Is IPL the same as laser? It seems there confusion on the equality for hair removal.

I've been doing a lot of research and the literature seems to contradict that intense pulse light is actually a laser ? One is monochromatic beam and coherent light, the other is polychromatic and in coherent light. If this is true how can the public distinguish what they are actually getting for a treatment. The clinical data tends to lead that IPL is not as effective for hair removal as it may be for skin treatments?

Doctor Answers 8

Laser V.S IPL

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Thank you for your question. You have done some great research! One of the easiest ways to explain the difference is through an illustration. Laser can be compared to a laser pointer, when you point it at a wall it remains the same size, and color, it is a constant beam of light. So a laser hair removal machine will have the same strength with every pulse. IPL is like a flashlight, as you get closer to the wall the circle is smaller, and further, it gets bigger. So with IPL hair removal, it is not a constant measure, so it can sometimes be considered not as strong. It may take more treatments to be effective.However it has much less of a risk of burning and scarring. Your skin type and hair type should be strongly considered when choosing which method you want to use. Good luck!

IPL versus laser

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Thank you for your question mpisani71. This is a great question. IPL is a great treatment for facial rejuvenation. It can also be used for permanent hair reduction. There are specific difference in terms of the optics and physics between a laser and IPL. You mentioned two of them: lasers are monochromatic and coherent. Lasers are also collimated. There are many devices out there that provide permanent hair reduction, both laser and IPL. I have seen outstanding results with both types of devices. However the treatments need to be performed correctly and using the appropriate parameters which vary from person to person. It is more important to find a good doctor than a good device. Look for experience, before and after pictures, and testimonials.

Please consult with a doctor for specific recommendations. Good luck!


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IPL by definition is Intense Pulsed Light, which typically is broad-band light and not technically a laser treatment.  Although it has been used for laser hair removal, and still is by some practitioners, there are more effective hair removal lasers on the market which are true lasers.

IPL vs. Laser for hair removal

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Hi mpisani71,

Thanks, for your question. You are absolutely correct that IPL is not a laser and that lasers are generally more effective for hair removal than IPL. However, there are also numerous types of actual lasers (meaning, only one wavelength of light) that are used for hair removal. I would have a discussion with your potential provider(s) about what specific device they use for hair removal. Most providers would love to have a technical discussion with their patients! Hope that helps.

It's All About Wavelength...

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LASER:  Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation 

This is an extremely good question.  Unfortunately, the word laser is not a protected word.  It has a connotation of advanced technology that can be used to embellish services that are being offered to the consumer.  Laser is an acronym (see above) that indicates the electromagnetic process in physics that delivers the energy of treatment.  

Lasers are of a single wavelength on the electromagnetic spectrum.  They are not "jack of all trades," but are highly sophisticated machines that when used correctly act with precision in treating a specific condition.  

IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light.  Quite simply, this is a glorified flashbulb.  While it is still very useful when appropriately applied, it is not a laser.  Because it is still a light-based energy device, they are often incorrectly described as lasers.  This is simply a marketing technique used by some, and misleads the public.  An intense puled light machine is less sophisticated than a laser in most cases, and therefore cheaper to purchase and more readily available to non-physicians.  

The service that is the most corrupt by the improper naming of an IPL device is "Laser Hair Removal."  Both an IPL and a true laser are offered in the hair removal service industry.  If your experience during a hair removal treatment feels like an intense snapping of a rubber band on your skin, this is not a laser;  it is an IPL device.  In my opinion, an IPL is not the best device for hair removal.  Not only are they unnecessarily uncomfortable compared to a laser, but they are not specific to hair, whereas a laser is.  

Intense pulsed light (IPL), has its place, but most be appropriately disclosed for what it is to the public, and appropriately sold for the proper job.

David Owers, MD
Vancouver Physician

Permanent hair reduction possible with laser and IPL

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There are several different devices being used for permanent hair removal/reduction.  I have had great success  treating patients with the ICON platform by Cynosure.  The ICON system provides permanent and effective hair reduction treatment. Just a few simple treatments is all it takes to minimise hair growth for good.  Some benefits of this device are:

  • Skintel Melanin Reader: A revolutionary device that determines the average melanin density of skin prior to treatment
  • Advanced Contact CoolingTM: Cooling maintains temperature at 5° Celsius during treatments for enhanced comfort and skin protection.

ICON light-based technology works by targeting and destroying the hair cells responsible for hair growth without harming the surrounding skin. Treatments are fast, simple and usually take just minutes to complete.  The technology is TGA approved and works on a variety of skin types, as long as there is melanin present in the hair follicle to target.

Laser Hair Removal

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Please consult a laser specialist to discuss the best treatment options for laser hair removal, as there are other devices which are much more capable and efficient at hair removal, such as the Aerolase or diode/alex devices as compared to IPL.

Jason Emer, MD
Los Angeles Dermatologic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 203 reviews

IPL laser

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IPL is not a laser.  It is not the same as a laser and it is not usually as effective for hair removal as a laser.  Please consult a expert in lasers and hair removal for the best cosmetic results.  Best, Dr. Green

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.