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Dr. Alpana Mohta Ranka, MD, DNB, IFAAD, is a dual-board-certified dermatologist with over 90 research publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.


IPL vs Laser Hair Removal: Dermatologist's Opinion on Light-Based At-Home Devices

Updated: May 4

I often encounter patients seeking advice on at-home hair removal options like intense pulsed light (IPL) systems. The burgeoning market of light-based home-use devices (HUDs) for hair removal offers a convenient, cost-effective alternative to professional treatments.

This article is intended to be your cheat sheet for those new to this technology. We will discuss how HUDs work, their effectiveness, and what to expect in terms of results.

Image of a person using a light-based at-home hair removal device

Additionally, I'll highlight various products available and address common questions, drawing on clinical data and my professional experience.

Light-based HUDs are popular among women for managing body peach fuzz, ensuring smooth skin, and addressing hair growth due to hormonal changes. For men, these techniques help reduce ingrown hairs caused by shaving.

How Do Light-Based Devices Work?

Light based devices like lasers and intense pulsed light (IPL) systems produce a concentrated beam of light by energizing atoms in a material like gas or crystal. This energized state causes the atoms to release photons (light particles) in a unified and controlled manner.

When aimed at the skin, lasers and IPL target specific components like melanin by using particular wavelengths of light that melanin absorbs more effectively than surrounding tissues. This selective absorption allows lasers to precisely target and affect melanin-rich areas, such as in hair removal or treating pigmented lesions, without significantly damaging surrounding skin.

What's the Difference Between Laser and IPL?

Light Source and Precision

The main difference between laser and IPL lies in the light source used. Lasers use a single wavelength of light, making them more precise. The most commonly used lasers for hair removal are diode laser, long pulsed Nd:YAG laser and triple wavelength diode laser.

In contrast, IPL emits a wide range of light wavelengths between 500-1200 nm, resulting in a more diffused and less intense effect, which may not be as precise in targeting individual hair follicles.

Effectiveness and Session Requirements

While both are effective for hair removal, lasers give faster, more targeted and longer lasting results. IPL, on the other hand, requires more sessions compared to laser hair removal to achieve the desired results.

Suitability for Different Hair and Skin Types

Lasers are suitable for removing black or dark brown hair across various skin tones, especially when there's a contrast between hair and skin color. On the other hand, IPL is more effective for people with light to medium skin tones and dark hair, and it can also target light brown hair. However, neither IPL nor laser treatments work well on blonde, grey, red, or white hair.

Professional Use vs. At-Home Treatments

Lasers are generally more powerful and are the preferred choice in professional settings. However, laser systems are very bulky and require an expert for treatment sessions, making them impractical for at-home usage. Conversely, IPL devices are more budget-friendly, portable, and user-friendly, making them ideal for at-home treatments.

An image showing the difference between IPL and Laser

Do At-Home Light-Based Devices Work?

Clinical evidence suggests that at-home light-based devices can effectively reduce hair growth. All light-based HUDs are essentially portable IPL systems. Although not as powerful as professional systems, these devices have evolved to provide significant hair reduction. They operate at lower fluences, making them safe for home use while still effective.

My experience with patients has shown satisfactory results, especially when used consistently as per the manufacturer's guidelines.

How does IPL Work?

IPL for hair removal works on the principle of selective photothermolysis, a process where light energy is used to target and damage specific structures without harming surrounding tissue.

In IPL treatments, a broad spectrum of light with multiple wavelengths is emitted, unlike the single wavelength used in laser hair removal. This light is absorbed primarily by the melanin pigment in hair follicles. Melanin is responsible for giving hair its color, and it's this absorption that converts light energy into heat.

When the melanin in hair follicles absorbs the IPL's light energy, it is transformed into heat, elevating the temperature of the hair follicle. This heat damages the cells in and around the follicle responsible for hair growth, specifically the hair bulb and the hair matrix.

The goal of this thermal injury is to disrupt the hair growth cycle, leading to the delayed regrowth of hair.

Results to Expect

The efficacy of IPL is influenced by several factors, including hair color, skin type, and the intensity of the light pulses. Results vary based on individual hair type and color. Patients with fair skin and dark coarse hair have the best contrast and, therefore, respond best to IPL.

For effective results, multiple sessions are usually required, targeting hair at different stages of the growth cycle.

Patients should expect a gradual reduction in hair growth. Initially, these changes might include thinner, lighter hair before significant reduction is observed.

