We investigated the influence of thermal initiation pathway on the irradiance threshold for laser induced breakdown in transparent, absorbing and scattering phantoms. We observed a transition from laserinduced optical breakdown to laser-induced thermal breakdown as the absorption coefficient of the medium is increased. We found that the irradiance threshold after correction for the path length dependent absorption and scattering losses in the medium is lower due to the thermal pathway for the generation of seed electrons compared to the laser-induced optical breakdown. Furthermore, irradiance threshold gradually decreases with the increase in the absorption properties of the medium. Creating breakdown with lower irradiance threshold that is specific at the target chromophore can provide intrinsic target selectivity and improve safety and efficacy of skin treatment methods that use laser induced breakdown.