Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/24/2021
Join the club if you’ve ever taken a look at the wrinkles, age spots or discoloration mapping your face, and wished you could simply erase them all.
While the technology to erase signs of photoaging may be a few decades shy of realization, current methods exist to reduce the signs of photoaging by giving them a zap.
Intense Pulsed Light Treatments (or IPL treatments) are cosmetic procedures that are used to reduce the signs of aging, skin spots as well as unwanted hairs.
Their introduction into dermatology came over 20 years ago, and this treatment has since gone through several modifications to improve its safety and effectiveness in improving the appearance of the skin.
But what exactly is an IPL treatment, and how will it benefit your skin? Are there any side effects you should be aware of? And of course, are there any alternatives you should consider?
Broken down very simply, intense pulsed light treatments deliberately target certain portions of the skin and introduce light energy to the affected portion to reduce unwanted features like wrinkles.
Going a little deeper, IPL relies on the fact that your skin is able to safely absorb light at certain wavelengths. This is made possible through handy molecules known as “chromophores.”
The skin has three main chromophores:
These molecules absorb light at individual, broad strengths.
IPL treatments are able to penetrate extensively into your skin. In mathematical terms, they can go anywhere between 500nm to 1200nm deep beneath the skin surface.
What’s really unique about this treatment method is that the wavelength is adjustable. This is important to note because certain portions of the inner skin (dermis), and outer skin (epidermis) absorb light differently, and at different strengths.
By exhibiting scattered wavelengths of light, IPL treatments penetrate more softly into certain portions of the skin, depending on how well they can absorb light.
This feature helps to prevent damage to the skin, and offers protection to neighboring structures and cells against injury.
Because IPL treatments have a broad wavelength and are able to penetrate the skin at different strengths, they are able to target the three main chromophores at the same time.
This is in spite of the fact that hemoglobin, water, and melanin have unique tolerance levels for light.
This ability to focus light at different wavelengths is what ultimately sets IPL treatments apart from laser therapy.
This means that they can only produce concentrated light at one wavelength when penetrating the skin, irrespective of the absorption strength of the portion affected.
IPL treatments are able to use heat to reduce injury to healthy skin around damaged skin cells, instead pushing the body to remove and heal only the damaged portions.
IPL treatments are a dermatologist's delight for a number of reasons. These procedures are able to target a large surface area without introducing dangerous UV rays to the skin.
This is because at a starting point of 500nm, harmful rays which fall under that point are avoided.
These treatments are especially useful for the effects they have in improving multiple skin conditions such as:
Abnormal hair growth
Birthmarks such as the port wine stain
This treatment has also been suggested to show promise in managing rosacea, a condition that causes redness and small bumps on the skin; and seborrheic keratosis, a benign growth that appears tan or waxy brown.
Very notably, however, IPL treatments are used for managing signs of photodamage on the skin, such as wrinkles and fine lines.
Before undergoing an IPL treatment, a number of processes have to be observed to ensure the desired results are achieved safely.
In preparation for this procedure, it's important to first visit a dermatologist.
They’ll examine your medical history and conduct a physical exam to rule out any factors that may endanger you during the procedure.
It’s also important to know that during this period, you are expected to align your expectations from the procedure with your dermatologist.
They will also share possible risks that may be experienced following your treatment.
Additionally, you should know that there are certain practices to avoid shortly before you are scheduled to have the treatment. They include:
Chemical peels for at least two weeks before the procedure
Right before and after treatment it is advisable to avoid perfume and deodorant in the area you’re receiving the treatment in. This is due to an increased risk of irritation.
Medication like aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs should also be avoided, as they can worsen the chances of bleeding.
The IPL treatment is popularly carried out through a handpiece, which is applied to the skin. For better penetration, a water based gel may be applied to enhance contact.
In some cases, a topical anaesthetic cream is applied to reduce discomfort.
A session covering the whole face may last 40 to 50 minutes, while reducing signs of aging or other skin conditions on the neck may take around 45 to 80 minutes.
To reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines or other treatable skin conditions, around four to seven sessions are necessary to produce lasting results.
These sessions are usually carried out every two to three weeks.
These treatments can cost several hundred to over a thousand dollars per session.
Right after treatment, you may notice that the affected area remains pink or red for about four to eight hours after the treatment.
That portion may also sting for a number of hours, around four to six right after the treatment is completed.
The treatment may also cause swelling in the affected area, but this usually calms within days.
To soothe the areas affected, a moisturizing lotion should be applied twice a day.
While the excitement may be fever-high to notice results, these improvements may not be observable until several weeks after the procedure.
IPL treatments are a preferred form of light therapy thanks to their safety and tolerance by the skin. However, in some cases, this treatment can lead to adverse effects.
Some of the side-effects of using IPL treatment include:
Some of these effects, like hypopigmentation, can be permanent. However, for the most part, any adverse effects may be reversible, and are usually minimized where a skilled dermatologist handles the procedure.
If you’d rather avoid these adverse effects, but would still like to limit the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, age spots, and other photoaging effects, there are other well-known methods you can adopt. Some of these include:
For a safe combination of some of these ingredients however, our Anti-Aging Cream contains tretinoin, niacinamide, azelaic acid and a number of other age-reducing ingredients to manage the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, etc., on your skin.
IPL treatments are a safe and effective way to manage skin conditions like acne, rosacea and most notably, visible signs of aging.
To get the best results, following the appropriate pre and post-procedure care methods can go a long way for achieving your desired results.
To make sure you’re getting all the bang for your buck, consult with a dermatologist before getting carrying out an Intense Pulsed Light treatment, and make sure only certified professionals carry out the procedure.