Age, sun, and stress leave their marks on our skin, causing our complexion to become less vibrant over time. If you’ve considered rejuvenating your skin by getting rid of age spots, acne scars, and other signs of skin aging, you’ve likely heard of IPL (also known as photofacial) and laser treatments. While both IPL and lasers are able to treat common skin concerns, there are some important differences between the two, which we’re here to help you understand.
IPL and laser treatment similarities
Before we dive into the differences between IPL and laser treatments, let’s look at their similarities.
- Both IPL and lasers use light to heat and destroy skin blemishes.
- Both IPL and lasers can remove unwanted hair.
- Both IPL and lasers emit light that is absorbed by melanin, a pigment in the skin that determines the lightness or darkness of skin and hair.
IPL and lasers can both be used to treat the following skin conditions:
- Age spots
- Discoloration caused by acne
- Vascular lesions, such as spider veins, birthmarks, and broken blood vessels
- Sun damage
- Unwanted facial and/or body hair
IPL skin treatment
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatment uses a broad spectrum of light with multiple wavelengths. Contrary to popular belief, IPL is not a laser. Unlike lasers, IPL devices “flash” when they treat the skin due to the various wavelengths of light (seen individually as different colors) forming a single, white-ish color.
The energy used in IPL devices is also weaker and less focused than a laser, which makes it a versatile technology for treating the skin. In fact, the IPL device’s wavelength, fluence (the energy delivered per unit area), number, duration, and delay of pulses can be customized for each patient, making it a go-to technology for many cosmetic practices.
What does IPL treat?
IPL is most effective at treating unwanted hair, hyperpigmentation, rosacea, freckles, and vascular lesions.
Pros of IPL
- IPL can treat a wider range of skin conditions than lasers.
- IPL handpieces have a larger surface area than most lasers, making it more efficient to treat a broader area of skin.
- IPL treatments tend to be less expensive than laser treatments.
- IPL recovery is typically faster than laser treatments.
- IPL treatments tend to be more affordable than laser treatments.
- IPL treatments have lower complication risks because their light is less concentrated.
Cons of IPL
- IPL treatments are typically not as effective as lasers.
- More IPL treatments are needed than laser treatments.
- IPL is not effective or safe for treating darker skin tones, as dark skin is apt to over-absorb IPL’s light energy.
Popular IPL brands include Vasculaze by inMode and Lumecca by inMode. At Maningas Cosmetic Surgery, we use the Lumecca by inMode device because it is the most powerful IPL machine on the market (it delivers up to 3x more energy!), meaning fewer treatments are needed. And thanks to its large spot size and high pulse repetition rate, the Lumecca device is able to significantly reduce treatment time.
How much does IPL cost?
IPL treatments average $150-$425 per treatment, depending on the size of the treatment area.
Laser skin treatment
A laser uses a single spectrum of light, meaning it treats skin with just one wavelength. The energy in lasers is also hyper-focused, making them very effective for treating specific skin conditions. Depending on their wavelength, lasers can be geared towards treating the skin’s surface or towards treating deep layers of skin (without disturbing surface layers).
Ablative vs non-ablative lasers
Lasers can also be ablative or non-ablative; let’s learn about the differences.
Ablative lasers remove surface layers of skin, prompting the body to create a healthy new layer of skin, and stimulate collagen production in deeper layers of the skin. Ablative lasers provide more thorough skin rejuvenation, but they require a longer recovery period than non-ablative laser skin resurfacing.
Non-ablative lasers treat deep layers of skin without breaking the skin’s surface. Non-ablative lasers are also able to stimulate collagen production deep within the skin. This class of lasers tends to work more gradually and thus may require multiple treatments to deliver the desired results.
Fractional lasers utilize beams of light that are spaced further apart than other lasers so that a smaller portion, or “fraction,” of your skin’s surface is affected, requiring less downtime. You can think of a fractionated laser as somewhere in-between an ablative and non-ablative laser in terms of the amount and depth of skin that is treated.
