Laser or IPL for hair removal. Which is better?

There have been many debates over the years as to which method of laser hair removal is truly more effective, laser or intense pulsed light (IPL).  Both methods utilize the same theory of “selective photothermolysis” or in other words, they utilize particular wavelengths of light to target pigmentation in the hair root.  When the hair root is heated sufficiently, the follicle is destroyed and inhibited from growing new hair. Neither laser or IPL are effective at treating white, grey or blond hair.

laser vs IPL for hair removal 

So if the principle is the same, why is the industry so polarized when it comes to preference of laser vs IPL? Generally, reputable clinics make significant investments in their equipment and for this reason they tend to defend the device they may be using, whether it’s laser or IPL.  We prefer to acknowledge the fact that both types of devices are extremely effective at treating unwanted body hair.  Both laser and IPL can be great choices, when used correctly by an experienced treatment provider.  In fact, studies have shown an almost exact outcome in clients with skin types 1-3 regardless of whether the treatment platform was an IPL, Diode laser or Alexandrite laser. In our experience? Even the best device in the hands of an inexperienced provider can offer poor results.

Most of the misinformation that is available today is unfortunately the result of marketing and personal preference, not fact. Here’s a few myths that come to mind…

  • Laser platforms are more expensive & therefore better than IPL.

While both lasers and IPL units can be found at a variety of price points, today’s IPL platforms (such as the new Palomar medical devices) can run upwards of $100,000-$150,000. The argument of IPL is cheaper than laser and not as effective is definitely not accurate.

  • The treatment has to hurt or it isn’t effective.

Keep in mind we are heating up and destroying hair using “heat” regardless of the method used. That being said, many devices today include “contact cooling” incorporated directly into the treatment wand. When the skin is kept cool throughout the treatment, discomfort is greatly reduced, and in some cases virtually eliminated. Pain is not a reflection of the effectiveness of treatment. Excessive pain, and post treatment redness is more often associated with skin damage and burning, not hair removal.

  • Only monochromatic light sources are effective

IPL creates “multiple” wavelengths of light while laser is “monochromatic” or creates a single wavelength of light energy. For this reason (utilizing a filter) IPL is excellent at treating a much broader spectrum of skin and hair color combinations, safely and effectively, while each laser (diode, alexandrite, yag, etc) are only effective for those individuals that fall into the “ideal candidate” category, and those that fall outside of this margin may experience subpar results.

The science is there.

Both laser and IPL based devices have been proven effective at reducing the amount of unwanted hair and providing long term results. When selecting a clinic for treatment, take advantage of a free consultation to ensure the treatment provider is the right fit and you are comfortable with the environment and their level of knowledge. As with any thermal based device, side effects are possible if the treatment is not performed properly. Both laser and IPL require between 4-10 treatments for most individuals to achieve their desire results.

Visit our laser hair removal page for Victoria BC


Clinical comparison of four hair removal lasers and light sources
Skin Laser and Surgery Specialists of NY & NJ, and The Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA

An explanation of laser vs intense pulsed light hair removal
Both laser and IPL work on the same principle, but perhaps IPL has the advantage.

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