Regular monthly touch-ups are crucial for maintaining results, and some patients might require periodic touch-up sessions. Clinical studies indicate that while complete and permanent hair removal is rare, significant long-term reduction is achievable.

How to Choose the Best IPL Hair Removal Device

When recommending my patients to choose the best at-home laser hair removal devices, I suggest considering the following factors:

  1. Skin Compatibility: Evaluate you device by properly reading the label and specifications in order to assess its suitability for your specific skin type and skin tone. This is crucial as laser hair removal relies on contrasting hair and skin pigmentation, and not all devices are effective on all combinations.

  2. Number of Flashes: The number of flashes in an IPL device refers to the total count of light pulses that the device can emit over its lifetime. This number will directly relate to the device's longevity and value over time. Each flash represents a pulse of light used during the hair removal process. The higher the number of flashes, the longer the device can be used before the light source needs replacement.

  3. Price: Hair removal HUDs are a big investment due to their complex usage and significant cost associated with their purchase. Therefore, give preference to devices recommended by dermatologists.

  4. FDA Approval: FDA clearance for an IPL device means it has been evaluated and deemed safe and effective for its intended purpose by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This label should offer you a level of assurance about the device's safety and effectiveness.

What are the Best At-Home Hair Removal Devices?

The market offers a range of light-based HUDs for hair removal, catering to different needs and budgets. Here are my top recommendations from FDA-cleared HUDs:

Best At-Home Hair Removal Device

Braun Silk Expert Pro 5 IPL Machine

This IPL device, a personal and popular choice, delivers rapid results within four weeks. It offers three sensitivity modes for a more comfortable experience. The device, built for extensive home use, comes with a capacity of 400,000 flashes.

Best Cordless Hair Removal Device

Sensica Sensilight Pro IPL Hair-Removal Device

It features both automatic and manual modes, suitable for quick hair removal and offers two heads for different areas.

This IPL device offers unlimited flashes, and is recommended for both facial and body use, with two light window sizes. However, it might take slightly longer to see visible results with this one.

Best Budget-Friendly Hair Removal Device

Kenzzi IPL Laser Hair Removal Handset

This one offers five adjustable power settings to cater to various skin tones, hair colors, and pain thresholds. Regular use following the instructions should yield results in about five weeks.

It's facial-friendly with five intensity levels. However, I wouldn't recommend it for deep or dark skin tones.

Best Hair Removal Device for Bikini Area

Nood The Flasher 2.0

This device is specifically adept for bikini line hair removal. This device is very gentle yet effective making it ideal for bikini area. It works well for coarser hair, though results may take longer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are At-Home Light-Based Devices Safe?

Yes, at-home HUDs are very safe when used as directed. They come with built-in safety features like skin tone sensors and auto-lock functions to prevent misuse. However, you must follow all the instructions carefully and do a patch test to check for adverse reactions.

Can All Skin and Hair Types Use These Devices?

Most at-home devices work best on light to medium skin tones with dark hair. They are less effective on lighter hair colors like blonde, red, or gray. Also, they are not recommended for very dark skin due to the risk of skin injury.

How Long Does It Take to See Results?

Results vary, but you should start seeing a reduction in hair growth after 2-3 treatments, with more noticeable results after a 4-5 months of regular use.

Is IPL Hair Removal Permanent?

While light-based hair removal can lead to significant hair reduction, it's not a permanent solution. You can expect noticeable reduction in hair growth after 3 to 7 treatments, done every 2 to 4 weeks. Hair reduction can be around 50-75% within 6 months of consistent use. However, maintenance sessions are needed every 3-4 months to manage regrowth, as some follicles may recover over time.

Can These Devices Be Used on Any Body Part?

Most devices are versatile and can be used on various body parts, including the face, legs, arms, underarms, and bikini area. However, you must always use devices specifically designed for sensitive areas when treating the face or bikini line.


As advancements in light-based technology continue, at-home devices for hair removal are becoming an increasingly viable option for many individuals. They offer a convenient, cost-effective alternative to professional treatments, with a growing body of clinical evidence supporting their efficacy and safety.

However, you must have realistic expectations, understand your skin and hair type compatibility, and commit to regular use for the best results.

As a dermatologist, I recommend these devices to patients looking for a practical solution for hair reduction, with the caveat that professional consultation is advisable, especially before starting the use of HUDs.

Before you go...

We just learned how light-based devices can help with hair removal.

Did you know that you can use a different type of light-based device to help with hair growth? Check out my article to learn about using LED devices to aid hair growth.


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