- What is Intense Pulse Light (IPL)? IPL, often referred to as Photofacial, is one of the most common medical esthetic skin treatments for a wide array of skin conditions including:
- Diffuse redness, broken capillaries and rosacea
- Sun-damaged, hormonal and aging brown pigmentation
- Facial skin rejuvenation
- Hair removal
IPL is a non-ablative procedure meaning that it does not remove the superficial layer of the skin. It is safe treatment when screened and performed by an experienced skin professional in a clinical setting.
- How does IPL work? IPL uses broadband light energy to target chromophores (color in your skin). Your medical skin specialist will use the appropriate light setting to target the issue you are being treated for. Unlike lasers, an IPL device sends out more than one wavelength of pulsating light which converts into heat, penetrates deep in the skin, and destroys the targeted cell. IPL does less damage to the epidermis (outer layer of skin) because the light emitted is more scattered than the single wavelength of a laser. As the cells grow up to the surface, they eventually die and fall off. This process typically takes 1-3 weeks post treatment. When IPL is performed for skin rejuvenation, it does so by stimulating aging collagen. Collagen stimulation with IPL isn’t as effective for collagen stimulation than other esthetic medical procedures like plasma pen. IPL can also help treat acne breakouts by reducing the level of bacteria in the cells that contribute to acne lesions.
- How does IPL help eliminate unwanted pigment? We are all born with a varying degree of melanin, the brown color in skin. Melanin resides mostly in the skin’s dermis (middle layer) which can become triggered by injury, UVB/UVA rays, aging and hormones. Each IPL treatment helps lift the melanin in your skin to the skin’s surface over several weeks post treatment. A desired outcome is to significantly reduce unwanted brown pigment. Most people require 2-3 IPL sessions about one month apart. I get the best results for sun damaged pigmented skin with a combination of IPL, medium depth professional chemical peels and pharmaceutical grade lightening products used daily at home between in-office treatments.
For unwanted red in skin, the IPL targeted pulse finds hemoglobin (the oxygen carrying protein in blood) visible due to leaky veins, tributaries of broken capillaries and chronic dilated vessels (often on side of nostrils, chin and mid cheeks). In simple terms, IPL treatments can repair small vein leakage and rid of broken capillaries which is removed by your body’s lymph system.
- Can IPL be performed on all skin types? IPL can safely be done on Caucasian (Fitzpatrick Skin Types I to III) and very light skin type IV. In general, Fitzpatrick Skin Types IV, V to VI are not good candidates due to the increased risk of hypopigmentation (destruction of melanin causing permanent white spots).
- Is IPL treatments painful? Patients treated with older IPL technology often report pain with a sensation that felt like being singed with bacon grease or a snapped rubber band. More modern IPL equipment has cooling handpieces that lowers the temperature in the targeted areas at the same time the IPL heat pulse touches the skin, Patients still feel the pulse but on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being most painful, patients with IPL treatments on the face and most body parts usually report a pain level of 1-3 in my practice. Patients having IPL for hair removal in the genital area may report a slightly higher level of discomfort since the skin is thinner with enhanced sensitivity.
6. What IPL side effects can I expect? IPL patients typically leave the procedure with mild to moderate redness and a warm feeling in the treated area. These effects can last 24 hours. The brown pigment will look darker and some spots can start to have a crusty, coffee-ground texture until the dead cells fall off naturally. Mineral based cover-up can be applied to hide the hyperpigmented areas post treatment. On occasion, there could be minor swelling. None of these normal reactions will necessitate cancelling plans or not going about your daily business. There always is increased sun sensitivity after an IPL treatment requiring daily use of sunscreen with minimum of 30 SPF, preferably with zinc and/or titanium oxide for optimal protection.
- Does IPL hair removal work for everyone? IPL needs hair with color for removal to be effective. IPL equipment can’t find light blond or gray hair to destroy the follicle with the hair. In order for IPL to effectively destroy the unwanted hair, the hair has to be in the early phase of its development, which is called the anagen phase. This is the first of three phases which happens about every three weeks. Since all hairs are in different phases of hair growth cycle at different times, it can take between 5-10 times to rid of all the hairs in a targeted area. With each treatment, the numbers of remaining hairs will become fewer.
- What is the cost of IPL treatments? IPL treatment costs can vary from geographic region to region. Some medical spas promote a series of IPL treatments in a package at a discounted rate. I prefer to offer competitive prices for each treatment since one person may require fewer treatments than another. I routinely take before and after photos to monitor progress to determine if additional treatments are needed. IPL treatment costs typically run $150-$300/session for either partial or full face, $300-$400/session for medium size areas (full arms, Brazilian) and $400-$600/session for large areas (men’s full back or full legs).
- What are risks of IPL? When IPL’s are performed by experienced, knowledgeable, licensed skin professionals, the risk of a negative outcome is low. However, there are risks if the treatment settings are not appropriate for the right skin type and condition. Adverse side effects of IPL treatments can range from blistering, hypopigmentation, bleeding, infection and scarring.
10. How do I best prepare for my IPL treatment? If you have a tan, wait until your tan has faded before going to an IPL appointment. Wear no makeup to your IPL appointment or request anything on your skin to be thoroughly cleansed before the treatment begins. Avoid taking any blood thinners for at least three days prior to your appointment. Examples of blood thinners are ibuprofen, aspirin, Vitamin E, and fish oil to name a few. Seek advice from your physician if you take warfarin, coumadin or other pharmaceutical blood thinners before your IPL appointment.