Pros of lasers
- Results from laser treatments typically last longer than IPL treatments.
- Lasers require fewer and less frequent follow-up treatments than IPL.
- Lasers are able to treat more specific skin concerns than IPL.
- Lasers are able to treat deeper layers of skin to promote collagen production, making them more effective at skin resurfacing.
- Non-ablative fractional lasers can be used safely to treat darker skin tones.
Cons of lasers
- Laser treatments are more expensive than IPL treatments.
- Lasers are limited to the conditions they can treat based on their wavelength.
- Lasers have a smaller spot size than IPL devices, meaning they aren’t able to treat as large a surface area.
- Laser treatment is usually considered more uncomfortable than IPL treatment since the light in a laser is more concentrated.
- Laser treatments have slightly more downtime than IPL treatments.
Types and brands of lasers
There are numerous types and brands of lasers currently used for cosmetic skincare. Here are some of the most common, sorted by shortest to longest wavelength
Alexandrite lasers are able to penetrate deep beneath the skin’s surface to treat pigmented lesions without bruising. Alexandrite lasers are also commonly used for hair removal.
Pulsed dye lasers are non-ablative lasers that work by heating the skin and absorbing its pigments; one of the most popular is the Vbeam Perfecta by Candela. Pulsed dye lasers are most effective at treating superficial vascular lesions. Some patients do not like pulsed dye lasers because they apply a colored dye to the skin that can persist for a week or more.
Nd:YAG lasers use a high-energy wavelength to penetrate the skin’s deep layers, and therefore may be more useful in treating pigmented lesions in patients with darker skin tones. A popular brand of Nd:YAG laser is the Stellar M22 Multi-Spot Nd:YAG by Lumenis. One drawback of Nd:YAG lasers is that they aren’t absorbed by the skin as well as pulsed dye and Alexandrite lasers.
Er:YAG lasers, commonly called Erbium lasers, are popular for skin resurfacing; one well-known brand of Er:YAG laser is the MCL31 Dermablate by Asclepion. They are typically ablative but can also be non-ablative.
CO2 lasers have the longest wavelength of any cosmetic laser, allowing for the deepest possible skin penetration. CO2 lasers are incredibly precise, able to heat skin from deep below its surface without damaging surrounding tissue. Because of their precision, CO2 lasers are often used in surgical procedures. CO2 lasers are considered the gold-standard for skin resurfacing because of their effectiveness in treating advanced signs of skin aging.
We use the Lumenis AcuPulse CO2 laser at our practice for a few reasons: 1. it’s ablative, meaning it treats surface and deep layers of skin, and 2. it’s fractional, meaning it requires less downtime since the laser is dispersed across the treated skin in “fractions.”
How much does laser skin treatment cost?
Laser skin treatment prices vary depending on the intensity of the treatment and the type of laser used. At Maningas Cosmetic Surgery, laser skin resurfacing with our CO2 laser can range from $750-$3,300.
IPL and laser results are dependent on your provider
Many medspas now offer IPL and laser treatments but a lack of in-depth device knowledge and medical experience can make skin resurfacing and other treatments a high-risk choice. Whether you choose IPL or laser treatment to rejuvenate your skin, keep in mind that the most important factor in ensuring great results is your provider—which is why you should choose a board certified cosmetic surgeon with extensive knowledge and experience using light-based technologies to treat your skin.
Also, be wary of at-home IPL or laser devices, as these are often ineffective and can even be unsafe.
Rejuvenate your skin at Maningas Cosmetic Surgery
Dr. Talon Maningas is a board certified cosmetic surgeon helping his Joplin, Missouri patients achieve youthful, glowing skin. Dr. Maningas is aided by our expert aesthetician, MaKayla, in offering both IPL and laser treatments. To learn more about which non-surgical skincare treatment is right for you, contact us online or call (417) 437-0303.