What Is the Difference Between IPL and Laser Treatment?

While IPL and Laser treatments both use intensely directed light to treat skin conditions from sun spots, to broken capillaries, to removal of tattoos, IPL and Laser treatments are not created equal. When you visit a med spa to improve your skin condition, you may inquire about laser treatments that could help.

IPL stands for intense pulsed light. The short blasts of polychromatic high-intensity light penetrate just below the surface of the skin. According to Greg Absten the executive director of The Laser Training Institute IPL is a “broad shot-gun approach to skin conditions.” He goes on to say “It’s not the best at any one thing, but it works pretty well.”

Lasers are able to target a single condition by using a high-powered, directed beam of intense coherent light on a specific wavelength. Mr. Absten calls this the “riffle approach.” When a specific skin condition is being treated, lasers are the best option as they are able to penetrate deeper into the skin to the heart of the condition and are specialized enough to leave surrounding tissue undamaged. For broad spectrum skin conditions, IPL may be the solution. However if you’re looking to treat something more specific such as a specific sun spot or to remove a tattoo, lasers may be the best option.

When it comes to tattoo removal, lasers especially q-switched Nd:YAG lasers are the gold standard. Multiple wavelengths will be required to remove a variety of colors, but the specialization of lasers allows for pigment to be broken up without causing permanent damage to the skin in most cases.   While IPL treatments are able to destroy pigment in a tattoo, they are not focused enough to penetrate into the dermis where the majority of the ink resides. Also as they are not as specialized as lasers, the risk for scarring is more common with IPL treatments than with laser treatments.