IPL vs. Fraxel: Which Works Best?

When it comes to cosmetic procedures, it seems like there is a new procedure introduced every month. Two of the latest procedures are Fraxel and intense pulsed light (IPL). Both of these procedures are intended primarily to give you clearer, smoother skin, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses. So which one works best for what you need? Let's take a look at each of these popular procedures.


Fraxel is the brand name for fractional laser treatments. The process uses a CO2 laser to stimulate collagen production, to smooth wrinkles and reduce the appearance of certain types of scars. The laser can also break up skin pigments to remove liver spots and other types of hyper-pigmentation, as well as kill hair follicles for hair removal.

Fraxel can take anywhere from three to six sessions to achieve results, and each session can cost an average of $1,000. You will need approximately one to two days of recovery time after a session, and most patients can return to their normal daily activities within 48 hours.

Possible side effects of Fraxel include:

  • peeling
  • dryness
  • swelling
  • redness
  • acne and fever blisters
  • scarring

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)

IPL uses pulses of adjustable light wavelengths to remove skin redness associated with rosacea, broken vessels, and acne. It also removes age spots, liver spots, and other types of hyper-pigmentation. IPL can be used for the treatment of wrinkles, but it is not as effective as the Fraxel laser for this. You can also use IPL for hair removal and to smooth your complexion (by shrinking your pores). Unlike lasers, IPL does not work on darker skin tones, and can even make hyper-pigmentation worse.

IPL can take several sessions to deliver the desired results, with roughly 30 days of rest between sessions. The average session costs $500, and most patients can return to their normal daily activities within 48 hours.

Possible side effects of IPL include:

  • peeling
  • dryness
  • swelling
  • redness
  • hyper-pigmentation in darker skin

Choosing between IPL and Fraxel

If you have darker skin, Fraxel is your best option. Although it is more expensive, you are less likely to experience skin discoloration from the procedure. Additionally, the laser is more likely to work for removing hair, especially from dark skin tones.

If you have lighter skin, IPL is your best option for most purposes. You might need more sessions, but IPL has a proven track record for removing skin discoloration and hyper-pigmentation. IPL is also better for removing hair from lighter skin tones.

If you are looking to reduce wrinkles or minimize scars, lasers are the best bet for all skin types. Lasers have a proven track record; while IPL has been shown to be effective in some cases, though not consistently. Fraxel lasers can also remove some tattoos while IPL is contraindicated for tattoo removal.

Ultimately, if you have concerns about which procedure is best for you and your individual needs, you should contact a cosmetic surgeon or other licensed cosmetic professional.

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