Home IPL machines vs. salon laser hair removal: which is better?

Clara V.
Clara V.Published on 16 Aug 2021

With summer rolling around, we may be starting to bare our skin a lot more, and for some of us, this also means a frantic attempt to tame the hair we let grow over the colder months. While some people opt for shaving, others turn to trying permanent hair removal at home.

Gone are the days when we left all kinds of more permanent hair removal to the professionals. IPL machines are now sold everywhere, and brands are claiming that their devices can achieve the same results as a salon treatment.

But how does an IPL machine that you use at home stack up against laser treatment at a clinic? And can you really achieve salon-worthy results at home?

We explore the differences between the two so that you can choose a hair removal method that gives you smooth skin that lasts.

A woman in a green jumper using an IPL machine to remove hair from her legs

What's the difference between IPL and laser therapy?

First things first, using an IPL machine and getting a laser treatment at a salon are two different treatments. IPL machines are often mistakenly dubbed as laser hair removal machines, but this isn’t technically true.

While both IPL and laser target the melanin in the hair follicle, IPL uses Intense Pulsed Light to do this, which is a broad-spectrum light, while laser uses a single wavelength or colour of light going in one direction.

You can read our IPL Machine Buying Guide to learn more about how an IPL machine works.

Which is better for my skin tone and hair colour?

In the past, only people with light skin and dark hair could do laser hair removal, but technology has changed with the times, and now anyone can do laser therapy, including those with dark skin and those with light hair.

The advantage of getting a professional laser treatment is that the wavelength of a laser machine can be altered to suit dark skin and dark hair, whereas the light of IPL would be absorbed by both of these.

Most IPL machines don’t suit people with very dark skin tones, or those with white, grey, light blonde, or red hair. That's why it’s generally recommended that people with light hair or darker skin tones opt for laser.

An IPL machine should adjust its settings to suit your skin. There are many cheaper IPL machines that don’t have a skin tone sensor, meaning users have to use charts to manually determine the energy level that’s safest for them to use. If you’re worried about user error impacting your treatment, then you may not get as much peace of mind using one of these devices than if you receive a salon treatment or invest in a high-quality device.

The Elettra IPL Hair Removal Device has safety sensors that allow it to only flash on skin tones it can treat, as does the Remington i-LIGHT PRO+ Face & Body IPL Machine.

Elettra's IPL Hair Removal Device.

Comparing the costs and treatment times

How much does getting laser hair removal cost?

A single laser hair removal session at a salon can set you back anywhere from $20 to over $500, depending on the clinic you visit and how big the area you’re treating is. You’ll typically need at least 10 sessions to completely get rid of hair from the desired area of your body, at roughly 6 to 8 week intervals.

How much does an IPL machine cost?

An IPL device can cost anywhere from $199 to $899, with most better known models starting from $350. While the initial cost may be high, there aren’t any ongoing costs, and these machines can last you years, even decades.

However, you’ll likely need to use it more often than you would need to visit the salon - every 2 weeks is generally advised.

Are the results the same?

As a trade-off for the higher price tag, the results you get from laser treatment generally mean you’ll need fewer top-ups between sessions, plus you’ll save the hassle and headache of trying to figure out how to use an IPL machine yourself.

Keeping in mind that treatment times vary from person to person, most IPL manufacturers will say that it takes about 3 months for you to start seeing results. However, this figure just means that some of your hairs are permanently gone, not all of them.

Some factors that can affect your results include:

  • your skin and hair colour (it works best on light skin and dark hair)
  • the thickness of your hair
  • your genetics
  • the configuration of the IPL machine itself
  • any conditions you have (conditions like hirsutism, for example, can mean more persistent hair growth)

IPL can give you the same results as laser treatments if you follow your regime closely and do the required top-ups. While this may seem like more work (and planning) for you, keeping on top of your at-home treatment will mean you’ll be rewarded with more savings - plus you can save the time it takes travelling to and from the salon.

Is IPL or laser more painful?

Getting a laser treatment is likened to having a rubber band snapped against your skin, while IPL produces a warm sensation on the skin. While IPL may be slightly less painful for most, both treatments don’t have a high pain rating.

With that being said, pain might be more of a concern for people who are sensitive to pain.

Take comfort into account

At a salon, you’ll be in your underwear if you’re removing hair from the legs and bikini line. Some people may not like a stranger up close and personal, however if you’re used to getting waxed then this may not be an issue for you. Quick treatments also mean that your sessions can be over in a flash.

While side effects of laser hair removal are rare, some people also like the reassurance of having an expert nearby to give them adequate support and aftercare - whether or not something goes wrong.

If you’re leaning towards using an IPL machine at home, remember that you’ll need to zap the areas yourself. This might mean doing some moves that verge on contortionism to reach difficult areas like the backs of your legs, your bikini line, and butt. Some IPL users easily work around this by having a helpful assistant on hand if they’re not in the mood for awkward yoga-like poses.

The bottom line

Both IPL at home and getting laser done in a salon are effective semi-permanent hair removal methods, but the right treatment for you will largely depend on your skin tone, hair colour, and what you care about when removing hair.

For some, best results means the shortest treatment time, while others may find that a longer treatment is worthwhile if it means that they can save a few extra dollars. Taking a moment to think about what matters to you will help you settle on the right method to get you silky smooth skin just in time for summer.

You can compare IPL machines and read reviews on the best IPL hair removal devices here.