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IPL vs laser hair removal – your questions answered

Gentle, and most importantly, long-term, hair removal is a priority treatment for many of our patients. Having the option to effectively manage unwanted hair, anywhere on the body, can help you feel confident and empowered.

Laser hair removal, along with intense pulsed light (or IPL) have been trusted methods of hair removal for decades. However, whilst there are similarities in their approach to hair removal, there are some distinctions in their efficacy and suitability for patients.

Here we explore these two treatments and explain the pros and cons of each.

Understanding how these treatments work

Both laser hair removal and IPL use light energy to disturb the melanin in the hair root to inhibit hair regrowth. However, the technology used in each treatment is significantly different.

Laser Hair Removal

Laser hair removal works by delivering a single, intense laser light directly into the root of the hair. 

The light targets the darker melanin pigment in the hair follicle, and the resulting heat that is generated disrupts the cells to inhibit hair growth.


Intense pulsed light treatment is not a laser treatment. Instead, IPL emits a broad spectrum of light compared to the more concentrated energy created by laser light. As a result, the IPL light spreads over a wider area when targeting the melanin pigment.

Accurate targeting of unwanted hair

Laser hair removal

The lasers emitted by this technology can precisely target melanin pigment in the hairs to generate heat, without heating the surrounding skin. This is possible because light is naturally absorbed by dark surfaces (the melanin) but reflected by lighter surfaces (the surrounding skin).


The nature of intense pulsed light results in a broader spectrum of light emitted. This method, which is less targeted, means that the intensity of the heat generated becomes diluted, because it’s being spread across a wider area of skin.

The importance of accurate targeting

In terms of accuracy in targeting unwanted hair, lasers can pinpoint their energy on the hair follicle, whilst ensuring that the surrounding skin is minimally affected.

Because, IPL treatment is broad spectrum, more of the surrounding skin is exposed to the light energy. The light cannot differentiate between the darker melanin pigment in the hair follicle, and darker areas of the skin such as deeper pigmentation or vascular legions (birthmarks). As a result, there is an increased risk of skin damage with IPL, such as burning, blistering and pigmentation changes.

Hair growth cycles and repeat treatments

Hair growth takes place in cycles, which means that at any point in time, some hair follicles are actively growing and some are resting.

When a hair follicle is resting, this is the period in between a hair falling out and the new growth cycle starting.

Laser hair removal and IPL are most effective when the hair is actively growing, so that enough light can be absorbed by the melanin pigment to disrupt regrowth.

This is why a series of treatments are needed to ensure that as many hairs as possible are treated during the growing phase.

Laser hair removal

With laser hair removal, you will usually need between six and eight treatments, with a six to ten week gap between each one. This guide is dependent on factors such as complexion, hair density and the area being treated.


Because IPL uses a broader spectrum of light energy, the intensity of the treatment is diminished, so fewer hair follicles are accurately targeted. This can lead to the patient requiring more sessions to ensure that all required hairs are removed.

Length of treatment session

Laser hair removal

The highly targeted nature of this treatment requires a meticulous approach that may take slightly longer, but really pays dividends. This can be seen in the immediate efficacy of results, and in the reduced number of treatment sessions required.


IPL devices use a larger pad to emit the broader spectrum of light, which can cover a larger area of skin more quickly. However, the less targeted approach means that the practitioner will often treat the same areas of skin more than once for optimum results.

Comfort during treatment

Your comfort during and after treatment is paramount, and there are some key aspects around this with both treatment options.

Laser hair removal

You might assume that the strength and concentration of the laser would be more painful. Modern lasers are equipped with additional technology to make treatment as comfortable as possible. At Melior Clinics, we use Cynosure’s light-based aesthetic lasers, which have a built-in cooling device to minimise discomfort.


Because IPL devices use a method through which the light is spread more broadly over the skin, any discomfort is easily managed for most patients.

Suitability for skin and hair types

There are certain factors that determine whether a patient is suitable for IPL or laser hair removal. Skin tone and hair colour are important considerations when choosing the treatment that is most suitable for you.

As a guide, the following patients tend to be unsuitable for both treatments:

  • Those with ginger, blonde or white hairs – these hair colours may respond poorly or not at all to treatment, due to the low levels of pigmentation present in the hair.
  • Patients with a recent sun tan.
  • Patients with a history of sensitivity to light-based treatments.
  • Patients with an active infection in the area to be treated.

Laser hair removal

Laser hair removal is more flexible than IPL when treating people with darker skin types such as Asian and Afro Caribbean skin. There are specialist Nd:YAG laser settings that can be used on the device to ensure safe and effective treatment.


IPL devices are more limited because they are not suitable for some darker skin types.


Laser hair removal

This method of hair removal uses very advanced technology, which is both safe and highly effective. As a result, treatment sessions tend to be more expensive, but this is balanced by the efficacy in the longer term. 


IPL is generally a less expensive approach to hair removal. However, patients can expect to require a larger number of treatments overall to achieve their required results.

Laser hair removal at Melior Clinics

Dan Whitfield
Daniel Whitfield, Senior Aesthetic Rejuvenation and Laser Specialist at Melior Clinics

At Melior Clinics we use Cynosure’s light-based laser aesthetic technology. This device brings a huge number of benefits for our patients when compared with IPL. For example:

  • 90% of our patients report permanent hair loss after 3 to 6 sessions,
  • we can adjust settings to particular skin tones and hair colour, and
  • the treatment is very precise. We can accurately target dark, coarse hairs or smaller areas whilst leaving your surrounding skin undamaged.

Find out more about our range of laser hair removal packages to suit every requirement. To book your laser hair removal appointment, you can book online, call 0330 024 1300 or email