Intense Pulsed Light

What is Intense Pulsed Light Therapy?

Intense pulsed light (IPL) or flashlamp therapy is a non-invasive and non-ablative skin treatment that uses high intensity pulses of visible light to improve a variety of skin problems. Much like lasers, these device use light energy to cause changes that improve the complexion and restore youthfulness.  IPL can be used to treat vascular lesions such as broken facial veins or spider angiomas, rosacea, freckles and sun spots.

How does Intense Pulsed Light Work?

IPL systems are similar to lasers in that light energy is absorbed by particular target cells in the skin.  The light energy is converted to heat energy which damages the specific target cells such as blood vessels or melanin to remove unwanted veins or brown spots. The difference between IPL and lasers is that rather than employing a specific wavelength as lasers do, IPL systems deliver many wavelenths in each pulse.  The advantage of IPL is its minimal downtime as the top layers of the skin are unaffected while the lower layers of skin are what is targeted.

Photofacials with IPL are full face, neck, or chest treatments that treat redness, sun damage, rosacea, freckles, age spots, visible veins, and help improve skin tone.   Patients often obtain the best results after a series of 6 treatments. 

Who is a good candidate for Intense Pulsed Light?

IPL is beneficial for:

  • Sun damage or photoaging as it reduces freckling and irregular pigmentation
  • Rosacea or redness and flushing
  • Brown spots or irregular pigmentation
  • Facial veins or dilated blood vessels
  • Patients who desire minimal downtime from aesthetic treatments
  • Patients who wish to enhance the final results of other treatments 

What is involved in an Intense Pulsed Light Treatment?

Your skin will be cleansed.  Occasionally we apply topical numbing cream although it is usually unnecessary. You will wear protective eyewear throughout the treatment.  Cold gel is applied to the area being treated.  The smooth surface of the IPL treatment head is applied to the skin and delivers pulses of light.  Immediately after treatment, you will be a little flushed, blood vessels may be more visible, and brown spots may appear slightly darker.  There may be mild swelling.  These changes gradually fade over hours to days.  Be sure to avoid sun exposure in the days and weeks before and after treatment.  Most patients can return to work immediately after treatment.

When will I see results?

Many patients note improvements in vascular lesions and brown spots after one treatment.  For best results, usually six treatments are performed.  Some patients benefit from maintenance treatments a few times a year. 

What are the potential side effects?

Side effects are usually minor.  They include pain during treatment, bruising, a sunburn sensation, or swelling immediately after treatment that can last a few days. Sometimes, pigment cells can be damaged leaving darker or lighter patches of skin.  These are rarely permanent.  To minimize potential for pigment alteration, strict sun protection before and after treatment is imperative.    

Intense pulsed light provides excellent results as an individual procedure but can be even more impressive when combined with other treatments such as chemical peels, microneedling, Botox, fillers, or other laser/light therapies.  If you are considering IPL please call South Coast Dermatology at 781 335-9700 for your cosmetic consultation.