laser treatment

Laser vs. IPL: What’s the Difference?

Laser and IPL is one of the most popular cosmetic treatments for skin rejuvenation, hyperpigmentation, and permanent hair reduction. Both technologies are not only available in clinics but also as laser hair removal devices as well.

Laser and IPL is one of the most popular cosmetic treatments for skin rejuvenation, hyperpigmentation, and permanent at home and professional hair removal. Both technologies are not only available in clinics but take-home devices as well.

Light has been used for its healing properties for hundreds of years. Both the Romans and the Greeks have recognized it for its therapeutic importance, and scientists in the latest turn of the century have used it for their medical treatments.

In 1903, a Danish physician named Niels Finsen Ryberg received the Nobel Prize for his design on light therapy. His device can create similar wavelengths as that of the sun.

In 1917, a theory on stimulated radiation have been theorized by Albert Einstein. We now commonly refer to it as ‘Light Amplification for the Stimulated Emission of Radiation’ or lasers.

Lasers are now used in all walks of life from scanners to virtual games. In the beauty industry, it’s used in a wide range of treatments from acne to reducing wrinkles, hair growth and reduction.

What’s the difference between Laser and IPL?

IPL or Intense Pulsed Light work very similarly. The process is the same wherein a wavelength is chosen to be absorbed the selected tissue. Heat is the byproduct of this energy and it’s used to destroy the target without damaging the surrounding tissue.

The main difference is that lasers emit a single frequency of light moving in the same direction. This allows for hyper focus on the target tissue for it to absorb a very high amount of heat. This focus is very important when it comes to skin and hair treatments.

The target for wrinkles is water, for spider veins it’s the blood, and melanin for pigmentation and hair. Different wavelengths of light are chosen for each treatment, so different lasers are used as well.

Laser is also used for acne scarring, photoaging or sun damaged skin, fine line and wrinkle reduction, and overall skin rejuvenation. Among the most popular is Fractional laser and CO2 laser. These types of lasers can treat sections of skin without damaging the surrounding area. Major skin improvements can be expected with significant downtime.

Fractional laser activates the skin’s healing mechanisms beneath the surface. It is able to treat conditions from scars to birthmarks. It can also create microscopic thermal injuries to activate collagen production and stimulate cell renewal resulting in younger looking skin. Improves skin texture, reduction in pore size, and evening of complexion are results that can be expected.

If laser uses as single light, IPL uses broad-spectrum light. This kind of light has a range of wavelengths. IPL can be used on some of the same issues as laser, but will not be as effective or long-lasting. IPL devices tend to be used to address skin concerns in a more general fashion rather than hyper-specific. It’s one of the reasons why IPL is a lot more affordable compared to laser treatments.

IPL target either the hemogoblin or the melanin in the skin. It can be used for permanent hair reduction, active and non-active acne, rosacea, and broken capillaries. It can help with sun damage and hyperpigmentation to some degree, and improve overall complexion.

Another difference is the size of the treated area. IPL is generally 8x larger compared to lasers, so it’s quicker and easier to treat larger areas.

The technology for IPL has also reach a point where it’s not available as a portable device for home use. The feature most used is for permanent hair removal, but some devices also has setting for skin rejuvenation and acne treatments.

How many sessions do you need?

This completely depends on the patient’s skin and severity of skin issues. Mild cases may take several sessions, while aggressive treatments make take just one or two sessions.

Which is compatible for your skin type?

Lasers are safer for darker skinned patients as some machines are built specifically to bypass this limitations in IPL. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that this depends on the clinic and the machines, as well as your physician’s final assessment.

Results vary depending on the clinic, the expertise of your practitioner, and the individual patient.

Lasers are best used for:

  • Pigmentation
  • Improvements of skin texture and complexion
  • Improvements of wrinkles and fine lines, pores, and firmness
  • Acne and scarring
  • Rosacea, broken capillaries, birthmarks
  • Permanent Hair Removal or Reduction

IPL is best used for:

  • Permanent hair reduction
  • Reducing redness, spider veins, and rosacea
  • Skin rejuvenation
  • Mild to moderate photodamage
  • Superficial pigmentation like sun spots, hyperpigmentation, or age spots


  • Alexiades-Armenakas, M. R., Dover, J. S., & Arndt, K. A. (2008). The spectrum of laser skin resurfacing: nonablative, fractional, and ablative laser resurfacing. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 58(5), 719-737.
  • Bedewi, A. F. E. (2004). Hair removal with intense pulsed light. Lasers in medical science, 19(1), 48-51.
  • Healthy Beautiful. (2019). Top 10 Best At-Home Laser Hair Removal Devices [Ultimate Guide & Review]: December 2019. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Dec. 2019].