What is Intense Pulsed Light Therapy?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee

Intense pulsed light therapy (IPL) is a type of cosmetic procedure generally used to improve complexion and remove unwanted body hair. IPL doesn't typically use lasers, but instead generally uses bursts of broad-spectrum light to penetrate the skin and stimulate its natural regenerative powers, or, in some cases, damage hair follicles to prevent hair regrowth. Intense pulsed light therapy is believed to produce the same results as a medium-depth skin peel, without the side effects and recovery time. It's also considered effective for many types of skin discolorations that other resurfacing procedures aren't generally able to treat. Some people may not be considered good candidates for intense pulsed light therapy, due to their skin type or pre-existing health conditions.

IPL is a skin resurfacing procedure that can usually treat a wide range of skin conditions by applying pulses of broad-spectrum light. It's considered different from laser resurfacing, because it uses broad spectrum light rather than laser light. The pulsed light is usually filtered, so that the light waves penetrating the skin are those most effective for treating the problem at hand.

Cosmetic skin resurfacing with intense pulsed light therapy can generally be used to treat a much wider range of conditions than other types of skin resurfacing. IPL is often considered the only effective treatment for conditions that cause permanent redness of the skin, such as rosacea. It can be used to improve the appearance of broken capillaries, spider veins, strawberry birthmarks, and other discolorations not generally affected by laser, chemical or dermabrasion skin resurfacing techniques. Some types of IPL can damage hair follicles in order to bring about permanent removal of unwanted hair.

Most dermatologists perform this procedure on an outpatient basis. A topical anesthetic and a cooling gel might be applied to the skin of the treatment area. The pulses of light are typically administered through a prism that filters the broad spectrum rays. Several treatments are usually needed for optimum results. Treatments are typically performed every three to four weeks.

Other types of skin resurfacing, such as chemical peeling, dermabrasion, or laser resurfacing, can cause uncomfortable side effects and generally require several days or more of recovery time. Intense pulsed light therapy may cause some mild inflammation, but it does not generally require a recovery period. Patients are typically advised to avoid direct exposure to sunlight on the treatment area after treatment.

Some patients may not be considered good candidates for intense pulsed light therapy. Diabetics who take insulin may not be able to receive this treatment, due to the risk of complications. People with dark complexions may stand a higher chance of permanent skin discolorations caused by IPL.

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