With each passing year, more and more clinical-grade skincare and hair-growth treatments are becoming available for at-home use. Specifically, laser, LED, and IPL gadgets are clearing the rigorous FDA approval process at a high clip—and that’s great news for anyone who wants clearer, firmer, and brighter skin; a fuller head of hair; or smoother, hair-free skin. It’s also great news for anyone searching for a gift for a loved one.
For the curious consumer, it’s good to understand the various functions of these devices, as well as differentiate between your options. To help with this, we sought the expertise of board-certified dermatologist Heather Rogers, M.D., founder of Doctor Rogers Skincare as well as Seattle’s Modern Dermatology clinic. Below is Rogers’ framework for understanding the differences between LED, IPL, and other lasers, and how they can be applied to everything from wrinkles to acne scars and beyond.
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Lasers, LEDs, and IPL for Skin and Hair
Here are the key differences between the at-home devices that use lasers, LED, and IPL. However, Rogers says not to expect the same results from DIY devices that you would get from clinical treatments: “At-home devices will not work as well as [in-office treatments], but they are less expensive and easier to do. I find them complimentary,” she says. “I have patients use at-home IPL hair removal devices to improve and speed results from laser hair removal, and I love red light LED to maintain healthy beautiful skin as well as speed recovery after treatments.”
The Best At-Home Laser Devices
“Laser” is in fact an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. And in skin or hair treatment devices, Rogers says the mechanism is to emit a single, concentrated wavelength of light. “The energy is focused on a specific target, such as pigmented lesions, blood vessels or hair follicles—or water, when the laser is for resurfacing skin.” She adds that lasers are the most powerful of the three types of light emission; accordingly, they can penetrate the deepest into the skin, too. “Lasers are primarily used in medical practices for hair removal, tattoo removal, [mimizing the appearance of] blood vessels, and skin resurfacing. Different types of lasers target different skin concerns,” she explains. They are the least likely to be found in at-home devices because they are the strongest and most effective (and come with the most risks). Nevertheless, there are a handful of true laser devices you can get on the market today.
The Best for Anti-Aging
Nira offers one of the most efficient and effective ways to enjoy laser-level anti-aging benefits at home. Just slide its ergonomically designed device around your face for 3 to 5 minutes each day, and within a few months you’ll have firmer, clearer skin. It has five different intensity levels, so you can adjust its intensity if you find your skin is sensitive to its higher levels.
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The Best for a Brighter Complexion
Our test drive of the Lyma Laser proved that this device offers some seriously profound results in just a couple of months. A dedicated daily regimen can deliver brighter, glowing skin—as long as you have the patience to be consistent. While the company recommends treating your skin for up to an hour each day, I took a targeted approach for 10 to 15 minutes daily and still saw noticeable progress in my skin’s texture and appearance.
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The Best for Hair Fortification
This is arguably the best hair follicle laser cap on the market today, with 300 laser diodes to truly rival the experience of receiving low-level laser therapy in the hair clinic. A few minutes each day is all you need to fortify your follicles and ensure that hairs grow thicker and stay anchored better.
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The Best At-Home LED Devices
Devices that employ LEDs (light emitting diodes) use specific colors of light to stimulate different cellular responses, Rogers explains. “Each color penetrates the skin at different depths and has unique benefits.” For example, red light LEDs can stimulate collagen production, calm inflammation and improve uneven skin tone, while blue light LEDs can kill the bacteria that cause acne. (Though Rogers has warned me more than once that the blue LEDs can potentially miniaturize skin cells, so use those ones with caution, and consider alternate methods for acne mitigation.) “LEDs are the lowest energy and safest for all skin types,” Rogers adds.
The Best for Firmer, Brighter Skin
We recently wrote a love letter to this mask, which offers anti-aging and anti-acne light modes while simultaneously massaging the tired skin around your eyes. It also allows you to choose what kind of light you want to use depending on your needs: red for collagen production, blue for acne, or infrared for textural improvements.
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The Best for Hair Growth
A daily 10-minute session with this helmet will coach your scalp to produce thicker, fuller hairs, while also reviving dormant ones that were otherwise near extinction. As a bonus, there are Bluetooth headphones inside the cap, so you can listen to your favorite songs or podcast while it works.
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The Best Multitasker
This LED panel, designed for you to lay under, can trigger improvements in everything from collagen levels and eczema to aching joints and sore muscles, with three different wavelengths of light: Blue (for acne), red (for collagen), and near-infrared (for inflammation and cell regeneration). The last two modes can be combined to help improve your skin’s overall texture.
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The Best At-Home IPL Device
IPL stands for intense pulsed light, and IPL devices use a broad spectrum of light with multiple wavelengths, Rogers says. “Unlike lasers, which emit a single, focused beam, IPL devices release scattered wavelengths of light. It is versatile and can target a variety of skin issues, including pigmentation, vascular lesions, and hair removal.” Rogers says that IPL is less precise than lasers but can also cover larger areas. For people with darker skin tones, one big downside to IPL is that it is less effective and can cause complications (including burns), since the IPL targets pigment and can have a hard time discerning the difference between hair and skin.
The Best for Body Hair Removal
If you’re sick of waxing, shaving, or just sporting more fuzz than you’d otherwise prefer, then consider doing some at-home IPL treatments with Braun’s bestselling device. You can adjust its intensity and swap in different heads to concentrate the light on more precise areas. Budget about 12 weeks for profound results, and always be sure to treat stubbled or shaved areas as opposed to longer hairs. (And remember: The more contrast there is between your skin and hair, the better your results will be.)
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