IPL vs. Laser Hair Removal: What’s More Effective?

IPL vs. Laser Hair Removal

Many of us are juggling intense careers and families. This can be overwhelming giving us less time to dedicate to a regular beauty regime.

For me, especially, waxing was becoming my main beauty chore, and I was getting more and more frustrated going through the process of waxing.  With my busy schedule, I wanted to see what options were available for permanent hair loss. However, I’ve never been too sure what’s the most effective treatment IPL or laser.  The high price has always been a factor too, but with the introduction of sites like Wowcher; the market has changed over the years – offering more affordable deals.

And so my 6-month journey into hair free bliss began back in October 2015.

What is the difference between IPL and Laser hair removal?

Hair removal has come a long way since the initial IPL beginnings. The good news is that we now have a far more effective hair removal offering available to us in the UK in the form of lasers.  It is also an effective treatment for women who want to get rid of excess hair due to hormonal issues that often results in excess hair growth.

IPL stands for intense pulsed light. It is a form of light therapy, used for various dermatological procedures including hair removal.

Unlike laser, which involves just one specific wavelength emitted from the diode depending on what area you’re targeting, IPL has multiple wavelengths (all between 500 and 1,200 nanometres) that scatter within the skin.

As with all light based treatments, IPL works by emitting a wavelength into the skin, which targets pigment in the hair removal process. Think of wearing a black top during the day. It absorbs heat, versus a white top which reflects it. The light is absorbed by the pigment in the hair. It then turns to heat which kills the growing cells that make the hair.

Hair has to be living for it to work, however, so you’re unable to wax between any hair removal treatment.

In my research and talking to laser experts, I was informed that IPL is far less effective than laser hair removal because the energy is produced by a lamp. A little like a light bulb, and produces a variety of light waves, meaning that it is more diffused and less powerful and gives very limited results only really working for those with fair skin and dark hair. All the specialists I spoke to said they see less effective hair reduction through a course of IPL.


The laser can be specifically targeted to someone’s exact pigment and hair colour by adapting the nanometre of the wavelengths. For example, brown hair is zapped at 800 nanometres.

My experience

I opted for laser treatment and decided to trial some different areas of the body in a variety of clinics across London including; ProSkin Clinics and Linia on Harley Street.

The areas I had treated included; full leg, face, Brazilian and underarms. I began with a package of 6 treatments on all these areas with a gap of around 5/6 weeks between sessions to allow for the natural hair-growth cycle to take place.

All in all, my treatments were successful, and I noticed a smoothness in the regrowth after only one session. I was also surprised how quick the sessions are. For areas on the face, you’re in and out in about 10 minutes, for larger, multiple areas you’re looking at up to 90 minutes.

After my 6th treatment, I noticed a huge reduction in hair growth. When hair did grow through it was blonde and very fine. I decided to continue with some extra treatments in each area to ensure hair growth was permanent, and I’m extremely pleased with the results.

I would say for those with very coarse black hair may need up to 12 treatments. The specialists also advised top up sessions once a twice a year for any small regrowth.

Who is laser hair removal suitable for?
As long as you have dark hair and pale skin you can have light based hair removal. Some lasers will now treat hair removal on medium to dark skins, including the Nd: YAG laser, which has a slightly longer wavelength that is safe to use on darker skins, although it’s worth doing your homework to check the risks.

Sadly, for those with fair body hair, lasers can’t remove blonde, red, white or grey hair. The industry hopes to introduce some radio frequency or ultrasound treatments soon, but they’re not perfect yet, and they’re not called lasers currently. Be wary of clinics who tell you their laser can remove fair hair.

Is it painful?

I didn’t find it painful at all. In fact, I find waxing more painful (and I have a high pain threshold!)

I would say it feels like a moment of hot heat on you, but that passes quickly. Areas of the body that have thinner skin are slightly more painful than say the thighs. I found the Brazilian a little breathtaking at times, but it’s momentary and worth the small amount of pain for long-term hair loss.

According to experts, the laser is also less painful than IPL.

Most modern laser machines also come with a cooling fan to take the edge of the pain, while some clinics like Linia, Harley Street use a cooling gel before the treatment.  You might get temporary redness and scaling, however; it will fade, and I was lucky and had no reaction to the treatment.

How many sessions will I need?

The going rate for a laser session is six to 12 treatments.  But it varies hugely, depending on the body area you’re treating, hormonal growth, lifestyle and medication can affect how many bookings you’ll need.


Laser prices vary a lot, but at a reputable clinic, the average cost for treatments should be £160 for your lower leg, £90 for your bikini line, and £75 for your underarm.

If you work smart, then you will find some amazing deals on voucher sites. But, please do your research on the clinics before purchasing. Make sure they are qualified in what they do and that they offer a patch test before any treatment with them. Again look at their reviews online to check they’re the right place for you to carry out your treatment.

Wowcher & Living Social – I found some laser treatments for 6 sessions in one area from £39. Sign up now and keep a look out for deals across the Autumn and early 2017.

Important things to note As highlighted above, reputable clinics will require you to have a patch test on the areas you want to be treated before a first session, and your course of treatment takes place. You will need to wait at least 48 hours after before any proper treatment can take place after.

  • No waxing between sessions. Shaving, bleaching, trimming hair pre and in-between treatments is totally fine, “waxing and plucking, however, are not,” explains Thomas.
  • No body lotions, moisturisers or make-up should be worn on the skin before the treatment
  • Ideally, you should avoid sun exposure and fake tan for the duration of your treatment course. This is why the treatment is mainly carried out in the Autumn and winter time when people take fewer holidays in the sun. Reputable clinics will check with you’ve not had any sun exposure or applied fake tan four weeks before or after treatment. Your skin is highly sensitive to treatment and exposure can cause scarring from targeting the pigment in the skin
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding hair removal is not advised. Some medication or supplements (certain antibiotics, anti-depressants including St John’s Wort) can also cause hypersensitive skin, so hair removal is not advised
  • You will be required to wear protective glasses through your sessions to protect your eyes


To reduce hair growth after a course of treatment, consider Philips Lumea Essential BRI861/00 IPL Hair Removal System for Body. Available from Boots.


Buy now


Natalie is the founder and editor of Balanced Being. She is also an Ambassador for beat, the UK's leading eating disroder charity. Natalie provides wellbeing content and wellness reviews to the site.

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