What is IPL (intense pulsed light) skin rejuvenation?
IPL skin rejuvenation is a non-invasive light therapy treatment that uses very brief pulses of extremely bright light to treat various skin conditions, including sun damage, rosacea, "age spots, pigmentation and fine wrinkles and unwanted hair. IPL is not exactly the same as a laser because it uses a range of light wavelengths rather than just one. This means IPL therapy is good for general skin rejuvenation, which may involve treatment of capillaries, freckles, wrinkles and hair removal all at once. However, for convenience IPL is often referred to as a type of laser treatment.
How does IPL laser treatment work?
IPL treatment works by using a broad spectrum of light wavelengths to target specific cells in the skin. The light energy is absorbed by the skin's pigments (including the red pigment in blood), causing them to break down and be absorbed by the body. The heat from the light energy also stimulates the production of collagen, which can help tighten and improve the texture and appearance of the skin.
What skin conditions does IPL treat?
Due to its wide range of wavelengths, pulse duration and intensities, IPL treatments can effectively treat a range of skin conditions, and frequently more than one condition in any given treatment session.
By targeting blood vessels IPL therapy can help reduce the redness and "spider veins" associated with rosacea. This improves facial appearance, but may also reduce blood flow through the skin, resulting in fewer inflammatory symptoms such as flushing, skin sensitivity, pimples and dry eyes.
Sun exposure over a long period of time results in changes to skin pigmentation, blood vessels and texture. This leads to various skin changes, including
- fine and coarse wrinkles
- pigmented spots on the hands, face and chest (known as lentigines, but also sometimes called liver spots or age spots)
- rough and "bumpy" skin, known as poikiloderma when it affects the chest and neck
- changes to small vessels in the skin, leading to a network-like appearance, or distinct lines on the cheeks, chin and nostrils
Most of these features of sun damage can be treated effectively with IPL.
Severely sun damaged skin wth skin cancer or multiple solar keratoses can benefit from IPL photodynamic therapy, which combines a topical medication (aminolevulinic acid) with intense light, leading to a resurfacing of the treated area.
Age spots, birthmarks, freckles
Age spots, freckles, liver spots, lentigines and many birthmarks are collections of pigment in the superficial layers of the skin. This type of spot responds to IPL due to its activity on skin pigments.
Fine capillaries in the skin, often called spider veins, respond well to light treatment such as laser and IPL for broken capillaries because they are very close to the surface of the skin. Treatment is especially effective in fair-skinned individuals since IPL works best when there is a clear difference between the redness of the unwanted spider veins and the pale surrounding skin.
Loose skin and fine wrinkles
While IPL is especially useful for reduction of pigmentation in the skin, the heat it generates can stimulate cell turnover and collagen production in the skin This can have the effect of tightening areas of loose, crepey or lax skin and smoothing fine wrinkles.
IP laser hair removal is useful for treating large areas of unwanted hair on the body. It's most effective when treating dark hair on a fair-skinned person.
Melasma is a skin condition causing generalised pigmentation, usually on the face, although it can occur on different areas of the body. Melasma is triggered and exacerbated by both heat and light. Some types of laser treatment are able to treat melasma, but with IPL there's a risk of making the condition worse so it isn;t usually used for the treatment of melasma.
Are there side effects and risks of light treatment?
Because of the extremely bright light and high temperatures generated during treatment, IP carries some risks if it isn't practiced carefully. In Melbourne and Victoria, no specific training or qualifications are required for a person to operate a laser or IPL device and provide services to the community. There is potentially a higher risk of side effects if treatment is performed by an unqualified individual.
IPL and laser treatment should always be performed by a dermatology professional (doctor, nurse or dermal therapist) with training and qualifications in laser safety. Spot Check Clinic staff have these qualifications.
The most common side effects of IPL treatments are temporary and not medically serious. They can occur due to incorrect treatment parameters, incorrect use of safety equipment (e.g. goggles), and patient factors such as sensitivity to light or recent sun exposure or use of topical irritants. These causes are usually predictable and avoidable.
