IPL hair removal: What is it, and when is it the right answer?

By Ash 19th June 2018 Category: Advice
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What is IPL?

IPL stands for intense pulsed light. It is a technology used in dermatology and aesthetics to treat a variety of skin conditions. It is also used to deliver long-lasting hair removal for the body and face.

What specific treatments can be delivered using IPL?

  • Hair removal
  • Thread vein removal
  • Treatment for hyperpigmentation
  • Photo rejuvenation (i.e. the treatment of sun damaged skin)
  • Acne treatment
  • Acne scar treatment

What is the difference between IPL and aesthetic laser technology?

Lasers can be used to administer the same treatments as listed above for IPL, but they are more intense and precise. This means they can be used to target very specific areas of skin, whereas IPL treats a larger area, less precisely.

How do the two treatments work for hair removal?

Both IPL treatment and laser treatment work in the same way. Light energy is absorbed by pigment within the hair follicle, heating it up and permanently damaging it so that the hair doesn’t grow back.

Both IPL and laser need to target the hair follicles during a specific part of their life cycle (during the growth, or ‘anagen’ phase). Not all of the hairs will be in the anagen phase at the same time, so multiple treatments are needed in order to get long-lasting results.

Is IPL permanent?

Both laser and IPL results for hair removal are long-lasting and can be administered all over the body and face – but they react slightly differently with the skin. The red light of a laser treatment is precise enough to be focussed deep into the individual hair follicles, whereas IPL light is a mixture of different light wavelengths and only a percentage is actually absorbed by the hair. This means a few more treatment sessions are needed with IPL in order to see lasting results.

IPL treatment uses a less-complex type of technology, so it is usually cheaper per session.

Laser hair removal vs IPL at a glance:

Laser hair removal

IPL hair removal

Uses a focussed, precise collimated beam
of red light
Uses a less-precise, diffused white light, produced by a type of lamp
Suitable for all skin colours and tones Suitable for lighter skin tones only
An initial course of eight treatments is needed, with a maintenance treatment once or twice a year 10–12 treatments is normally needed, with maintenance treatments required 4-5 times a year
Not suitable for white, grey, blonde or red hair Not suitable for white, grey, blonde or red hair
Usually more expensive (per treatment) than IPL Usually cheaper (per treatment) than laser



Which is cheaper: laser hair removal or IPL hair removal?

IPL hair removal is usually cheaper per treatment session. However, you may need more sessions to achieve the desired result, so calculate the overall estimated cost before you commit to either one.

Why can’t IPL be used for dark skin tones?

It isn’t always safe for darker skin tones because of the type of light that is emitted during the treatment. It uses a broad spectrum light – i.e. shorter wavelengths – which heat up melanin (pigment) in the hairs – and also the skin. Laser works in the same way, but can be controlled more easily and focused on the actual individual hair follicles, minimising contact with the surrounding tissue. The broad spectrum light in IPL, when used on dark skin tones, is more likely to heat the surrounding skin too which can result in skin damage and hyperpigmentation.

Which is quicker?

IPL can treat a larger surface area in a shorter amount of time, but more treatments are needed in order to get long-lasting results. So there isn’t much difference between the two treatments in terms of speed.

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