Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a technology used by cosmetic and medical practitioners to perform various skin treatments for aesthetic and therapeutic purposes, including hair removal, photorejuvenation (e.g. the treatment of skin pigmentation, sun damage, and thread veins) as well as to alleviate dermatologic diseases such as acne.
IPL systems work on the same principles as lasers in that light energy is absorbed into particular target cells with color (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 colors) 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 targeting 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.
Side effects 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.
– 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