The heat of IPL treatment can cause burns, resulting in swelling, redness and blisters. These are usually minor and localised, although in certain circumstances they are more widespread and an expected effect (e.g. following photodynamic therapy for skin cancer or sun-damaged skin). Burns are usually treated successfully with topical hypochlorous acid and a course of low level light therapy, which speeds healing and reduces the risk of scarring.
Inadvertent treatment of melanoma
Some pigmented spots are melanomas or other pigmented skin cancers. A possible serious complication of IPL treatment could be inadvertent treatment of a melanoma. This could alter the appearance of the melanoma from the surface so that it is no longer eaily noticeable. However, melanoma cells could potentially continue to multiple in deeper levels of the skin, eventually spreading to other parts of the body and causing serious illness or death.
This is why its essential to have any pigmented skin lesion examined by an experienced doctor to rule out melanoma before having it treated with laser or IPL.
IPL treatments can cause an Increase in pigmentation due to activation of melanocytes (pigment-producing cells) by light or heat. This reaction is more common in people with melasma or darker skin types (Fizpatrick type IV or higher). To an extent, the risk can be reduced by treating with less intensity over a greater number of sessions. In practice, this treatment may not be sufficient to lead to a good cosmetic effect.
Better results are usually achieved with a specialised laser that uses extremely brief pulses of light that "shatter" rather than "burn" pigment in the skin.
The most common infection following IPL or laser treatment is cold sores. The intense light and heat of the treatments can reactivate HSV, the cold sore virus, which normally lies dormant between outbreaks. At Spot Check Clinic, we always ask if you have a history of cold sores. If we are concerned that you may experience an outbreak of cold sores, we provide a dose of anti-HSV medication prior to your treatment.
Scarring and bleeding
Scarring and bleeding following IPL treatment is rare following IPL treatments since they don't penetrate deeply into the skin. Scarring could potentially result from severe burns, which are seldom seen with IPL.
What are the benefits of IPL skin therapy?
The benefits of IPL skin therapy include
- fading of pigmentation and pigmented skin lesions such as freckles, age spots, lentigines
- destruction of superficial blood vessels, capillaries and spider veins, as well as small superficial vascular lesions such as angiomas, Campbell-de-Morgan spots, strawberry naevi and small vascular birthmarks
- fading of the redness and inflammation of rosacea, which may also lead to reduction in symptoms of skin sensitivity and tenderness, flushing and dry or itching eyes
- tightening of loose skin and reduction of fine wrinkles
- reduction in unwanted hair
- an overall improvement in the appearance of sun-damages skin, leaving it smoother tighter and clearer
IPL is often less painful than laser or skin resurfacing treatments with minimal downtime. Many of our patients attend for a treatment and then go straight back to work.
How long does IPL skin treatment last?
The results of PL skin treatment can last several months to a year. However, it is important to note that the duration of results can vary depending on various factors including:
- Severity and extent of the sun damage or skin lesions treated
- The individual's skin type
- Exposure to sunlight following treatment
- Use of topical treatments (e.g. tretinoin, niacinamide and vitamin C) or prescription rosacea treatments which may enhance the benefits of IPL skin rejuvenation treatments.
To maintain optimum results, most maintenance treatments are usually required in the years following an initial treatment course. In general, maintenance treatments usually require fewer sessions and cost less than an initial treatment course.
Choosing the right skin treatment for your condition
If you are considering IPL skin rejuvenation or laser treatment, it is important to consult with a doctor or nurse experienced in dealing with skin conditions and skin cancers. IPL is an excellent treatment for many skin conditions, but you can often achieve even better results if it's combined with a good skincare routine and sometimes with prescription medical treatments. It's best to rely on the knowledge and expertise available at a medical clinic to help you choose a treatment that best suits your skin type, treatment preferences, medical history, skin cancer risk factors and cost constraints.