Understanding intense pulsed light (IPL) skin rejuvenation treatments
Sun exposure and increasing age are the main causes of skin damage, which appears as:
- facial wrinkles
- loss of skin thickness and elasticity
- prominent blood vessels on the nose, cheeks and chin
- “age spots” and pigmentation
IPL works by causing damage to structures in the skin. Damaged pigmented structures are removed by the immune system, and the skin healing process helps tighten the skin. The nurse or dermal therapist performing the treatment adjusts the wavelength, duration and intensity of energy delivered to the skin so that specific structures are targeted. Heat energy then damages unwanted brown or red structures (pigment or blood vessels). This damage then stimulates the growth of new skin, which can result in smoother and fuller skin.
Our approach to skin treatment is partly cosmetic and partly medical. We don’t aim for an unrealistic flawless appearance. Our team works toward reduction of skin cancer risk, improving skin health, and therapy of sun damaged and ageing skin and some medical skin conditions.
What is IPL therapy?
IPL therapy is a series of powerful flashes of light to the skin, at a wavelength and intensity which destroys pigment or stimulates new skin growth, while preserving or improving the appearance of normal skin. This rejuvenation treatment is often referred to as IPL photo rejuvenation or IPL skin rejuvenation.
How does IPL work?
Intense pulsed light is absorbed by coloured structures such as blood cells or melanin in the skin or hair. When absorbed, the light energy is changed into heat, which damages or destroys the target structures in the skin.
Pigment which has been broken down by IPL treatment is transported away from the treated area by immune system cells. As part of this process, cells that are damaged by IPL are replaced by new skin cells, which can make the area smoother and tighter. IPL treatment is often used to treat the face but can also be used on other areas of the body.
Some skin lesions, e.g. angiomas, resolve with a single IPL treatment. Freckles and pigmentation improve significantly after 2 or 3 treatments, usually over 1-2 months. Redness and capillaries may take 5 or 6 treatments for the maximum result to be achieved.
When to consider IPL treatments
Because IPL treatment requires light to penetrate the target pigment, structure or lesion, it works best for shallow structures. Best results are achieved if there is a clear difference in colour between the treated lesion and the surrounding skin(for example, fair skin and dark freckles or hair).
You could consider IPL treatments:
- If you have unwanted pigment or fine blood vessels on sun-exposed facial or body areas such as the chest, hands or forearms
- If you have unwanted dark hair that you would like to remove, especially over a large area such as the back
- If you have rosacea or acne and would like to supplement medical treatments and/or topical products to achieve a better result, faster
- If you have had a recent skin procedure(e.g. cosmetic surgery) and would like to reduce the risk of overgrown/keloid scarring
The benefits of IPL rejuvenation treatments
IPL skin rejuvenation treatments have multiple skin benefits, plus some advantages over other skin rejuvenation treatments:
- Improved appearance of skin (brighter and clearer)
- Improved consistency (e.g tighter, less “crepey” skin)
- Reduction or removal of fine blood vessels, spider veins, freckles and age spots
- Reduction or removal of fine wrinkles
- Removal of unwanted dark hair
- Treatment of certain skin conditions including acne and rosacea
- Treatment of some skin cancers and pre-cancer conditions
Compared with other skin rejuvenation treatments such as laser or chemical resurfacing, IPL using the BBL form of IPL usually has advantages:
- Less redness, swelling and soreness following treatment
- Can be used over large areas of the face and body more quickly using a continuous motion rather than “stamping” a small area at a time
- Less discomfort or pain during treatment
How effective is IPL?
When used for the right purpose, intense pulsed light is highly effective and safe.
In skin rejuvenation, IPL is effective for:
- Removal of angiomas and capillaries (spider veins)
- Tightening loose skin
- Removal of freckles
- Removal of some forms of pigmentation
- Reduction of fine wrinkles
- Flattening and fading of some raised and discoloured scars
- Skin cancer therapy (when used in conjunction with a topical medication)
Broad band light(BBL)—the specific type of IPL treatment provided at our clinic—has been shown in a laboratory study to have a rejuvenation effect on dermal cells. In the study, skin cells treated with broad band light IPL resembled normal cells decades younger. Clinical studies have demonstrated that skin treated regularly with broadband light IPL over a period of years looked an average of 2 years younger at the end of the study period (i.e. 5-11 years) than before treatment was commenced.
IPL has been shown in clinical trials to be effective in:
- Treatment of redness and blood vessels of the cheeks, nose and chin in rosacea
- Treatment of acne of the face and body
- Hair removal, especially over large areas
IP treatment is not the best treatment for the following conditions:
- Skin resurfacing
- Removal of raised moles: This is best done by radiosurgery (also offered at Spot Check Clinic)
- Large or deep wrinkles
- Melasma (facial pigmentation made worse by light)
How many treatments are typically required?
There is often a noticeable difference after a single treatment, but most pigmentation issues require several sessions of treatment for significant improvement.
- Small flat angiomas (clusters of blood vessels) often resolve with a single treatment
- Freckles and lentigines (age spots) and capillaries (spider veins) look better after the first treatment, but usually require a course of three treatments, and sometimes more are required
- Hair removal and acne and rosacea may require five or more treatments
The response varies from person to person and these numbers are generalisations. More skin treatments may be required if you have darker tones skin that tans deeply.
