What Are Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatments?

IPL is a type of light-based therapy that can be used to treat a wide variety of problems and skin conditions. Generally, IPL is used as a non-surgical option to improve the color and texture of one’s skin. It can undo some of the visible damage that exposure to the sun can cause your skin — freckles, sunspots, age spots, and other similar types of damage. However, IPL can also be useful for treating skin conditions like rosacea that cause skin to be red, brown, or splotchy in appearance.

When combined with laser treatment, IPL can address even more blemishes — birthmarks, varicose veins, and unwanted hair are no match for these treatments.

What’s The Difference Between IPL And Laser Treatments?

IPL and laser treatments are similar to each other and can address similar problems, but they differ in how they target your skin. Laser treatments focus just one wavelength of light at your skin, while IPL uses light of several different wavelengths, similar to the flash of a camera. In treatment terms, IPL is like a shotgun — IPL light is scattered and less precise than that of a laser. This makes it less damaging to your skin, as IPL penetrates down to the second layer of your skin, the dermis, without damaging the top layer, the epidermis. Lasers are your sniper rifles — precise, focused, but with a greater risk of damaging your skin via treatment.

The light from these types of treatments is absorbed by the pigment in your skin cells, which is converted into heat that is then used to destroy unwanted pigments that cause freckles, sun spots, and other skin conditions. In hair removal treatments, the heat destroys the target hair follicles so the unwanted hair can’t regrow.

Another practical difference between laser and IPL is that, unlike lasers, IPL can treat a range of skin conditions at once due to it using multiple wavelengths of pulsating light during treatment. The light in IPL is designed to target certain colors in your skin, so you’ll likely see some evening of your skin tone as a result of IPL treatment, even if that wasn’t your primary reason for seeking treatment.

Effectiveness

IPL’s effectiveness varies based on the type of problem or condition you’re seeking to correct via treatment.

  • For rosacea and redness caused by broken blood vessels, IPL can reduce redness by 50 to 75 percent after 1-3 treatments. We recommend IPL over laser therapy for patients suffering from rosacea.
  • IPL can reduce brown spots and other minor blemishes caused by sun damage by up to 70 percent after one treatment.
  • IPL works best for hair removal if patients have light skin and dark hair, but can be ineffective if patients have dark skin or blonde hair. Laser treatment may be more effective for blonde-haired and dark-skinned patients seeking hair removal, but will still be less effective for their skin and hair types than it is for others.
  • Studies are still being conducted on IPL’s effectiveness for treating acne and acne scarring, but most patients have seen results after six treatments.

Call Kallgren Dermatology: 303.444.8100

How To Prepare For Your Procedure

Before your IPL procedure at Kallgren Dermatology in Boulder, our dermatologists will inspect your skin and give you a more personalized idea of what to expect from treatment. Be sure to tell us if you have inflammatory acne or eczema, as both conditions can affect your healing post-treatment. Depending on your situation, your dermatologist may recommend you avoid specific activities, medications, or other products for up to two weeks before your treatment.

In general, in order to have a successful IPL treatment, you should avoid the following before your procedure:

  • Waxing
  • Tanning beds
  • Direct sunlight
  • Chemical peels
  • Collagen injections
  • Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and other drugs that increase your risk for bleeding
  • Any products containing Vitamin A or glycolic acid

What To Expect During The Procedure

IPL treatment is a relatively short procedure. To begin, your Kallgren dermatologist will thoroughly clean the area you’re targeting with your IPL treatment. Once the skin is clean, they apply a cool gel onto the skin to reduce discomfort during the treatment. From there, the IPL device begins applying light pulses to your skin. The dermatologist will also have you wear dark glasses to protect your eyes from the light flashes during the procedure.

As your skin is being treated by IPL, you may notice that the light pulses feel like they’re stinging your skin. Some past patients have compared the sensation to being snapped with a rubber band. This sensation is completely normal, and we do our best to minimize any discomfort you may feel. If you’re worried about pain before treatment, we can give you some numbing cream to apply beforehand.

Depending on the size and location of the target area of your body for treatment, your IPL session should last between 20 to 30 minutes. You shouldn’t require any downtime after the procedure, though the treated area may feel similar to having a sunburn for four to six hours after treatment. In these cases, you can always apply an ice pack or cool washcloth to soothe the irritation.

You may notice that the skin in your treated area appears red or bruised after surgery, but those symptoms will subside two to three days after your treatment. The brown spots on your skin may actually get larger as you recover, but you should expect them to peel off within a few weeks.

As your body recovers and heals in the weeks following your treatment, be sure to treat your skin gently.

  • If your skin hurts, do not apply makeup to it
  • Use moisturizers to aid your skin’s recovery
  • Protect yourself with sunscreen, and be cautious about it — the skin in your treated area will be particularly sun-sensitive as it heals, and you don’t want to reverse the good the IPL treatment is doing for your skin
  • Use facial cleansers designed for sensitive skin