Buyer Beware: why we don’t recommend IPL for hair removal

Buyer Beware: why we don't recommend IPL for hair removal

Woman getting laser hair removal on armpit

We often see spas offering IPL hair removal and patients purchasing at home IPL devices to “permanently” remove body hair; unfortunately, IPL is not an effective hair removal treatment.

What is a Laser?

Lasers utilize one wavelength to selectively target one specific chromophore, which is melanin. This allows for deeper penetration and the energy is directed straight to the target and not absorbed by the other chromophores in the path of the beam. Lasers will selectively destroy specific targets and not cause harm to the surrounding tissue when used properly. Laser machines are set to emit the exact wavelength required to treat your hair.

IPL is not a Laser

IPL devices are not lasers. These devices produce a broad spectrum of wavelengths (like a light bulb) and cannot be focused to a concentrated beam. Because a range of different wavelengths is dispersed at a variety of depths only some of these are effectively absorbed by the hair follicle, causing substandard results and increasing the risk of burns.

  • Intense pulsed light (IPL) is not monochromatic, meaning that IPL has many different colours and only a small percentage of these are effective in the treatment of hair reduction.
  • IPL is not coherent and is not reinforcing making it less effective in the treatment of hair reduction compared to lasers.
  • IPL is not collimated and is therefore quick to spread out making it less effective in the treatment of hair reduction.

IPL machines typically use a range of wavelengths from 500 – 1000 nm. As these wavelengths are exposed to the skin, there is no ability for the light to discriminate between chromophores within the skin. Due to the broad spectrum of light, obtaining sufficient energy to destroy certain deep targets such as hair is often challenging. Smaller more superficial targets such as pigment and vascular legions absorb the majority of the energy. In order to heat deeper targets, higher energy levels need to be employed, but this increases the risk of burns and various complications. These adverse effects include hyper-pigmentation, hypopigmentation, blistering, and potentially scarring.

The Difference between Laser & IPL

The main difference between laser and IPL for hair removal lies in the technology that each use to generate light as well as the different properties of light being used.

Laser technology is simply much more effective and achieves substantially better results than IPL with most clients achieving optimal results of permanent hair removal of 80% or greater after four to eight treatments.

What Is IPL good for?

IPL machines do have an important place in the treatment of skin. IPL provides adequate treatment for skin problems such as superficial pigmentation, redness, and capillaries, but it is not suited for hair removal.

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