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What’s the Difference Between Laser & IPL?

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What’s the Difference Between Laser & IPL?

Laser and IPL are both popular technologies in the aesthetic skin care and medical realms, but which tool is best for your business needs? To make a wise decision about which investment you should make, Laser vs. IPL, you need to be clear on the differences between the tools.

As we compare the technologies, medical and cosmetic treatment providers reading this may choose to have more than one modality on their premises, in order to offer the widest variety of services. Let’s begin with…

Similarities Between IPL and Laser Equipment

IPL and Laser are two major categories of light emitters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses depending upon the goal of the treatment for which they are being used. In the broadest sense, both types of device emit waves of light energy, which are converted into heat as they penetrate the skin. The heat can be used to destroy something (like melanin), to cause a chemical reaction or to activate a process (like the production of collagen, for example.)

The devices (both IPL and Laser) target many of the same goals, such as removing age spots, hair and spider veins or rejuvenating the skin. IPL generally requires a series of treatments to accomplish the goal, while Laser may complete the treatment more quickly. The lists of procedures given below will provide a better idea of which tool is appropriate for which types of treatment.

Differences Between IPL and Laser Technology

IPL (Intense Pulsed Light)

IPL emits a broader spectrum of light wavelengths, (polychromatic light) in short pulses, at less intensity than a Laser. IPL is considered non-ablative, meaning that the light energy leaves the epidermis (skin's top layer) intact and targets structures below, like hair roots or red spider veins. IPL's polychromatic light does not provide the specific wavelength targeting of Laser technology.

IPL is not inferior to, but just different from Laser. For example, IPL can treat brown spots and spider veins in the same treatment, while 2 different Lasers would be required. IPL reaches a broader target area (emitting a "wider" band of light) with a gentler touch, so to speak, but it can still damage skin if not used properly. A cooling device or gel may be used to keep the client/patient comfortable during treatment, which generally feels like a rubber band "snapping" repeatedly against the skin. IPL side effects and risks are generally minor, and include: mild swelling, redness, and (rarely) blisters, bleeding, pigmentation changes and scarring.

Common Uses for IPL Devices

  • Rosacea (Device targets hemoglobin.)
  • Broken capillaries / spider veins / facial veins
  • Acne / blemishes
  • Age spots (Device targets melanin.)
  • Brown spots
  • Freckles
  • Birthmarks
  • Hyperpigmentation / sun damage
  • Hair removal (Device targets melanin in dark hair. Avoid or use with care on clients/patients with dark skin. Skin/hair contrast is important with IPL.)
  • Photofacials
  • Aging skin / minor wrinkles
  • Boost collagen production
  • And more

LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation)

Each Laser type emits a single direct wavelength of coherent light. Different wavelengths can penetrate to various skin depths. Lasers target colors/pigments specifically, hence the term “laser-focused” which has come to mean specific and intense, even in common language. The intensity of the laser light wavelengths means care must be taken to prevent injury and the device must be used correctly.

For safety, Lasers must not be held in one spot for longer than a specified time, and it may be unwise to treat the same areas of skin more than once per treatment session. Manufacturers and equipment sellers provide specifics for each device. Laser devices can be either ablative or non-ablative, depending upon the intensity of the device. Ablative lasers can vaporize skin's outer layer for resurfacing, while a non-ablative laser uses a fractional technique.

Common Uses for Laser Equipment

  • Tattoo removal (Device targets dye, breaking up pigments to be eliminated by the body. Q-Switched Lasers work well including Nd:YAG, Alexandrite and Ruby lasers, with each laser ideal for removing a particular ink color.)
  • Skin resurfacing (Device targets/heats skin's H20 to remove deeper wrinkles and sun damage.)
  • Skin tightening / stimulating collagen and elastin production
  • Aging skin / deeper wrinkles
  • Hair removal (Certain Lasers can effectively remove hair on darker skin, where IPL might fail, because Lasers are capable of better targeting, even if contrast is not as great.)
  • Varicose veins / leg veins
  • Acne scars (Ablative laser is typically used for grade 3 scars, while non-ablative laser is typically used for grade 2 scars.)
  • Pigmented lesions
  • Nail fungi
  • Stress incontinence
  • Vaginal rejuvenation
  • And more

Ablative Lasers

Ablative laser equipment is for medical cosmetic use and is more invasive, but tends to work faster to achieve the intended goal. The ablative laser can also be used to eliminate pitted acne scarring or remove facial lesions. Since ablative lasers are capable of stronger, more dramatic, longer lasting results, they also come with more significant risks than non-ablative Lasers or IPL. Ablative laser treatment may require longer healing time -- but produces more dramatic results, such as improving deeper wrinkles, helping to reverse sun damage, fading dark brown spots, etc. Sedation or anesthesia may be needed during treatment.

Ablative laser side effects and risks include inflammation, redness, scabs, bleeding, oozing skin, infection, peeling and flaking, scarring and permanent skin discoloration. Ablative laser types/brands include CO2 and Erbium.

Non-Ablative Lasers

Non-ablative lasers for fractional resurfacing, cause less skin injury to get the desired skin rejuvenating effect. In some cases, non-ablative lasers won't accomplish as much, as quickly (when working on serious wrinkles, for example). Non-ablative lasers may work better in some cases, however. Since the technique preserves most of the upper layer of skin, healing time is shorter for a procedure like skin resurfacing, and similar results to the ablative method may be achieved.

Non-ablative laser side effects and risks include: infection, blistering, redness, swelling, skin color changes and scarring. Non-ablative laser brands/manufacturers include: CoolTouch, Q-Switched Nd:YAG laser and Fraxel Restore.

Get Expert Advice on Laser and IPL Devices

At Laser Service Solutions, we sell and service all major brands of IP and Laser equipment including: Alma Lasers, Syneron Candela, Cynosure, EndyMed, HOYA ConBio, Lumenis, Zimmer, and Viora. Many brands offer IPL devices, Lasers and innovative, multi-function devices.

For personalized assistance in choosing the right Laser and/or IPL equipment for your office needs, call Laser Service Solutions at (856) 853-7555 or use our online contact form or email us directly at info@laserservicesolutions.com. We are a full-service Medical Equipment Supplier, based in Paulsboro, New Jersey. In addition to Cosmetic Laser sales, we also offer rentals, pre-owned and refurbished units, maintenance service, custom and OEM laser parts, and expert repairs.

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  • Ryan Koenig