To retain the benefits of IPL rejuvenation treatments, maintenance treatments are often recommended over the years following the initial treatment course.
The IPL face and skin treatment procedure
Skin treatments are performed while you are lying down and wearing goggles or dark tinted glasses to protect your eyes.
The nurse or dermal therapist applies a cool lubricating gel to the face, chest or other area of the body to be treated. This allows the treatment handpiece to make close contact with the skin and glide across it smoothly.
The handpiece is applied to the skin and IPL therapy is administered as a series of extremely brief flashes of bright light. Flashes of light may be applied one at a time by “stamping” the skin, or 3-4 times per second (like a strobe light) while the operator glides the handpiece across the treatment area.
Our BBL treatment device instantly cools the skin, keeping pain to a minimum in most cases.
Treatment is repeated in several passes to deliver sufficient energy to the skin to have the best possible effect.
Your skin will feel warm and may appear red after treatment.
You should be able to return to work or normal daily activities the same day if these don’t involve long periods in sunlight, in a hot environment, or intense exercise.
Mild redness may persist for some days following treatment and small dark spots may be visible in areas of treated pigment. This is usually a sign of successful treatment.
After treatment, avoid direct sun exposure and wear sunscreen even on overcast or cool days.
Don’t apply prescription creams or ointments or active products (including tretinoin and vitamin C) for several days as these may cause more skin irritation than usual.
Are IPL treatments safe?
IPL treatments are generally regarded as safe, with fewer side effects than some other skin rejuvenation treatments such as ablative laser or chemical peels.
Before your treatment, our accredited skin cancer doctor or registered nurse examines the treatment area for signs of skin cancer or other skin conditions that may adversely affect treatment outcomes.
If we think you might experience problems as a result of IPL therapy, there are some even safer skin treatments, such as low-level LED light therapy and topical products. These typically don’t result in as much visible improvement in skin ageing in as short a time as IPL.
- Eye injuries from very bright lights: Prevented by using goggles or dark glasses for all treatments
- Pain: The pain from IPL treatment is not severe but some people are especially sensitive. (IPL treatment as part of photodynamic therapy for skin cancer or pre-cancer solar damage) is usually painful. Fortunately, this pain is short-lived. Our registered nurse can provide pain relief during treatment, or our doctor can administer local anaesthetic before treatment if required.
- Treatment may aggravate conditions triggered by exposure to bright or flashing lights such as epilepsy or some migraines. We obtain a medical history before treatment and might decide not to treat if the risk is too high. If you are taking medication that makes the skin sensitive to light (e.g. doxycycline) we may ask you to stop taking it for several days before your treatment.
- Inadvertent treatment of melanoma: IPL may affect the appearance of pigmented moles and skin cancers. If an undiagnosed melanoma or skin cancer was treated with IPL it might change the appearance so that it becomes harder to recognise. The result could be that it is allowed to grow for longer, possibly with serious health consequences. To avoid this, our accredited skin cancer doctor or registered nurse examines the treatment area for signs of skin cancer before commencing any treatment course. (In addition to IPL treatments, mole removal by radiofrequency surgery is also available Spot Check Clinic.)
Possible side effects
- Burns, causing swelling, redness or blistering after treatment: This is uncommon, and usually minor. If it occurs, we provide a complimentary course of LED light therapy to enhance healing and reduce discomfort. Our doctor can prescribe medications if required. Burns and redness are more likely if you are using topical preparations that may irritate the skin, so we ask you to discontinue these medications and products before IPL treatment.
- Treatment failure: Some people achieve a better outcome than others. Freckles on fair-skinned people usually respond well, while large or thick blood vessels may be more resistant. People with darker skin may require more treatments at a lower intensity to obtain results.
- Hyperpigmentation: In some cases, IPL can lead to increased pigmentation (darkening) of the skin. This is more common in darker-skinned people and people with melasma. If you have melasma, the Spot Check Clinic team can offer advice on products or prescribe medications that can improve the condition.
- Reduced hair growth: IPL can affect hair follicles to reduce hair growth. Sometimes this is an intended result, but it may be a side effect of treatment of sun damage of skin in the bear, moustache or other hairy areas. We’ll always check before treatment to make sure we don’t accidentally remove hair you’d rather keep.
- Cold sores: If you have a history of recent cold sores in or near the area we’re treating, we’ll provide antiviral medication to help prevent an outbreak.
IPL skin rejuvenation treatment in Melbourne
In Melbourne, IPL treatment is widely available in many cosmetic clinics, often performed by a dermal therapist without medical or nursing qualifications. Potential problems with this type of clinic are that the therapist can’t diagnose skin cancers or other medical conditions and may not be able to perform treatment unless you obtain a clearance letter from a doctor. Further, non-medical cosmetic and laser clinics can't provide medical and surgical treatments which may be better suited to your specific skin condition.
IPL is best and safest performed in a medical clinic with doctors and/or nurses as part of the team.
Because the Spot Check Clinic team consists of medical and nursing professionals, we are able to consult with you regarding your concerns, rule out or detect any serious conditions (e.g. skin cancer) and use the treatment that best suits your requirements. We can recommend or even prescribe other products that further enhance the benefits of IPL skin rejuvenation.
- Our doctor can provide advice about IPL and other skin rejuvenation treatments as part of a skin cancer screening appointment
- Our registered nurse/dermal therapist can meet you for a free consultation to discuss the services we can provide at our skin care clinic.