Intense Pulsed Light

Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a skin rejuvenation treatment that uses high intensity pulses of visible light (or light energy) to improve the appearance of dark spots (age spots, sun spots or freckles), vascular lesions (such as spider veins, rosacea), as well as fine lines, wrinkles, large pores, acne and acne scarring. The process is referred to as photorejuvenation.

IPL is similar to lasers in that light energy is absorbed into cells with specific color targets, referred to as chromophores (such as melanin or hemoglobin). The light energy is absorbed by the color target and is converted to heat energy, which causes damage to the specific target area. IPL is different than lasers in that they deliver many wavelengths (or colors) of light in each pulse instead of a single wavelength. Filters can be used to focus on more specific targets.

IPL is considered a non-ablative resurfacing therapy, which means it targets the lower layers of the skin (dermis) without affecting the top layers of skin (epidermis). The advantage of IPL therapy is its minimal downtime--a patient can often have the procedure done and immediately return to work or other social functions.

What does an intense pulsed light procedure involve?

  • Avoid sun exposure in the days and weeks before and after treatment.
  • A topical anesthetic may be applied to the area but is not usually necessary.
  • A cold gel is applied to the area being treated.  A smooth glass surface that is cooled is then applied to the skin and delivers precise pulses of light to the area being treated.
  • Throughout the treatment session, the patient must wear protective eyewear.
  • IPL treatments are relatively painless. The sensation is often described as a light pinch or a snap of a rubber band.
  • Treatment sessions usually last about 20 minutes. A course of 4-6 sessions every 3-6 weeks may be needed to achieve desired results.
  • Most patient can return to work immediately after treatment.

What are the side effects to intense pulsed light therapy?

Side effects are minor and include:

  • Pain during treatment. This is reduced by contact cooling and sometimes, topical numbing cream.
  • Mild sunburn sensation that may last a few days after the treatment.
  • Blistering can sometimes occur.
  • Unintended damage to pigment cells that results in lighter or darker patches of skin (called hypopigmentation and hyperpigmentation). White patches are rarely permanent.
  • Hair loss may occur.
  • Bruising can occur in up to 10% of patients.