What is intense pulsed light (IPL)?
Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a recent light technology introduced to remove multiple skin disorders such as pigmentation and fine veins (telangiectasia).It is also popularly known as “photo rejuvenation” or “photo facial”. The device is not a laser but a broad band light source with a range of wavelengths, which can target different skin lesions at the same time. Different filters are used depending on the skin type and the predominant target. The improvement is more gradual and subtle than compared to laser therapy.
What is it used for?
IPL is effective for superficial pigmentation such as freckles, solar lentigines (age spots) and superficial melasma. It does not work as well for deeper forms of facial pigmentation or certain types of pigmentation e.g. scars and marks. It is also effective for redness from fine veins and certain skin conditions e.g. rosacea. IPL may improve skin texture to varying extents but it is not effective for deep wrinkles or movement related wrinkles such as from lines and “crow’s feet”. Deep scars such as those from acne or chicken pox also do not respond to IPL.
What are the IPL devices available?
Presently these are several models of IPL devices available in the market. Some devices are used mainly for hair removal while others are for “photo rejuvenation”. They have a range of wavelengths from 500 to 1200 nm. Some form of cooling is required to protect the skin surface (epidermis) so that complications such as blisters and burns are minimized.
How many treatments are required?
To achieve significant noticeable results, it has been reported that multiple treatments are necessary. The skin should be treated at intervals of 3-6 weeks, for a total of 6-8 times.
Treatment of Intense Pulsed Light
Is IPL painful?
An anesthetic cream is applied for one hour before the treatment to minimize discomfort. A mild burning sensation may still be felt for some people. Most of the time, it is very tolerated. There is no need for painkillers.
What are the possible side effects?
The overall risk of side effects is low. The treatment is associated with very little downtime and the patient can resume daily activities almost immediately. Following the IPL treatment, there is usually mild skin redness which last for one to several hours. Other less common complications are prolonged redness lasting 1-3 days, blistering and temporary darkening of the skin lasting for several months (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation).The risk of side effects is higher in dark skinned or sun exposed people.
What are the skin care regimens after the IPL?
There is no special skin care required after the IPL.If there is marked redness, the doctor may prescribe a mild steroid cream or moisturizer for a short while. For pigmentary skin conditions, lightening creams and sun protection should be continued in between and after the treatments.
How effective is IPL?
The degree of improvement is variable and depends in the severity and depth of pigmentation/veins. For people who have a mixture of superficial and deep pigmentation, patchy improvement and incomplete removal of pigmentation may be expected. However, the improvement must be maintained with good skin care such as sun protection and creams. As for redness and fine veins, the results are fair too good.IPL is not the best treatment option if the predominant skin problems are wrinkles and scars. Please see your dermatologist to discuss alternative options e.g.botulinum toxin injection, filler injection, laser treatment for these.