL vs Laser - the technology

The use of intense pulsed light (IPL) and laser systems for hair removal has been well established for a number of years. It is an effective alternative to traditional methods such as electrolysis and waxing, allowing long-term, and often permanent, hair removal. Lasers have been used for a number of years to treat vascular lesions such as port wine stains, rosacea and thread veins, and although excellent results can be obtained, patients are often dissatisfied with the extent of side effects such as pronounced purpura (bruising) and pigmentary changes.

IPL offers speedy, comfortable, effective long term results with minimal side effects when performed by a qualified experienced specialist. IPL classically do not require high levels of power or energy which is necessary for laser.

The efficacy of both technologies for removal of unwanted hair is without question, and it is certain that both systems can be used for treatment of certain types of vascular lesion. However, patients may have very different skin and hair colours and there are many types of vascular lesion. But be aware that there are different types of IPL machines and choosing the right system is a difficult process due to different wavelengths.

The main differences between laser and IPL sources are down to the very different technologies implemented in each system. Lasers are light sources which emit monochromatic (single wavelength) light. The light produced by a laser is coherent (all the light is in the same phase and of the same wavelength) IPL systems are generally flash lamps which produce light when a small electric current is passed through a gas. The light produced in this way is not coherent, and consists of many different wavelengths. This is known as white light.

These differences in the way in which the light is produced have a number of consequences. There have unfortunately been many reported incidences of biological damage due to lasers. The small spot sizes and high energies mean that burning of the skin can often occur, but more commonly, every year people have their vision impaired or are even blinded by lasers. The main reason for this is the non-divergence of laser beams.

The IPL pulses during the treatment have to be of a long enough time period (milliseconds) to effectively heat the whole hair follicle.

The broadband nature of IPL light also has advantages over monochromatic laser light in some applications.

Absorption occurs at many different wavelengths, most of which can be targeted with IPL.

This study presents a brief comparison between lasers and Intense Pulse Light systems. It is certainly true that there exist some conditions for which lasers are the preferred choice, such as tattoo removal. However, for many other applications such as hair removal and vascular lesion treatment, IPL systems may offer advantages over laser systems including improved safety features, increased reliability and equal, if not superior, clinical results.


[ ] R. A. Weiss, M. A. Weiss, S. Marwaha, A. C. Harrington, "Hair Removal With a Non-Coherent Filtered Flashlamp Intense Pulsed Light Source". Lasers in Surgery and Medicine 24: 128 - 132 (1999).

[ ] R. Anderson, J. A. Parrish, "Microvasculature can be Selectively Damaged using Dye Lasers: A Basic Theory and Experimental Evidence in Human Skin". Lasers in Surgery and Medicine 1: 263 - 276 (1981)

[ ] J. M. Hammersley and D. C. Handscomb, 1964, Monte Carlo Methods