What is IPL?
Intense Pulsed Light also referred to as flash lamp therapy, is a non-invasive and non-ablative light therapy used for treating wrinkles, spots and unwanted hair. It is non-ablative since the broad spectrum of light penetrates the deeper layer of the skin without harming or injuring the upper layer or the epidermis, and since the wavelengths can be filtered, IPL doesn't have any negative effect on the neighboring cells and tissues of the targeted area. IPL that is used for rejuvenating the skin is called photo-rejuvenation and requires a series of IPL treatments.
How does IPL work?
IPL works on the same principles as lasers in that light energy is absorbed into particular target cells with color pigment in the skin but the light from IPL is more scattered and less focused. The light energy is converted to heat energy that penetrates down to the second layer of your skin (dermis) without harming the top epidermis layer. Pigment cells in your skin absorb the light energy which is converted into heat.
For the treatment of spider veins and some vascular birthmarks, light pulses targeted at the red-pigment (haemoglobin) in the blood, heats and destroys the pigment without affecting the skin or other tissues.
Heat from the light pulses targeted at the melanin in the skin’s surface then work to clear up freckles, age spots, flat pigmented birthmarks and other skin discoloration problems such as melasma and erythromelanosis of the neck.
To prevent hair regrowth, light pulses targeted at the hair follicle will cause the hair to be “burnt off” and fall out. It is generally ineffective for light coloured hair. It may be used for hair in any part of the face and body including neck, underarms, bikini line, back and legs.
While IPL provides a broad spectrum of light (polychromatic), covering a bigger area and delivering many different wavelengths (or colors) in each pulse of light, laser on the other hand, provides a single band of light colour (monochromatic) to target a specific area and condition. Although IPL provides high intensity, it is less likely to be painful.
The results are not as dramatic as ablative resurfacing ones where both the dermis and epidermis are injured to produce a much more noticeable overall outcome.
Procedure and Treatment
The targeted area will be cleansed first, removing any dirt that may reduce the effectiveness of the treatment. A topical anesthetic may be applied to the area but is not usually necessary. Although IPL devices often have integrated cooling systems, a cold gel is applied to the area to further minimize any discomfort from the heat. The patient is also provided with a protective eyewear, which should be worn throughout the course of the therapy. The smooth, glass surface of the IPL treatment head is then applied to the skin, delivering precise pulses of light to the area being treated. Each treatment session last about 15 to 20 minutes. A course of four to six sessions every three to six weeks are recommended for best results. IPL treatments are relatively painless causing sensations likened to that of a light pinching or the snapping of a rubber band.
This treatment does not require a medical doctor, so the aesthetician can perform the procedure easily by controlling the intensity or wavelength of the light pulses that come out of the IPL head during the treatment.
After the therapy, the patient can go back to regular activities, as long as exposure to the sun is avoided.
Risks and Side Effects
Though side effects of IPL are usually minor, you may experience the following: