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Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatment: Efficacy, Costs & Side Effects

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatment, also known as a photofacial or photorejuvenation, is a cosmetic procedure that uses high-intensity pulses of visible light to improve the appearance of the skin. It is commonly used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including sun damage, hyperpigmentation, age spots, rosacea, and broken blood vessels. It can also be used to improve the texture and tone of the skin, and to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

IPL treatment is typically performed by a trained medical professional, such as a dermatologist or aesthetician. The procedure is typically done in a medical office or clinic, and takes 30 to 45 minutes to complete. The treatment area is first cleansed, and the skin may be numbed with a topical anesthetic to minimize discomfort. The IPL device is then applied to the skin, and a series of pulses of light are delivered to the treatment area. The number of pulses and the intensity of the light will depend on the specific skin condition being treated and the patient’s individual needs.

How does IPL work?

IPL treatment works by delivering high-energy pulses of light to the skin, which are absorbed by the pigment in the skin. The light energy is converted into heat energy, which damages the targeted cells and stimulates the production of collagen, a protein that helps to keep the skin looking youthful and smooth. The damaged cells are then naturally replaced by new, healthy cells, resulting in improved skin texture and tone. Certain parts of the skin, like blood vessels, pigmented cells, or hair follicles, are specifically heated and destroyed with light.

The procedure operates on delivering high – intensity visible light onto specific skin cells’ components – melanin (the skin’s pigment), hemoglobin (the protein which carries oxygen in the blood) or collagen (the main structural protein of the skin) (1). Because the wavelength of the applied light can easily be changed, a doctor is able to tailor the cosmetic procedures specially to the patient’s needs – namely, the melanin will be targeted in case of hyperpigmentation, hemoglobin in skin redness e.g. in eczema, rosacea or acne and collagen – in correcting superficial wrinkles. Once the health – giving light reaches the target cell, its energy is transformed into heat which breaks the excess of melanin or hemoglobin apart (2). As for collagen, the heat tightens the bonds between its particles so that it forms a firmer and tougher structure that’s less prone to breakdown and creating skin folds. Moreover, there’s one other action of the procedure – since the created light can destroy the cohesive proteins in the hair bulb, the therapy is also efficacious in hair removal.

Is it a laser treatment?

Many people are convinced that IPL is a form of typical laser treatment. However, it is not. While both procedures are based on similar mechanisms, they differ from each other in two crucial aspects: wavelength and skin ablation (3). In Intense Pulse Light Treatment there are multiple wavelengths used (that’s also why it can target such a wide array of various conditions); at the same time lasers operate on a single wavelength. When it comes to the degree of skin ablation (the damage of the surface of the skin), IPL is 100% non – ablative (it affects only the deeper layers of the skin) while a laser treatment can be ablative or non – ablative, depending on its kind.(4) Read here to learn the difference between IP and laser skin resurfacing.

In what conditions are IPL effective?

As already mentioned, indications for Intense Pulse Light Treatment are numerous. Because the therapy addresses light – absorbing pigment particles, it proves to be useful in alleviating skin redness (erythema), broken blood vessels, rosacea as well as hyperpigmentation due to various different reasons like inflammation, sun damage, aging or birthmarks.(5) Owing to the fact that it stabilizes the skin’s natural collagen, it is extremely effective in correcting facial wrinkles, folds and lines.

When to expect the effects?

The first effects should be seen even after the first session however it is strongly advised to undertake at least 3 sessions of the therapy to enjoy fuller results. Mostly, a whole series of 3 – 5 treatments is prescribed.

How often can IPL be repeated?

Intense Pulse Light requires very little downtime and therefore can be repeated once a month. Contact a dermatologist first though for a personalized routine.

Does the treatment hurt?

IAfter the treatment, the skin may be red and swollen, and may feel like it has been sunburned. These side effects are generally mild and should resolve within a few days. It is important to protect the treated skin from the sun by wearing sunscreen and covering up with clothing or a hat until the skin has fully healed.

i\In most cases, no, the treatment does not hurt, although it really depends on one’s personal pain threshold and sensitivity. Often the feeling during the procedure is described as being snapped with a rubber band on the skin.

Are there any side effects of IPL and is it safe?

Any medical procedure entails its own side effects, nonetheless it does not mean that they will happen. In fact, they are rare.(6)

  • Immediately after the treatment, minor redness and/or swelling may be noticed. It should naturally subside within 24 – 48 hours or eventually up to 4 days in more aggressive treatments.
  • Skin dryness or flaking around the treated area might be experienced however the moisture should be regained within maximally a week.
  • The not so common side effects of IPL include hypo – or hyperpigmentation, burns, pain, itching or skin infection. (7)
  • IPL treatment is generally considered safe and effective, but it is not suitable for everyone. People with dark skin tones or those who have recently used tanning beds may be more likely to experience side effects, such as changes in skin color or scarring. It is important to discuss any potential risks and concerns with a healthcare provider before undergoing IPL treatment.

Are any medications contraindicated before the procedure?

It is advised not to take the following drugs before IPL:

  • Accutane/Retin – A and other forms of tretinoin; they deprive the skin of its natural protective barrier and make the skin more susceptible.
  • Anticoagulants; it doesn’t pose a direct risk nevertheless it can increase the probability of bruising.

How to take care of the skin after IPL?

Intense Pulse Light treatment makes the skin more susceptible to sun damage and associated skin darkening. It is crucial to use a high SPF and broad-spectrum sunscreen as well as to moisturize the skin adequately.

IPL treatment is not a one-time solution, and multiple treatments may be needed to achieve the desired results. The number of treatments needed will depend on the specific skin condition being treated and the patient’s individual goals. Some people may see improvement after just one treatment, while others may need several treatments spaced several weeks apart to achieve their desired results.

Overall, IPL treatment is a safe and effective way to improve the appearance of the skin and treat a variety of skin conditions. It is important to discuss any concerns or questions about the procedure with a healthcare provider to determine if it is the right choice for you

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