How Intense Pulsed Light Therapy Is Performed

Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy, previously referred to as intense "pulse" light therapy, is used to treat a variety of conditions. The treatment procedure varies a little according to the condition treated. IPL is used to reduce pigmentation caused by sun damage, diminish the appearance of birthmarks, alleviate symptoms of rosacea and reduce wrinkles. It is also used to treat spider veins and as a treatment to reduce unwanted hair growth. 

IPL Technology

IPL therapy is a technology in which short duration pulsed multi-spectrum light is applied to the skin. The light is absorbed into the tissue of the dermis, without damaging the surface (epidermis) skin layer. 

The light energy is emitted by a flash system that delivers one to three pulses of light at a time, through a handset. The pulses are controlled by the technician, who also controls wavelengths by fitting the appropriate filter to the handset. The type of treatment performed determines the wavelength. 

General Procedure

Anesthesia is not necessary, however, a topical anesthetic may be applied to sensitive treatment areas. As with most light and laser therapies, both the patient and the operator wear protective eyewear. 

After adjusting the IPL machine to the proper wavelength intensity, the technician applies a gel to the skin. The gel helps to cool the surface of the skin during treatment because the IPL uses pulsed heat energy (light) to wound the dermis tissue layer. This stimulates tissue regeneration, which results in the growth of new, healthy and undamaged skin. 

The technician touches the smooth part of the handset to the skin and begins to emit the pulsed light onto the skin surface. The light is absorbed within the tissues of the treatment area in a series of timed pulses. The total treatment time is generally under 30 minutes. Patients may experience a stinging or snapping sensation during the procedure. Additionally, the skin will gradually flush or redden. Some technicians induce flushing prior to IPL application. This facilitates the absorption of light into the tissue. 

After the Procedure

There may be some swelling and soreness immediately after treatment, but this generally dissipates within one to two days. A few days after treatment, some patients will experience mild skin peeling. Bruising also occurs in a very small percentage of patients. Patients are advised to use sun block and to avoid excess sun exposure after treatment. Many practitioners advise patients to avoid unnecessary sun exposure prior to treatment, as well as after treatment. 

Treatment Variations

Variations in treatment usually consist of wavelength and pulse duration. Shorter wavelengths are used to treat birthmarks and unusual pigmentation caused by sun damage, as well as other pigmentation conditions. Longer wavelengths are used in the treatment of vascular conditions, such as spider veins and capillaries. The heat of the longer wavelengths causes the small blood vessels to coagulate. The coagulated blood is absorbed into the body and the tissue is able to heal. 

Wavelength and pulse duration are also determined by the tone, color and condition of the patient’s skin. Another variation involves the use of antibiotics. Some practitioners administer specific antibiotics that restrict blood vessel reformation in the treatment area.

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