Laser vs IPL

Recently I got banned from commenting on an ad, by Hey Silky Skin Co., on Facebook. These ads have been plaguing my feed incessantly that I decided to check out this little “laser at home” device. As I was scrolling through countless comments, the utter confusion among the consumers rampant and a company not willing to be honest about their product was disturbing to me. (In all honesty, it does not take a lot to disturb me) It was time to chime in and hopefully clarify some of the misconceptions.

The company responded to my inquiry about the lack of safety googles and nothing about what was being used in the device as the exciting medium. Of course not, their device is a strong lightbulb, why would you need eye protection? Which brings me to my point, making the consumer aware of what they are purchasing under the guise of a “laser”.

Shall we have a little comparison? It’s fair to first establish a few major differences between “laser” and “IPL” to help us better understand applications of each. Theory of light therapy is vast, I know, I teach it at a wonderful college here in Calgary. But to help anybody understand the basic principles of light I will only scratch the surface of the iceberg that is lasers and IPL.

First things first, what is light? Light is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This spectrum is a collection of ALL waves: ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, microwaves, radio waves, ×-rays, gamma rays.

Many scientists theorized and experimented to figure out the phenomena that is light. That is until Albert Einstein proposed light has the characteristics of both particles and waves. So, we now have tiny particles = Photons = energy bundles = traveling in an oscillating pattern (waves = wavelength). Imagine turning on an ordinary light. Those tiny particles scatter and “shower” us with light.

Pretty basic, right?

So, then what happens when amazing scientists can harness these particles into a high-powered, hand-held, computer-controlled FLASHGUN?

The result is a very intense, visible pulse of light. Hence, I.P.L. = Intense Pulsed Light. The resulting light has a variety of ranges (nanometers) that can be filtered out to perform a specific task. The job is always the same, based on the principle, that light is attracted to dark and since dark absorbs that energy, the result is heat.

To be more specific, the light will focus its attention to a molecule (chromophore) that gives tissue/ mass its color and this chromophore (ex. Melanin in hair/skin) absorbs the light until enough heat is created to coagulate (kill, zap, cook) the target.

Here is the thing, in order to understand how light therapy can be applied to the human body for a variety of therapeutic, medical and cosmetic purposes, you also need to learn about human anatomy. That is not the purpose of this article, not today.

Back to I. P. L., it is:

                1. Scattered (polychromatic = multiple colors)

                2. Covers large areas quickly

                3. Less pain

                4. More affordable

 Theory of light remains the same, regardless of technology or equipment. It comes down to how this light is “packaged” and delivered. Which brings me to LASER. It is an acronym for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

Easiest way to remember this, we need to have a medium/lasing/excitation material to excite and help multiply our lovely energy bundles (photons) until enough are produced to form a powerful beam of light, to perform the same treatments, or like I.P.L.

Which brings me to the characteristics of L.A.S.E.R.

                1. Monochromatic (single colour)

                2. Collimated (parallel to one another)

                3. Coherent (consistent)

True laser technology will deliver a high energy output that uses those deeper wavelengths of the spectrum. Meaning, because the beam is small in diameter, with all the photons traveling tightly bound together in the same direction, the beam is capable of deeper penetration, and in terms of what that means for human skin can be quite damaging, (yes, we injure the skin on purpose and rely on our injury healing mechanism to force regeneration) more reason to understand human anatomy!

So, there we have it. Plain and not quite so simple.

Hey Silky Skin Co., like many over the counter products was designed to have the energy of a flashbulb that emits about 4.9 Joules/cm2 if you are lucky. The more you use your handheld device the weaker the energy output. Did you really think they would allow high amounts of energy in the hands of the public?

Could you imagine the lawsuits in the making? I can!

Before I reach my conclusion, I would like to apologize to the clients and customers worldwide, on behalf of all trained and highly skilled laser technicians, on receiving less than stellar results and often time painful and scarring treatments caused due to lack of education and training. Our industry is unregulated, and anyone can get their hands-on light therapy equipment. If you have the money you too can buy and operate a laser/IPL. Unfortunately. Back to Hey Silky Skin Co., this device will not produce satisfactory results, not long term and my biggest concern is that our overwhelmed landfills will be plagued as much as my social media feeds. I will recover, this planet is the only one we have, please consider carefully if buying this hand-held device and save your money for proper treatments.


4 thoughts on “Laser vs IPL

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  3. Enjoyed reading this and the actual reasoning/data you provide! Is it safe to say, then, that you think no IPL at home treatments can be effective? Or do you just take issue with the Hey Silky Skin Co for their failure to provide more information on their product?

    I see that a different IPL device…the Silk’n device…underwent tests – any thoughts on this one?

    And that same article provides a table of at-home options available in the US for both 1) laser and 2) IPL.

    Is your point here, that anything IPL will not be effective, and that only the true laser devices will be? Trying to understand which is worth purchasing. Any further details much appreciated! I enjoyed reading this and feel I learned something regardless 🙂


    1. Sorry for taking so long to respond. I have been quite busy, and I also had an amazing vacation so I was away from devices for a while.
      Thank you for reading by the way 😊
      So then, in essence I have nothing against IPL. A well made, powerful IPL machine (not available for home use) will give quick and great results, when used properly and in the skilled hands of the technician. A skilled tech needs to be a skin expert as well as IPL/laser expert in order to custom treat each person to achieve the maximum results.
      At home handpieces are at best, bright flashlights that find pigment (hair color or skin color, whichever is darker of the two) and since light is attracted to dark, the end result is heat. Heat is what causes destruction in the form of coagulation. At home devices had to be designed to be safe for everyone, so at 4 joules per every cm2 of area, is simply not enough light energy to coagulate the target (hair bulb). In a clinic setting, I wouldn’t even treat dark skinned patients with that little energy. This is the reason why an at home device needs to be used frequently and for a long period of time, which most people get tired of, hence my comment on our landfills.
      I can tell you, the lowest IPL settings I have used on an East Indian client, for example would be around 12-14 joules with 20% overlap, where as the lightest of the fair skin types I can go as high as 24-30 joules, depending on the model and cooling factors. At 4 measly joules, everyone gets cheated of light energy, especially those that can absorb more safely.
      Laser is my favorite. Most people, when treated correctly, will have 70-90% reduction in as little as 6-8 sessions spaced apart 4-8 weeks (depending on the body part).
      Please remember, other than electrolysis, there is no permanent hair removal, and there will always be those 10-15% pesky hairs that just refuse to die.
      Hope this answers your question.


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