Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)
OverviewIntense Pulsed Light (IPL), also known as a photofacial, is a treatment that can correct a variety of benign skin conditions. IPL treatments use high-intensity pulses of light to penetrate the skin, heat the sub-surface layers and reduce the appearance of certain skin conditions. (1) This procedure is becoming increasingly popular; in fact over the past few years it has become one of the top cosmetic procedures performed according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. (2)
IPL therapy can treat a variety of skin conditions, including the following: (3)
- Unwanted hair in all body areas (works best on dark hair)
- Pigmented lesions
- Unwanted tattoos
- Vascular lesions
- Port-wine stains
- Birth marks
IPL and laser resurfacing treatment are often confused with each other, but these treatments are not the same. IPL uses intense light from multiple wavelengths, while laser treatments use only one wavelength. Because the light used in IPL is less focused, the procedure is less invasive and causes less damage. (1)
Being an appropriate candidate for IPL is the most important factor in the success of this procedure. (2) Those with white, untanned skin are the best candidates for IPL. However, people with blotchy or discolored skin, freckles or wrinkles are also candidates for this type of treatment. People with very dark skin can experience complications from IPL. (4) You are not a good candidate for IPL if you are pregnant or breast feeding, currently have a tan, are sensitive to light, use a retinoid cream or other photosensitizing medications, or are taking oral acne medications. IPL also isn’t recommended on patients who often experience keloid scarring. Those with diabetes, hemophilia, or have a heart pacemaker should be treated with care when using IPL. (3) To determine if you are a good candidate, discuss your specific situation with your doctor.
IPL uses light flashes to cause damage to the target area (i.e., age spots, freckles, etc.). You will be given dark glasses to wear during the procedure to protect your eyes from the light. The procedure usually takes 20-30 minutes. IPL usually causes minimal discomfort during the procedure, sometimes described as a stinging feeling. (5)
Most side effects of IPL treatments are minor and treatable, such as: (3)
- Pain during treatment: This is common but can be reduced by contact cooling or a topical anesthetic.
- Swelling: This can last for a few days.
- Crusting: Avoid scratching blisters or crusting to prevent scarring.
- Hyperpigmentation: This can be prevented by adjusting the wavelength for the patient’s skin type.
Up to 2 weeks before your IPL procedure you should avoid sun exposure, waxing, topical treatments that have vitamin A, and drugs that increase bleeding such as aspirin. Avoid using creams or makeup on the day of the procedure.
Recovery from IPL is minimal. Most people can resume their daily activities immediately. Side effects like bruising or redness usually go away quickly, with most resolving in 2 to 10 days. A few important things to remember after the procedure:
- Don’t use hot water on your skin until it heals.
- Wear sunscreen for a few weeks after the procedure and avoid sun exposure when you can.
- Retinoids should also be avoided following IPL.
- Don’t swim in pools with chlorine.
- Avoid other things that could irritate the skin like chemicals, heat, and perfumes.
Of course, be sure to follow through on any other recommendations from your doctor, like taking any prescription medications.
The average cost of IPL treatments is $406 for one session.(6) Keep in mind that multiples sessions are often required to achieve desired results; usually 3 to 6 sessions are needed. Hair removal can require more treatments. Additionally, other costs may be involved such as a surgical facility fee, prescribed medications, or anesthetic fees. The cost of IPL will depend upon the severity of the condition and size of the area treated. Most insurance companies do not cover IPL treatments because it is considered a cosmetic procedure. To get an accurate estimate of the cost to treat your skin condition, contact a qualified doctor in your area.
IPL is not the only procedure used to treat unwanted skin conditions. Alternatives to IPL include lasers, chemical peels, and microdermabrasion.
- Lasers: Lasers use a single wavelength of light to treat pigmentation, wrinkles, and unwanted hair. The average cost of treatment is $1,963. (7) While laser treatment is more expensive than IPL, it can achieve results in fewer sessions. It is also more appropriate for dark skin than IPL.
- Fraxel: Fraxel laser treatment is less invasive than traditional laser treatments as it uses a non-ablative laser. It is an effective way to treat a variety of conditions caused by aging and sun damage and it is appropriate for a wide range of skin types. The average cost for Fraxel treatment is $1201. 3 to 6 treatments are usually needed. (7, 8)
- Chemical peels: Chemical peels rejuvenate skin by applying an exfoliating agent to the skin which layers of the epidermis or dermis and leads to skin rejuvenation. Peels are classified based on how deeply they exfoliation the skin (superficial – deep). The average cost of a chemical peel is $644. (9, 10)
- Microdermabrasion: Microdermabrasion can treat a range of skin conditions including hyperpigmentation, acne, and scars. It is a safe procedure that uses a hand-piece to blow abrasive substances, like aluminum oxide crystals, onto the face and then vacuum them off. The average cost of this procedure is $136. (11, 12)
Whether you use IPL, or an alternative treatment will depend on your specific situation, including the skin condition you are seeking to treat and your medical history. It is important to speak with your doctor to determine the most appropriate treatment(s) for you, as all treatments have different requirements for candidacy, side effects and recovery times.
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