IPL vs Laser which is best?



Do you know the difference between IPL and laser? Most people don’t, and even a lot of professionals think they’re the same. They’re actually quite different, in terms of what they can do to your skin and their associated risks.

Light devices are very confusing. I think that’s partly because they appear to do more or less the same thing if you believe all the marketing claims! And perhaps it’s because light physics isn’t an easy subject to grasp.

There’s a lot of confusion over what these devices are used for and how they stack up against one other.

Why is one type of device preferred over another? 

This is a big topic! I will try to help you answer these questions. But first, I think what would be helpful is to lay out some basic background before diving into the pros and cons of different treatments. That way, you will be better prepared to ask the right questions and have more realistic expectations. 

Special Offer

After reading this article and you feel you're ready for a single full face IPL photo- rejuvenation treatment from the best operators in Toowoomba, we have a special offer for you. Buy one photo rejuvenation treatment and receive 1 Laser hair removal treatment free of charge. Can't be used with any other offer. To book call us on 0499383821  Check out our Google Reviews here or our Facebook Reviews here and have a terrific day!

What Does Light Do For Skin?

Why are light devices used to improve the appearance of skin? What is it about the light that makes it possible to remove excess hair, unwanted pigmentation, wrinkles, and even fat? These are such different issues, how can light do all of this?

Light is a form of energy. For example, the light energy from sunlight powers photosynthesis in plants, which becomes a source of energy to us when we consume it as food.

sunlight and field

Light energy can be directed at skin too. Different types of light do different things to skin.

Some types of light energy are highly destructive to skin. The ones with the shorter wavelengths (gamma rays, X-rays, UV rays) are the most harmful. They produce a type of radiation, ionising radiation, that can alter DNA and damage the deeper layers of skin.

The sunlight that reaches Earth, which is composed of UVA and UVB rays, is a type of ionising radiation that causes the familiar sunburn as well as the typical signs of skin ageing (wrinkles, sagging, spots) and skin cancer.

Some forms of light are therapeutic and healing to the skin (e.g. red visible light used in LED light therapy).

And some forms of light selectively remove things in the skin that we don’t want (e.g. infrared light and parts of the visible light spectrum).

Light Is Attracted to Chemical Targets In Skin

Light devices function as sources of light. They emit light energy.

Light energy is converted into thermal energy (HEAT) inside the skin.

This thermal energy has different effects on the skin:

  • Heats up and destroys a specific target
  • Activates a chemical in skin that destroys a target
  • Stimulates something in skin (e.g. a fibroblast, which makes collagen & other dermal components; blood circulation)

red laser beam in skin

The goal of a light device, such as IPL or laser, is to direct light energy to chemical targets in skin.

These targets are called chromophores. The light is attracted to these chromophores because they possess a certain colour.

Examples of Targets:

  • melanin (pigment in skin and hair)
  • blood – specifically oxyhemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells that gives blood its red colour)
  • ink (in tattoos)
  • water (in the dermis layer of skin)
  • P. acnes bacteria (the porphyrin proteins that they form)

Light Targeting Can Treat A Variety Of Skin Issues

To reiterate, light is converted into heat (Photothermolysis) once it hits a target in skin. This heat causes a reaction which ultimately helps achieve a certain goal.

So for example, targeting:

  • melanin pigment – reduces hyperpigmentation (dark spots) and hair growth (the light destroys the pigment in the hair follicle)
  • oxyhemoglobin – reduces redness and vascular lesions (e.g. visible capillaries, spider veins, varicose veins)
  • ink – removes tattoos
  • water – causes the removal of skin (at high heat, the water in skin boils, vaporising skin) This is a very invasive procedure and can only be done by an experienced Dermatologist only.
  • P. acnes bacteria – kills bacteria and reduces acne breakouts

The process of targeting chromophores in the skin and selectively destroying them is called selective photo thermolysis.

Laser beams at different depths in skin

Reaching the intended target successfully depends on the wavelength of the light and the depth that it travels into skin.

The depth that light will travel depends on its wavelength and what it encounters along the way (is there anything blocking its path or slowing it down?).

  • wavelength is a measurement of light. Light devices are often labelled and called by their wavelength. For example, the Nd: YAG laser is sometimes called “1064” because its wavelength is 1064 nm.
  • The “nm” is an abbreviation for nanometer, a measurement of distance. One nanometer equals one-billionth of a meter. So it’s very, very, very small!

Electromagnetic Spectrum

IPL and laser devices are designed with different wavelength settings. When you get an IPL or laser treatment, the clinician must choose the most appropriate modality (What device? What wavelength? What energy level?) for your desired goal.

The choice of light settings is crucial for delivering the right amount of heat without destroying the surrounding tissue. If the wrong settings are chosen, things can go very wrong, such as burning the skin or causing too much injury to the skin, which brings me to my next point.

Choose Your Provider Carefully

It’s very important that you obtain your light treatment from an experienced clinician who is legally permitted to perform these kinds of procedures and has enough training and experience to do it successfully. Knowing which IPL or laser settings to choose requires experience with many different patients – seeing what works and what doesn’t in different types of skin and situations.

The laws surrounding the operation of IPL and lasers vary widely from state to state. Some states require no licencing for IPL and Laser and some do.

At Skin Sensations, we have licenced Dermal Therapists and have been doing IPL and Laser treatments for 15 years treating thousands of clients for photo-rejuvenation, hair removal, spider veins and redness, tattoo removal and laser photo facials.

