In Ask a Dermatologist, Cosmetic, Skin Care

If you have age spots or fine lines, IPL treatments may be right for you. IPL is short for Intense Pulsed Light, a treatment that fades age spots, fine lines and other skin imperfections. IPL treatments are a non-surgical option with little downtime and good results. IPL is also used for permanent hair removal.

What is IPL?

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatment is a face and body procedure that uses light therapy. It is also known as a photo facial. IPL sends wavelengths of pulsating lights to your skin to treat multiple skin conditions simultaneously.

The treatment stimulates skin cells with a warm broad-spectrum light that penetrates beneath the skin’s surface with a handheld device. Red blood cells and melanin or pigment in the skin absorb the light, which damages the area. The melanin breaks apart, and the stimulated blood flow helps the skin re-absorb the melanin while decreasing its appearance on the skin’s surface.

It differs from a laser treatment, which only uses a single wavelength of light. IPL sends several wavelengths of light that cover a larger surface area. The procedure is often less painful than laser treatment and can provide immediate results.

When treating blood vessel issues like broken capillaries, the treatment warms the blood, causing it to thicken in the vessel walls and stop circulation. Then the veins collapse, the body absorbs them, and they are no longer visible.

What skin conditions does IPL treat?

IPL treatments are used for various skin conditions in lieu of plastic surgery. The light emitted from IPL heats the skin and destroys skin blemishes in the thin outer layers of the skin. The treatment is usually performed on the face, neck, back, shoulders and hands. IPL can reduce or eliminate conditions such as:

  • Age spots
  • Acne discoloration or scarring
  • Sun damage and freckles
  • Rosacea
  • Broken capillaries
  • Birthmarks
  • Fine lines

IPL is also used in hair removal and is sometimes referred to as laser hair removal. The pulsating light penetrates the hair follicle, killing the root and inhibiting future growth. Because your hair grows in cycles, you may need up to 10 treatments over a few months to ensure you have targeted each growth cycle.

IPL for hair removal is permanent once your treatment plan is complete. You can have IPL treatments to remove hair in the following areas:

  • Bikini line
  • Legs
  • Arms
  • Underarms
  • Neck
  • Chest
  • Face (upper lip, chin, sideburns)
  • Back

How many treatments do I need?

The number of IPL treatments you need will differ depending on what issue you’re correcting. Brown spots can typically be removed in 1 to 3 treatments. Facial veins or redness can take 3 to 6 sessions; however, patients with rosacea may need a longer course of treatment. After each treatment, the skin needs to heal, so the next session should occur 4 to 6 weeks later.

What is the procedure like?

Before having an IPL treatment, we recommend you avoid other skin procedures like waxing, chemical peels or cosmetic injections. Talk to your doctor about any antibiotics or medications you are taking that cause excess bleeding.

Avoid using lotions with retinoids or other ingredients that cause skin sensitivity for a week before your treatment. Do not wear moisturizer or makeup on the day of your procedure. We encourage people to drink plenty of water before and after the treatment.

You will wear protective goggles on your eyes during the treatment. Your technician will clean the area being treated and may apply a cooling gel. Then, using a handheld device, the light will be applied to the areas being treated.

The length of treatment depends on the size of the treatment area. It can take several minutes or up to an hour.

What are the side effects?

While IPL has less downtime than many procedures like laser therapy, you may experience minor side effects in the treated area, like redness, bruising or blistering, which will subside quickly. Your skin may feel as if you have a sunburn for a few hours after treatment.

If your treatment is for broken capillaries, they may seem darker or larger immediately after, but they will fade quickly.

After IPL for hair removal, your skin may be sensitive or irritated. The treated hairs will take 2 to 3 weeks to fall out.

After treatment, avoid hot showers or baths, saunas and swimming pools. Your technician will provide additional details on caring for your skin after hair removal and information on a follow-up appointment.

Who can get IPL?

People with fair to medium skin have the best results from IPL treatments. Patients with darker skin types or tanned skin may have too much melanin to treat safely. The treatment targets the pigment in your skin or hair follicles, so the outcome may differ in people with darker skin tones.

People on medication that creates light sensitivity are advised not to use IPL. It is also not recommended for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Consult with your primary care doctor if you have health concerns before having an IPL treatment.

IPL treatments in Columbia 

IPL is just one of the many cosmetic dermatology treatments we offer at Columbia Skin Clinic. To find out if you’re a candidate for IPL for skin conditions or hair removal, schedule a consultation with one of our skincare experts today!

woman with oily scalp and hairman with itchy feet or other skin conditions of the feet