Laser vs. IPL Hair Removal

As Certified Laser Technicians, we are very aware of the difference between IPL and LASER hair removal and why one is superior, however most people do not spend hundreds of hours learning about light based technology. We know that most people don't realize that there is even a difference between the two technologies so we want to help change that! First we need to start off by talking about the difference between IPL and Laser.

IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light. It is a form of light therapy that is used to treat hyperpigmentation (brown spots), redness, wrinkles, acne and it can remove hair. The light from an IPL is a non-coherent light source, which means that it produces a wide range of wavelengths of light to produce a single white flash. When the IPL is pulsed close to the skin it can give off a red or orange glow, similar to what a camera flash will do when held against the skin. It CAN NOT be focused to a concentrated beam. So what does this mean? The range of wavelengths is dispersed at different depths, and only some of them are effectively absorbed by the hair follicle, others are absorbed by the skin. This increases the pain level and risk of a burn, and results in a substandard hair removal result. The wavelength of an IPL device is typically from 500-1200nm. When these wavelengths are exposed to the skin they have no way to differentiate between different chromophores. Due to the broad spectrum of light, it is extremely difficult to deliver a sufficient amount of energy to destroy deeper targets, such as hair follicles. Smaller, more superficial targets such as broken capillaries and freckles will absorb the majority of the energy. To obtain the energy needed to disable a hair follicle, significantly higher levels of energy need to be used, but in doing so the risk of an adverse reaction such as hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, blistering and scarring. 

LASER is actually an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emissions of Radiation. It uses one single, coherent, wavelength to selectively target one specific chromophore (melanin). This allows deeper penetration, for the energy to be directed straight at the target (the hair follicle), and ensures that the energy is not absorbed by other chromophores in the path of the beam. The light energy is converted to heat when it hits the melanin in the hair, which damages the hair follicles and inhibits future hair growth. Lasers selectively destroy a target, while ensuring that no harm is caused to surrounding tissue. There is still the risk of an adverse reaction with a true laser, however ensuring that your technician is certified in laser hair removal and is experienced working with the laser they are operating, and making sure that you follow the pre and post treatment protocols will help to ensure that this does not occur.  

So what about the at home lasers? These may cause modest hair reduction, but they are much less powerful than in clinic devices. This means that you may receive minimal hair reduction in the short term as it stunts the growth, but it likely will not be long term. 

Now that you have some background on the science behind the different technologies, let’s talk about efficacy. Typically, IPL will take more treatments and less of an overall reduction in hair will be seen. Laser hair removal typically takes 6-10 treatments to achieve up to a 95% hair reduction. With IPL you will typically need 10-15 treatments see up to a 70% reduction in hair growth. 

IPL and Laser are two different forms of phototherapy, so when “IPL Laser Hair Removal” is advertised, it can be quite misleading to those who do not specialize in light based technologies. It is even more misleading when Laser Hair Removal is advertised by a clinic that only uses IPL. 

It is important to do your research on the device that is used for your hair removal treatment, the experience of the clinic and the technician, and the reputation of the clinic to ensure that you are going to be receiving the best results as soon as possible. At Smooth Effects we pride ourselves on the education level of our technicians, and each and every technician is put through a rigorous Smooth Effects training and certification program in addition to any prior certification and experience to ensure that they have the proper knowledge and techniques to safely and effectively perform any treatments with the laser. This includes both a theory and clinical aspect. The spa and medical spa industry is widely unregulated in Canada, however it is starting to change. What this means for a consumer is that ANYONE can purchase a laser or hair removal device. This is why IPL hair removal is able to be marketed as “Laser” Hair Removal, when it is a completely different treatment. We believe that this needs to change, as it is the reason that we so often have clients who come to us after having 10+ hair removal treatments with minimal reduction. IPL devices are cheaper to purchase, however they do not perform laser hair removal, and they deliver substandard hair removal results. 


At Smooth Effects Kelowna, we use the Candela GentleMax Pro which is an Alexandrite and Nd:Yag laser. The wavelengths are 755nm and 1064nm, which as you can see from the image below targets directly at the level that is needed to disable the hair follicle. Having these two wavelengths allows us to effectively target all skin types! What sets the GentleMax Pro apart from other lasers is the Dynamic Cooling Device that it has. A cryogenic gas is pulsed at the skin directly before and after the laser, making the treatment much more tolerable! 

If you would like more information or would like to speak to one of our highly trained and certified technicians, give us a call at (260) 860-0005 to book in for a complimentary consultation!