Consumers often mistake LASERS and IPLs (Intense Pulsed Light) for the same technology. Although both lasers and IPLs use light to affect changes to skin tissue, the differences between the two devices are significant and relate to which conditions and which skin types can be effectively treated.
The most important distinction between a laser and an IPL is that a laser uses one specific wavelength (type) of light to treat one specific condition and IPLs use many wavelengths to treat many different conditions. Because a laser uses only one wavelength of light, the practitioner is able to target just that specific area of the skin tissue (for example only the spider vein or only the hair in the follicle). The reason that this distinction is important is that when a laser is used to target only area of the skin tissue, very high fluences (energies) can be achieved with little or no damage to surrounding tissue. The theory of selective tissue targeting is called “selective photothermolysis” or “selective tissue heating”.
Conversely, IPLs use many wavelengths of light and can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions. Although IPLs can produce good results for some treatments, the challenge is that they do not reach the same peak energy levels as lasers and thus are not able to treat more difficult and resistant pigmented conditions such as tattoos, deep age spots and birthmarks. They rely on filters to remove certain types of light, and in the process, they lose power.
In addition to the differences in peak power between laser and IPL treatments, there are also differences in the skin types that can be treated. In general, IPLs are not ideal for darker skin types like dark Hispanics and Asians, East Indians and African Americans. The reason is that the risk of side effects like burns or blisters rises quickly because of the multiple types of light energy used in IPLs.
There are many medical facilities that use lasers, IPL or both very effectively for the treatment of skin conditions. The factors that distinguish lasers from IPL devices are the peak energy levels of the two devices and the skin types that can be treated effectively. The practitioner needs to carefully choose the equipment based on what type of conditions will be treated, what type of peak energies will be required to effectively treat those conditions and what skin types are normally seen in the practice. At Celibre, we utilize more than 10 different class IV medical lasers instead of IPL devices because we believe that lasers give us the ability to treat more conditions effectively and more skin conditions safely than with IPLs.