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Shedding light on hair removal: IPL vs Laser

By Sara Correia Fernandes and Cathy Chi

Hair removal is a continuous activity for many women and men. There are many options available like shaving, using hair removal cream, epilating, waxing, and lately using light to (almost) permanently remove hairs. The last method is often known as IPL or Laser hair removal, but what do they actually do? Are they just different words for the same thing? If not, how are they different? In this article we, Cathy and Sara, will address the different aspects of hair removal using light, explaining the advantages and disadvantages. Cathy will focus on IPL and Sara will focus on Laser.

Anatomy of skin and hair

The skin is the largest organ of the human body. It is comprised of skin, but also includes appendages such as nails and hair. The skin has three layers, from the outside to the inside there is the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous layer of fat, also called hypodermis. Hairs are produced by cells located deeply into the skin, in the dermis or hypodermis. The development of hairs happens in the hair follicle, where skin cells called keratinocytes produce keratin. The keratin itself does not have colour, but the hair colour is produced by pigment producing cells in the hair follicle, called melanocytes. They produce a pigment called melanin, which is also responsible for the brown colour in our skin [2].

Hair cycles

The growth of hair normally follows a cycle with three different phases: Anagen, Catagen and Telogen (see the figure below). In the Anagen phase the hair is actively growing. After Anagen the hair moves to a phase called Catagen. In this phase the hair stops growing. Lastly the hair moves to the resting phase called Telogen. In this phase the hair detaches and falls out (shedding). After passing all three cycles, a new hair will start again from the Anagen phase [2].

Types of light


Intense Pulsed Light, also known as IPL, is a broad spectrum pulsed light source, meaning it is composed of different wavelengths of light. The result is a flash of light that appears white, or orange-red when applied on skin [5]. The light can cover a relatively large surface of the skin, targeting multiple hairs at the same time. For an effective treatment it has to be repeated every 2-4 weeks in the beginning, but the frequency can be gradually decreased to every 6-8 weeks after a few treatments. IPL will never remove hairs permanently, but will lead to a significant decrease of hair growth in the treated areas [6].


Laser hair removal is a medical procedure that uses a concentrated beam of light (laser) to remove unwanted hair [8]. There are four different kinds: diode, alexandrite, Nd:YAG and ruby. The diode laser is the most effective of the three [9]. The device sucks up the skin and the hair follicle to target the hair more efficiently. Diode Laser hair removal has a more concentrated beam of light energy (when compared to IPL) to target the melanin in the hair follicle. The longer wavelength reduces absorption of the energy by the surrounding skin, resulting in a lower risk of damage [4]. Alexandrite is a good option for darker skin tones. which have the risk of getting post inflammatory hyperpigmentation; even though it has the necessary heat to inactivate the follicle, it comes across through an alexandrite crystal and it is less likely to cause pigmentation post-treatment. The Nd:YAG laser doesn’t produce a lot of heat so it’s good for small areas like the chin and upper lip, yet this means that this method takes longer to achieve results which are not always permanent [8]. For laser hair removal it takes two or three weeks after your first treatment to see a difference, and 8 -12 treatments to get the full result [10].

Pros and cons


One option is not necessarily better than the other since the choice between the two depends entirely on the person’s characteristics. If you prefer trying it out at home, IPL would be the better option, while if you would like to have permanent hair removal, laser would be the only option. Both techniques come with their advantages and disadvantages, but both are good and effective ways to remove hair. We hope that this article gives a better view on both IPL and Laser when trying to decide between the two.


[1] Kong, H. H. Skin microbiome: genomics-based insights into the diversity and role of skin microbes. Trends Mol. Med. 17, 320–328 (2011).

[2] Standring, S. Gray’s Anatomy, the Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice. (Elsevier Limited, 2016). doi:

[3] Jones, E. Best Hair Growth Products & Treatments for Men & Women. (2019).

[4] Spa810. IPL vs Laser Hair Removal. (2020).

[5] Smoothskin. IPL VS. LASER: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? (2019).

[6] Williams, S. Ask the expert: how does IPL work? (2020).

[7] Phlips. Philips Lumea Prestige: de slimme ontharingsoplossing voor het hele lichaam. (2017).

[8] Mayo Clinic Staff. Laser hair removal - Mayo Clinic.

[9] Rennert, J. Laser Hair Removal: Everything You Need to Know Before Booking an Appointment. Vogue

[10] Hering, A. Everything you need to know before getting laser hair removal. Cosmopolitan (2019).

[11] L'épilation laser définitive avec la technologie LightSheer.

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