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Facts about the skin from DermNet New Zealand Trust. Topic index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z



Intense pulsed light therapy

Intense pulsed light (IPL) or flashlamp therapy is a non-invasive and non-ablative treatment that uses high intensity pulses of visible light to improve the appearance of the following skin problems:

The procedure of rejuvenating aged skin is referred to as photorejuvenation and requires a series of IPL treatments.

IPL may also be helpful for mild to moderate acne and stretch marks.

How does it work?

IPL systems work on the same principles as lasers in that light energy is absorbed into particular target cells with colour (chromophores) in the skin. The light energy is converted to heat energy, which causes damage to the specific target area. IPL systems are different to lasers in that they deliver many wavelengths (or colours) in each pulse of light instead of just one wavelength. Most IPL systems use filters to refine the energy output for the treatment of certain areas. This enhances penetration without using excessive energy levels and enables targetting of specific chromophores (these are skin components that absorb light).

IPL therapy is considered a non-ablative resurfacing technique, which means that it targets the lower layers of skin (dermis) without affecting the top layers of skin (epidermis). The results are not as dramatic as ablative resurfacing where both the dermis and epidermis are injured to produce a much more noticeable overall outcome. The advantage of IPL therapy is its minimal downtime – a patient can often have the procedure done in their lunch break and return to work immediately afterwards.

What IPL machines are available and what do they do?

There is a range of IPL machines including LumenisI® Quantum IPL® (the successor to PhotoDerm®), EpiLight® and Ellipse®. Individual machines may be specially designed to focus on certain problems but may not be equally effective.

Vascular lesions
  • For the treatment of spider and thread veins, and some vascular birthmarks.
  • Light pulses targeted at the red-pigment (haemoglobin) in the blood which heats and destroys the pigment without affecting the skin or other tissues.
Pigmented lesions
  • For the treatment of age spots, freckles, flat pigmented birthmarks and other skin discolouration problems such as melasma / chloasma and erythromelanosis of the neck (poikiloderma of Civatte).
  • Light pulses targeted at the melanin in the skin’s surface which heats and destroys melanin to remove the discolouration.
Hair removal
  • For the treatment of unwanted hair.
  • Light pulses targeted at the hair follicle causing the hair to fall out and prevent further growth. Generally ineffective for light coloured hair.
  • May be used for hair in any location including underarms, bikini line, face, neck, back, chest and legs
Intense Pulsed Light to freckle
Close-up
Dermoscopy of Intense Pulsed Light to freckle
Dermoscopy
Effect of IPL on a freckle

What does the procedure involve?

Prior to the procedure your specialist practitioner should explain the process to you and clearly define your expectations of the treatment. They should be able to tell you whether or not the results you are looking for will be achievable using this method. It is important that the correct diagnosis has been made by your doctor prior to treatment.

IPL treatments are normally straightforward. Make sure the technician has been properly trained and is experienced in IPL therapy.

Throughout the treatment session the patient must wear protective eyewear. IPL treatments are relatively painless compared to other facial rejuvenation techniques. The sensation has been likened to a light pinch or the snap of a rubber band, but some people find it distressing.

Are there any side effects?

Side effects are minor and include:

Intense Pulsed Light Intense Pulsed Light
Prolonged hypopigmentation due to IPL

Related information

References:

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Author: Vanessa Ngan, staff writer

DermNet NZ does not provide an online consultation service.
If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.