Intense Pulsed Light

WHAT IS INTENSE PULSED LIGHT (IPL)?

By Rawn Bosley, MD FAAD

There are several laser rejuvenation treatments designed to address sun damage, pigmentation issues, age spots and redness in the skin. One of the most common ways to achieve skin rejuvenation is with Intense Pulsed Light.

WHAT IS INTENSE PULSED LIGHT (IPL)?

An Intense Pulsed Light device uses an array of visible light to treat redness and pigment in order to improve sun-damaged skin. The wavelengths of light emitted from an IPL device can range from 400 nm to 1200 nm. The light can be filtered to target a specific chromophore. Chromophores are the specific targets in the skin that absorb particular wavelengths. The main targets for the IPL are hemoglobin and melanin. Hemoglobin contains iron and carries oxygen in our blood cells and melanin produces the color of our skin and hair.  When IPL targets hemoglobin, it can address skin redness and broken blood vessels. When IPL targets melanin it can treat age spots, sun spots, skin discoloration. Additionally, IPL can cause hair removal due to darkly-pigmented hair containing melanin.

WHO IS A CANDIDATE FOR INTENSE PULSED LIGHT TREATMENT?

Patients who wish to reduce the appearance of redness, pigmentation and signs of aging in the skin are ideal candidates for IPL treatments. Other skin conditions such as rosacea and inflammatory acne can benefit from IPL treatment from devices such as the Lumenis M22 Universal IPL. This device has multiple filters which are ideal for a wide range of skin types and conditions.  

Although IPL is generally safe for most people, there are a few medical conditions in which IPL treatment should be avoided. Patients with conditions that cause photosensitivity such as Lupus and porphyria should avoid light-based treatments. Additionally, taking medications that cause photosensitivity such as tetracyclines and anti-malarial medications increase the risk of adverse events from light-based treatments. Due to increased risk of adverse events, the IPL treatment should not be performed on tanned skin. It is recommend that significant sun exposure be avoided for at least 4 weeks prior to an IPL treatment.

IS TREATMENT WITH INTENSE PULSED LIGHT SAFE?

IPL is a safe procedure when performed by an experienced provider. Some of the rare adverse effects of IPL treatment include discoloration of the skin, injury to the skin such as blistering.  These can be avoided by having your treatment performed by an experienced physician or laser technician. The Lumenis M22 uses the Optimal Pulse Technology which provides reproducible results as well as a more comfortable treatment. This device uses cooled lightguides to increase patient comfort by preventing  the skin from receiving too much heat. Overheating the skin may lead to skin injury and discoloration.

WHAT IS THE DOWNTIME WITH INTENSE PULSED LIGHT TREATMENT?

The downtime with IPL is relatively low. Most patients will experience redness and mild swelling for 24-48 hours after treatment. In general, most patient can return to normal activities after treatment.  For more aggressive treatments, redness and swelling may last for 2-4 days. Patients may also have some scabbing, temporary darkening of the skin and age spots over the entire treatment area. It is important to practice strict sun protection before and after treatment as to prevent any prolonged adverse effects.

HOW MANY TREATMENTS SHOULD I RECEIVE?

A patient treated with IPL typically requires 3-6 treatments depending on the severity of the skin issue being addressed. Though patients will commonly notice a difference in their skin after the first treatment, typically no less than 3 treatments are recommended in order to adequately treat the skin.

CAN IPL BE COMBINED WITH OTHER TREATMENTS?

IPL treatment causes photorejuvenation of the skin by the removal of redness, age spots and discoloration. IPL can be combined with ResurFx. This treatment is called a PhotoFractional treatment as it combines both photorejuvenation with IPL and fractionated skin resurfacing with ResurFx. The Photofractional treatment removes the signs of skin aging and stimulates new collagen to improve fine lines and wrinkles as well as skin texture. Similar to IPL, the photofractional treatment requires a series of treatments to achieve the optimal results.

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