In a perfect world, we would all be comfortable in our own skin. However, there are plenty of reasons we might be less than satisfied with our outward appearance. Sometimes, an underlying disease or skin condition leads to inflammation, discoloration, or scarring. Of course, even if our bodies are completely healthy, we might still wish to reduce signs of aging or genetic features like discoloration, freckles, or redness.
The field of cosmetic dermatology focuses on mitigating these superficial but nonetheless mentally taxing aspects of our skin. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL for short) is one of many recent developments in cosmetic and medical skincare that has proven capable of improving the skin’s appearance in some patients. Here, we’ll go over what IPL is, how it works, and whether it might be effective for treating your skin.
Intense pulsed light therapy is a type of phototherapy (light-based treatment) for the skin. IPL uses energy emitted from light to target and improve the appearance of specific parts of one’s skin. The practitioner sends these pulses of light toward the skin using a handheld device, holding it directly on the areas in question for a given length of time.
You might wonder how light could possibly change one’s skin for the better. But consider that light is a form of kinetic energy, heating up objects as it illuminates them. The energy level emitted by light depends on the light’s wavelength (i.e. its color), and certain wavelengths of light can alter the skin’s pigmentation and texture.
When the light energy reaches the skin and converts into heat energy, this heat can damage blood vessel walls and weaken pigment cells, which the body eventually evacuates via the lymphatic system. As a result, the skin’s appearance will change over time.
So, by flashing different wavelengths of light onto your skin, you can treat various conditions and features, such as age spots, discoloration, visible signs of sun damaged skin, and more.
The description above might sound a lot like laser therapy. While laser treatments for the skin also fall under the phototherapy umbrella, IPL differs from laser therapy in that it uses several types of lights to treat the skin, while laser therapy emits just one wavelength of light. By using multiple lights, IPL can treat multiple skin conditions.
The efficacy of IPL depends on a number of factors, such as the patient’s unique skin type, age, and overall health, as well as how effectively the patient prepares for treatment, the condition(s) being treated, and who delivers the treatment. That said, IPL certainly has the potential to improve one’s skin and mitigate a number of conditions.
For instance, IPL can reduce moderate to severe facial flushing from rosacea, remove 50-75% of damaged blood vessels that cause redness and spider veins, reduce pigmentation from sun damage by up to 70%, decrease the prominence of acne and acne scars with multiple treatments, and even remove unwanted hair, especially in those with lighter skin and darker hair.
Medical researchers are continually finding new applications for IPL and looking for ways to make it more effective for all patients.
When performed by a professional technician, IPL therapy is a safe procedure with minimal risk of complications. Of course, whenever heat is applied to the skin, some pain or discomfort is to be expected.
While most patients can bear the sensations associated with IPL therapy, those with a lower pain tolerance might have a harder time enduring the treatment. Fortunately, your practitioner can apply an anesthetic gel to the treated areas beforehand to numb them.
Possible side effects of IPL include scarring, residual pain and sensitivity after treatment, inflammation, bleeding, discoloration, crusting of the skin, and infection. Some temporary redness and bruising are common after treatment.
Those who are pregnant, have a serious skin condition, or are taking certain medications shouldn’t receive IPL. Your dermatologist can tell you if you’re a good candidate for the treatment.
Before an IPL procedure, you want your skin to be in good health and free from external factors. So, avoid tanning at least four weeks prior to your visit. Don’t get any waxing, chemical peels, or collagen treatments done within two weeks of your treatment, either. Also, go in without makeup, perfume, and deodorant, as these can irritate your skin. Finally, make sure you don’t ingest painkillers and/or blood thinners like aspirin beforehand.
The exact number will vary from patient to patient, but most people will require more than one IPL treatment to get the results they desire. Most often, patients receive three to six IPL treatments, each one spaced about a month from the other.
Want to learn more about intense pulsed light therapy? Premier Dermatology Partners can help you determine if IPL is right for you. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.