IPL and Lasers: The Main Differences and Things To Consider

Most people have a vague idea of what lasers or IPL are and what they can do for the skin. However, the terms are often used interchangeably yet, when it comes to skin resurfacing, they are two  very different procedures. Let me explain.

First, lasers. Two terms that really explain the essential difference between lasers and IPL are ablative and nonablative. Traditional lasers are ablative meaning that they are essentially burning a few layers of the skin off (the epidermis).Note: there are non-ablative lasers like Fraxel re:fine® that I’ll discuss in a future post.

What Can An Ablative Laser Treatment Do For The Skin?  Ablative lasers remove the epidermis and results can be dramatic. This procedure is appropriate for those with mature skin that have typical signs of aging such as lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation from sun damage. Scars from acne or another trauma can be reduced but deep scars won’t completely disappear.

Procedure: Ablative Laser Treatments are ONLY performed by licensed medical doctors (dermatological surgeons) who are trained in that specific field. Depending on the specific laser treatment the patient may be given only a local anesthetic on the area to be ablated. The light beam emitted from lasers is “coherent” meaning that it shoots in one straight line targeting one small spot at a time.Skin is cleansed and prepped. Depending on area to be covered the procedure can take anywhere between half an hour-2 hours.

Pain: there is typically more pain associated these lasers. Because they are ablative, meaning that the outer layers of the skin are being vaporized, the face is will be sore and tender -the face has been injured and is now a wound.


Downtime: After an ablative laser resurfacing procedure the skin looks and feels like it has been badly sunburned. Immediately after the procedure a doctor or nurse will apply ointment and bandages to treated areas to protect the new skin. The doctor or nurse will provide information for home care. It may take several weeks for skin to completely heal. During this time, homecare is extremely important.

Cost: Ablative laser resurfacing treatments cost $400.00 and up (depending on area) and may require anywhere from 1-5 sessions depending on the particular laser and amount of damage being treated.

Here is a bit more info on ablative laser resurfacing: http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/laser-resurfacing/basics/what-you-can-expect/prc-20019469

Next, IPL

IPL: IPL is an abbreviation for Intense Pulsed Light. IPL is a non-ablative treatment that uses broadband, broad spetrum light to reach its target. IPL works by scattering, absorbing, reflecting, and transmitting heat and light in the outer layers of the skin. Light from IPL is “non-coherent” meaning that once the light is in the skin it spreads rather than staying in one small area.

What IPL  Can Do For The Skin: Intense Pulsed Light is used both in skin care and hair Sharplight-ForMax-Plusremoval, but for the purpose of this post I’m going to stick to its uses in skin care. IPL uses broadband light to reach its target. Unlike ablative lasers, IPL can “filter light spectrum to target various chromophores in the skin. ” Um…what? It just means that the machine can be set to emit only a certain colour to target a certain concern. Here’s an example: if a client comes in and wants an IPL treatment for skin rejuvenation then the machine can be set to reflect yellow light-the colour that tells skin to start producing new collagen. IPL can be filtered to target acne, pigmentation, vascular disorders like rosacea, and skin rejuvenation for anti aging.

Procedure: IPL treatments are typically performed by a medical aesthetician or skin care therapist, meaning a person who has been trained in the proper uses and protocols of various treatments including, but not limited to IPL and chemical peels. The medical aesthetician or skin care therapist will first consult with the client to gauge his/her skin care needs and expectations.  A thorough review of the medical form filled out by the client allows the therapist to see if there are any contraindications to the treatment and also helps them to make an informed decision about how to proceed with the client to achieve optimum results. The therapist will cleanse area(s) to be treated and then cover both the client’s and his/her eyes (because the light is super bright!) If it’s your first IPL treatment ever the therapist will do a “test-patch”; this allows the therapist to see how the client’s skin responds and also alleviates any anxiety the client may have about how the treatment feels.

Pain: Because of technological advancements over the years there is minimal to no pain associated with IPL for skin care. At most the client may experience some heat as the treatment progresses-this is normal.

Downtime: There is no downtime! Woo!

Cost: Here in Toronto a single IPL facial can typically cost $150.00. However, because IPL treatments usually require anywhere from 3-8 treatments  to see optimum results (depending on area and concern) they are usually offered in packages, for example:  3 treatments over 3 months.

Sources: Skin Care III Text Book, George Brown College. Toronto, Ontario. 2014.

Leave a Reply