There are more and more physicians who don’t specialise in dermatology or plastic surgery that are offering light cosmetic procedures and operating IPL/laser machines. The choice is up to you as to what kind of therapist, doctor (specialist)  you want performing your light treatment. In my opinion, the most important consideration should be experienced, and specifically volume. Just because you have a degree doesn’t necessarily make you a good driver. 

How many procedures (treatments) like this, has this person done before? The more the better. Ideally, you want someone who has done it many times. Just like you’d want the eye surgeon performing your cataract surgery to have done it many, many times before.

Special Offer

After reading this article and you feel you're ready for a single full face IPL photo- rejuvenation treatment from the best operators in Toowoomba, we have a special offer for you. Buy one photo rejuvenation treatment and receive 1 Laser hair removal treatment free of charge, can't be used with any other offer. To book call us on 0499383821  Check out our Google Reviews here or our Facebook Reviews here and have a terrific day!

What are IPL and Laser, and How are they Different?

IPL and laser are Class 3 or 4 medical devices. The class is a TGA classification that refers to how aggressive the device is and whether it requires a physician or nurse under the supervision of a doctor to operate it. 

green laser beam on arm

Because IPL and lasers are medical devices, you can’t buy them to use at home. They are only available as in-office treatments.  LED Light Therapy is the most gentle and least risky type of light treatment.

IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light.

Laser is also an acronym. It stands for Light Amplification Stimulated Emission Radiation.

IPL and laser both emit light energy. The key difference between them is how.


When you think of a laser, what comes to mind? Do you remember Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker’s light sabre in Star Wars? That’s a good example of a laser.

Darth Vader lightsaber

A laser is a straight, focused, concentrated beam of light.

The key word is beam. It’s one beam. That beam of light is just ONE WAVELENGTH of light. That means, it has only ONE COLOR.

Laser points at a small area. Think of a laser pointer used by a speaker in a slide presentation.

IPL (Intense Pulsed Light)

Unlike a laser, IPL is NOT one beam of light. IPL consists of MULTIPLE WAVELENGTHS of light.

IPL light shines over a larger area. Think of a flashlight. The light from a flashlight is broader and more diffuse.


Because the light is more spread out, IPL delivers LESS ENERGY than a laser. This makes IPL gentler but it can still burn and cause bruising to patients. 

IPL vs Laser

IPL treatments typically present no or little downtime. Lasers are much more invasive and therefore often require a little to a lot of downtime.

So why would you ever want to use a laser? Why not just get IPL? Because there are trade-offs. The main trade-off is how fast you want to see results. If you want instant gratification, faster results usually require more downtime (and risks). Many people don’t want to spend a week or two with their face looking red or covered in dark spots or ugly sores.

So, while IPL may be gentler, it requires a longer treatment period – typically, a series of treatments spaced 4-6 weeks apart.

Of course, the choice of IPL or laser will depend on your problem – many conditions can be treated by both. But one will usually be better than the other, depending on the colour of your skin or your Fitzpatrick skin type (Look at

Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale), the nature and severity of your problem, your time horizon, how much downtime is acceptable to you, and your tolerance for pain.

A laser can also travel deeper into the skin than IPL. So, certain goals (resurfacing skin, removing deep dermal pigment) can only be done by a licensed physician.

Which ones to choose? Ultimately the choice is yours and there are so many differing opinions it can be mind boggling. Remember that ultimately this is a business and the person trying to sell you a treatment could be biased to their treatment. It could be the only method they offer. I’ve seen articles about Laser hair removal where the person who offers only laser treatments is calling IPL, (Intense Pulse Light) not so intense and a poor option compared to laser. I’ve seen other articles quoting scientific journals saying. Some current IPL systems have proven to be more successful in the removal of hair and blood vessels than many lasers. At our practice, we have found that often a combination of IPL and Laser works extremely well.

Where to from here?

Depositphotos 68435917 originaledited

Make sure that whoever you go to is an experienced operator with thousands of treatments performed and is giving you honest answers and options. If the price is your only consideration then you may end up eventually paying more than what you originally thought.

A poor hair removal operator even with a good machine could end up stripping the pigment from the hair without removing it. This means no pigment to attract the laser or IPL light and the hairs are there for life. Your only option then, that I’m aware of is electrolysis, which is a needle inserted into each individual hair follicle and blasted with an electrical charge. One hair at a time, for large areas it’s just not practical. 

As Vin Diesel’s Character in the “Fate of the Furious” said, “The only thing that matters is who is behind the wheel.” 

Social media can help here, look for good reviews on Google or Facebook. Phone the practice and ask for the names and numbers of 5 satisfied customers about their experience. If that is a problem then you have your answer about what kind of service they will provide and the results possibly could be questionable. If they’ve nothing to hide it won’t be an issue. If you'd like to check out our Google reviews here and our Facebook reviews here.

If you’ve made it this far, hopefully, you have a better idea now of how light can change skin and what treatment method could be good for you. That’s a lot to cover, and hopefully, this has cleared up some of your questions or doubts. If you're still unsure give us a call and we would be more than happy to talk to you and clear up any lingering doubts you may have.

Special Offer

After reading this article and you feel you're ready for a single full face IPL photo- rejuvenation treatment from the best operators in Toowoomba, we have a special offer for you. Buy one photo rejuvenation treatment and receive 1 Laser hair removal treatment free of charge, can't be used with any other offer. To book call us on 0499383821  Check out our Google Reviews here or our Facebook Reviews here and have a terrific day!