Intense pulsed light treatment – IPL, is a cosmetic non-invasive skin treatment. It is similar to laser therapy. However, unlike the laser treatment that delivers a single wavelength of light energy, the intense pulsed light treatment delivers multiple wavelengths of light energy. The multiple wavelengths treat a larger surface area per time than the laser treatment technique (1). In this article, we have shared all you need to know about Intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment and what to expect if you opt for the procedure.
What is IPL Treatment?
IPL means intense pulsed light, a procedure also known as flash lamp therapy. It is a non-ablative procedure – it does not take out the outermost skin layer. It is also non-invasive. This procedure involves the use of highly intense pulses of visible light to improve skin appearance. Series of IPL treatment is used in these improvement processes, and this procedure is referred to as Photorejuvenation (2).
The technology used is a high-powered, electronic-controlled flashgun, handheld by a medical practitioner. This flashgun delivers an intense, visible, broad-spectrum pulse of light in the spectral range of 500 to 1200nm. These light pulses are selectively filtered by the various cut-off filters and the shorter wavelengths such as UV light. After the filtration, the resulting light is of a healthy spectral range and is targeted at chromophores and skin structures. The light penetrates the outer layer of the skin and targets the darker colors beneath the skin surface. These targeted structures are destroyed by heat and reabsorbed into the body. The tissues surrounding the targeted skin structures are spared as the light is particular to targets (3).
This mechanism of action stimulates the production of collagen. The stimulation awakens the skin elasticity, tightens pores, and returns vigor to it, which results in improved skin appearance (4). Thus, IPL treatment is used for aesthetics and therapeutic purposes.
Why You Should Consider Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatment
You may consider IPL as a treatment for multiple skin conditions. These includes
- Treatment of vascular lesions – birthmarks acquired or present from birth
- Removal of damaged and broken blood vessels (spider veins)
- Treating Photoaging – To lighten and remove brown spots or age spots, damages caused by the sun. They are usually present on the neck, chest, face, and hands, areas exposed to direct sunlight (5).
- Removal of unwanted body hair (6)
- Treatment of wrinkles and facial lines
- Treating skin pigmentation – discolored skin
- Clearing of blotchy skin
- Removal of scars
- Lightening dark skin patches
- Treatment of Rosacea – redness of the face. IPL treatment is used to lighten and reduce the redness of dilated blood vessels.
- Removal of freckles and age marks
- Treating skin hyperpigmentation
- Treatment of Melasma – discolored patches on the skin, usually brown or gray-brown skin patches
- Removal of skin tattoos
- To control flushing
- Treatment of acne scars (7)
- Treatment of stretch marks
Who is Unsuitable for Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatment?
Some factors may make you unsuitable for the IPL treatment procedure. You should not consider this treatment if you
- Have been exposed to severe sunburn in recent times.
- Are pregnant.
- Have dark, heavily tanned skin – deep skin tones may be prone to complications such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation after the procedure.
- Are susceptible to keloid scarring – A Keloid scar is a raised scar after wound healing, caused by the presence of excess protein during the skin healing process.
- Have current acne breakouts.
- Are taking acne medication like Accutane.
- Are suffering from skin resurfacing disorder (8)
- Have severe scarring.
- Have inflammatory acne or eczema
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Procedure – What to Expect
- You may be instructed to avoid all forms of direct exposure to sunlight weeks before the procedure and weeks afterward. This includes the use of tanning beds and tanning creams.
- You may be required to avoid all forms of waxing, chemical peel, and collagen shots weeks before the procedure (9).
- You may be required to discontinue various medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen, anti-inflammatory drugs, herbal supplements. This is because these medications could increase the risk of possible bleeding.
- On the surgery day, you must avoid the application of deodorants, makeup, and perfume.
- In the laser room, you will be required to put on protective eye gear, which the health practitioner will provide. This could be special glasses or eye pads.
- The medical practitioner will clean up the target skin areas.
- A cold gel is applied to the target skin areas to be treated.
- The medical practitioner will apply the smooth, glass surface of the IPL device to your skin. This device delivers precise light pulses to the target skin areas being treated.
- Also, the Intense pulse light treatment devices are integrated with different cooling systems. These cooling systems protect the skin epidermis when it comes in contact with the device (10).
- This broad-spectrum light travels through your skin until it strikes the targeted structure to be removed.
- During the procedure, a topical anesthetic may be applied to the target areas for your comfort through the processes. The IPL procedure may give a pinching or stinging sensation to the skin.
- When the treatment procedure the complete, the cool gel is wiped off, and the surface area is subsequently cleaned with a clean, warm cloth.
- Then a moisturizer and sunscreen are applied to the skin.
- The procedure may be concluded within 20 minutes. Larger surface areas may extend to one hour. However, IPL sessions are repeated to achieve the desired results.
