Laser vs IPL? Technology to enhance the appearance and texture of skin

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Light technology

There is nothing new in usage of light technology in general and lasers in particular for enhancing the appearance and texture of skin. A huge variety of non invasive rejuvenation treatments and techniques are available in the aesthetic industry these days. In this article we will concentrate on methods based on the use of non-ablative lasers or intense light. Non-ablative means that the skin surface does not get burnt off.

You can check for more details on ablative and non-ablative lasers categorization in the previous articles.

Problems like broken capillaries, redness, facial flushing, excessive hair growth and some types of abnormal pigmentation can be resolved and treatments are based on the same principle called selective photothermolysis.

Photothermolysis explained

Fundamentally, a targeted beam of light selectively heats up and therefore damages a particular skin structure without damaging the surrounding tissue. The targeted damage and the resulting healing response may produce cosmetic improvements, such as skin tightening, wrinkle reduction, dissolution of spider veins and some pigmented spots. It can also reach the hair follicle and create enough heat in the root to kill the structure, resulting in progressive lifelong hair reduction.

This principle of selective photothermolysis is possible due to capacity of lasers and some other light based devices, such as IPL, to produce intense light with a particular wavelength/s.

Wavelength of light determines how deep that beam of light will penetrate into skin and what skin structures it will be attracted to and strike. Depending on the wavelength selection, one can target stratum corneum, epidermis, upper or lower dermis.

The technology can be manipulated to target oxyhemoglobin to treat blood vessels, spider veins and rosacea. It can target melanin (pigment in hair and skin) to treat pigmented lesions and hair (shorter wavelength will go for the skin while longer wavelengths will target hair follicles). If the target is the dermis, you'll get a huge boost in collagen and elastin fibres production in your skin resulting in tremendous changes to skin’s texture, colour and appearance.

Generally, each type of cosmetic laser or photo devices works within a particular range of wavelengths which allows targeting a particular problem and reduces side effects. Let’s look at green light: it is absorbed by hemoglobin in red blood cells and causes targeted heating of blood vessels. Therefore, it is used specifically for treatment of spider veins, facial flushing (in rosacea) and other vascular conditions.

lasers vs IPL

There is an important difference between the light generated by lasers and pulsed light photo devices, (lasers vs IPL). Lasers emit the so-called coherent light (synchronized light waves of the same wavelength), providing very specific and intense targeted energy delivery to a particular skin structure. IPL on the other hand, emit a spectrum of various wavelengths of light. To improve targeting and specificity, IPL uses special filters to remove unwanted wavelengths and keep only those in the required narrow range.

Since the same device can be used with different filters, a single such system may be suitable for treating a number of different conditions by using different filter and intensity settings. This makes pulsed light systems more versatile.

Coherent (laser) light can be extremely harmful to the eyes. Let's compare light bulb with laser, both emitting 1W optical power. Say there is a 1 meter distance between our eyes and the light source. The quantity of light coming from the laser would be increased by a factor of 100,000 compared to the light quantity from the bulb (this assumes a normally dilated pupil diameter of 7 mm – i.e. eyes adapted to darkness).

As the light quantity of a laser that hits the eye is concentrated on a much smaller spot any tissue in the focus of the light will be heated up and very quickly destroyed. Since the fovea (responsible for sharp central vision and located on the retina) also has a size of just a few micrometers, it is possible to lose one’s eyesight by one single laser pulse. Pulsed Light is not collimated and light spreads in all directions, so there is much less light actually entering the eye. IPL emits non-coherent light so there is no focusing to a tiny spot of concentrated energy on the retina.

In summary

IPL devices are safer to the eye than laser devices. Having said that, regardless of whether it’s Laser or IPL that is used the operator should follow standard safety procedures while treating eg. everybody in the treatment room must wear safety goggles that are specific to the wavelength and power of the specific source of laser radiation of the particular laser in use etc.

Additionally, pulsed light IPL systems usually have a larger spot size. This gives greater depth of penetration of the light, so they can treat deep terminal hairs. It also means they are much faster to work with.

Successful treatment by laser or IPL is based on

  • an understanding of the physics of light
  • the wavelengths
  • depth of penetration of the light
  • pulse durations
  • cooling of the skin
  • anatomy and physiology of hair and skin

If you're thinking about have any IPL or laser hair procedure done it's very important to know what works. In addition make sure your aesthetic consultant has all the answers for successful treatments so you can achieve the best possible results.

You can always rely on us and we can help you to achieve your goal.



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