What is 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:
- Vascular lesions including spider telangiectasis, port wine stains, broken facial veins, rosy cheeks, rosacea and red thread veins of the legs
- Freckles and age marks
- Facial lines and wrinkles
- Removal of unwanted dark hair
The procedure of rejuvenating aged skin is referred to as photorejuvenation and requires a series of IPL treatments.
How does intense pulsed light therapy 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 intense pulsed light 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.
Effect of IPL on a freckle
What does the intense pulsed light 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.
- Avoid sun exposure in the days and weeks before and after treatment.
- A topical anaesthetic may be applied to the area but is not usually necessary.
- A cold gel is applied to the area being treated. IPL devices often have integrated cooling systems.
- The smooth, glass surface of the IPL treatment head is applied to the skin, delivering precise pulses of light to the area being treated.
- Treatment sessions usually last about 20 minutes. A course of 4-6 sessions every 3-6 weeks may be needed to achieve desired results.
- Most patients can return to work immediately after treatment.
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 of intense pulsed light therapy?
Side effects of IPL are minor and include:
- Pain during treatment (reduced by contact cooling and if necessary, topical anaesthetic)
- Skin turning pink and a little sore immediately after the procedure.
- A sensation of a mild sunburn (redness, peeling, swelling) that may last a few days after treatment.
- Rarely, skin pigment may absorb too much light energy and blistering can occur.
- Sometimes the pigment cells (melanocytes) can be damaged leaving darker or paler patches of skin. White patches or scars are rarely permanent.
- Hair loss may occur.
- Bruising affects up to 10% of patients
Prolonged hypopigmentation due to IPL