- The number of sessions you will require will depend on the skin area and desired results. These sessions may be spaced two weeks to one month apart, giving your skin time to heal from each session completely. For hair removal processes, up to 6 to 12 sessions may be required.
- You may return to your place of work immediately after the procedure. There is a near-zero downtime for this procedure (11).
- If you develop swellings afterward, you may apply a cool compress to the treated skin areas for 15 to 20 minutes intervals.
- Also, the treated skin areas will have a similar appearance to sunburned skin and may be sensitive for a few hours.
- You may be required to avoid hot water baths until skin healing is completed.
- Your skin may be susceptible to sunburns and the formation of irregular, darkened pigments. Therefore, you are required to apply sunscreen of at least SPF 30 and wear sun-protective clothing and hair gears. This will ensure your results are maintained.
- During the skin healing period, you may be required to use moisturizer, sunscreen, and cleanser daily.
- You may also be required to avoid makeup completely until your skin is less sensitive.
- Improvement could be visible from the first session of the treatment. However, in some scenarios, it may take several weeks before visible results of the IPL procedure might be noticeable. This will be dependent on the skin and underlying individual factors.
The Cost of Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatment
The estimated cost for your procedure will depend on the condition being treated and the size of the surface area to be treated. However, you may have to pay extra charges for tests, anesthesia, medicines, and follow-up care. On average, the treatment is estimated to cost $600 to $1300.
For specific target areas, the cost may vary as
- Single face treatment at $300 to $600 per session
- Hand treatment at $250 per session
- The face and chest treatment at $800 to $1200 per session
Benefits of Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatment
Intense pulsed light laser treatment serves various benefits, some of which includes:
- The treatment of acne
- Minimizes the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines
- The removal of unwanted hair
- Reduces pore sizes
- The treatment of rosacea
- The treatment of skin conditions from sun damage
- The treatment of skin hyperpigmentation
- The treatment of broken blood vessels – spider veins
- Improvement of skin texture
Possible Risks and Side effects
IPL treatment is carried out by certified medical practitioners and is primarily safe. However, there are risks and side effects – although these are minor. They include
- Skin Bruising – you may have some skin bruising during the procedure. Up to 10% of IPL patients are reported to have experienced this.
- Skin Peeling, Redness, and Swelling – All signs of a sunburn may be experienced after the procedure. However, this usually goes down and fades off a few days after the procedure (12).
- Skin Blistering – This may be a result of intense light absorption by the skin pigment.
- Loss of hair may occur.
- Pain during the procedure – There may be a pinching or stinging sensation. Topical anesthetics are usually administered for comfort during the procedure.
- Coloring of the skin – Usually, a pink color may appear.
- Skin Lesions – Skin sores after the procedure.
- Dark or pale patches on the skin – This may be a result of damaged pigment cells.
- Hormonal Brown Spots – This kind of spot may appear after the procedure.
- Skin Scarring
- Skin Infection
You may need to relay every noticed side effect to your dermatologist, especially if there is a drastic increment of the symptoms.
Intense pulsed light treatment – IPL is a non-invasive cosmetic treatment for aesthetics and therapeutic purposes. The treatment procedure is used to reduce visible signs of aging, remove unwanted body hair, and improve skin appearance. It is used for treatments such as skin hyperpigmentation, rosacea, freckles, acne, and age spots. The intense pulsed light treatment works to fade lines and spots. These spots could be from age factors, exposure to sunlight, or other factors. IPL treatment procedures may last within 20 minutes to 60 minutes. However, you may need to return for several sessions to achieve the desired result. In this article, we have shared a guideline for the intense pulsed laser treatment. You may need to have further discussions with your dermatologist to decide if it the right treatment for your intended results.
Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)
Is the Intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment the same thing as laser treatment?
Both treatments require the use of spectral light to treat skin conditions – heating and destroying the target. However, the laser treatment employs the use of a single light wavelength, while the intense pulsed light treatment employs the use of a broad light spectrum. As a result, the laser treatment treats only one skin condition, while the Intense pulsed light treatment treats several skin conditions at the same time.
Can Intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment stop age processes?
The procedure can greatly improve your skin appearance, but it would not prevent future aging. You may require routine follow-up treatments according to your dermatologist’s outline.
How long is the IPL treatment healing process?
The Intense pulse light treatment procedure is quick and involves near-zero downtime. As a result, you may have a skin appearance similar to sunburn but no downtime. You may also return to work as soon as possible and continue with your schedule.
Can you use the IPL treatment procedure to remove unwanted pubic hair?
Because of the dense appearance of hairs in the pubic region, melanin presence is higher at these spots. Therefore, the use of intense pulsed light treatment at these skin areas may not be recommended.
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