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If you’re thinking about having a laser or IPL treatment, then we have no doubt that you’ve come across both these terms and asked yourself – “What’s the difference between laser and IPL?” It’s one that we hear in our office every day!
First, it’s important to explain the differences between lasers and IPLs. They are commonly lumped together, but the reality is that they are apples and oranges. If you understand their differences, it will help you better decide which is the better treatment to help you with your particular problem.
Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Lasers work by taking one, single wavelength of light and multiplying it, making it more powerful. Each laser has a unique energy source that produces a very specific wavelength of light. This essentially means that each laser is very good at treating only a specific problem.
For example, a laser with a wavelength of 595 nm (nanometers) is very good at treating conditions that involve excess blood vessels because this wavelength of light is specifically absorbed by hemoglobin in red blood cells. It can’t be used to treat any problem dealing with pigmentation and it cannot be used for skin rejuvenation or wrinkling. Lasers are highly specific and generally good at treating a single type of skin problem.
IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light. These devices use a range or many different wavelengths of light. Because of this, they can treat a few different, unrelated skin problems. Because the light generated by IPLs generally includes wavelengths for both blood vessels/redness and pigmentation (sun spots), many people choose this treatment for generalized sun damage because it will work for both.
So, why wouldn’t you just use IPL for everything? Because, although it is very versatile, it cannot generate high enough energy of any one of the wavelengths of light that it uses to make it great at treating tougher skin conditions, like tattoos, hair removal and red and brown birthmarks. Lasers are much better because they can be adjusted to allow for more powerful delivery of a single wavelength of light than IPLs.
Another factor is that some lasers can be used to treat any and all skin types (colors). Generally, because of the array of wavelengths in IPL, it is not as safe option for medium and dark skin types as lasers. Asians, Hispanics, East Indian and African Americans can end up with skin blistering and burns after IPL treatments.
Because most laser centers have and offer both types of treatments, many people assume they are the same. Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, you should ask questions about which devices a practice uses for your skin type before you sign up for treatment. One that offers IPL for everything may not be the one that you want to choose.
At Celibre Medical, we offer more than 10 different class IV medical lasers for a variety of skin conditions. We believe that this allows us the superior ability to safely and effectively treat almost any skin condition in any skin color. While we also have and offer IPL, we only use it when it’s the safest and most effective treatment option for you.