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Intense Pulsed Light Treatment (IPL)
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is a treatment used to improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin, particularly red discoloration and darker brown “age” spots. Most commonly used to counteract the diffuse redness that occurs in patients who have acne, rosacea and the red and brown changes that occur with extensive sun damage, IPL can be used on the face, neck, arms, hands and even the chest, back and legs.
How IPL Treatment Works
Performed in the office, IPL treatments do not require anesthesia or sedation and, depending on the size of the treatment area, typically take 20-30 minutes to complete. Treatments are usually repeated at 2-3 week intervals, with a series of four to six treatments recommended for most patients, along with touchups periodically (every several months or so). There is minimal “recovery” time after IPL treatment and patients typically resume their normal schedules without interruption. Those patients who have dark brown “sun spots” often notice that these areas turn dark and flake off over the first week after treatment. However, there is no crusting, scabbing, or discharge during the healing period immediately after IPL treatment. The treated skin is often pink for a few hours but typically returns to its normal color later the same day.
Intense Pulsed Light Combined with Photodynamic Therapy (IPL-PDT)
The number of IPL treatments needed to accomplish the treatment goal may be reduced by the use of aminolevulinic acid (ALA). ALA is a solution that, following topical application, is specifically absorbed by those areas of the skin with significant sun damage or precancerous changes, as well as the oil-producing glands responsible for acne. After the solution has had adequate time to be absorbed into the target areas, it is converted to a light-sensitive byproduct. This process takes approximately one hour to accomplish. The skin is then exposed to a light source that will activate the byproduct, thus delivering injury to specifically targeted areas in order to accomplish the desired objective. Combining PDT with IPL for the treatment of photoaging results in reduction in the total number of treatments necessary to achieve the desired results by approximately 50% (from six to three to four). IPL treatments, with or without PDT, should not be performed on patients who are currently tanned
Common Misconceptions about IPL
- Discrete Red Vessels: While IPL does help reduce the appearance of widespread red discoloration, it is not ideal treatment for the discrete red vessels (“broken capillaries”) that sometimes develop on the nose, cheeks, and chin. These larger vessels are best treated with a vascular laser.
- Certain Cases of Rosacea: Rosacea patients who experience facial flushing with exercise, consumption of alcohol, exposure to heat, or when feeling emotional may not achieve significant relief of their symptoms with IPL treatment.
- Wrinkles: Also, in contrast to either traditional laser skin resurfacing or fractional skin resurfacing, IPL does very little to improve the appearance of wrinkles and is not particularly effective in the treatment of lightly pigmented brown spots.