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INTENSE PULSED LIGHT: PHOTOREJUVENATION TREATMENT TO IMPROVE VARIOUS SKIN CONCERNS
Intense pulsed light is a non-invasive, non-ablative treatment that delivers high-intensity light into the deeper layers of the skin to improve fine lines and wrinkles, vascular lesions, redness, broken capillaries, and sun spots. The range and wavelength of the light emitted during the treatment can be adjusted to accommodate your specific skin needs and concerns.
WHAT IS INTENSE PULSED LIGHT (IPL)?
Beginning in your early 30s, collagen and elastin production decreases and cell turnover begins to decline, making it more difficult for skin to recover from injury and inflammation. These factors begin to express themselves on the skin in the form of brown spots and discoloration, visible capillaries, uneven skin tone, and fine lines and wrinkles. Treatments with intense pulsed light help improve each of these concerns.
Also known as photorejuvenation or a photofacial, intense pulsed light is a non-ablative treatment that emits intense, visible pulses of light onto a targeted area without damaging the surrounding skin. The light energy is absorbed by melanin (responsible for skin pigment) and hemoglobin (red blood cells in the blood vessels). As a result, these structures become damaged and are absorbed by the body or brought to the surface of the skin where they will slough off.
Intense pulsed light is successful in addressing fine lines and wrinkles, dark spots, visible capillaries, and redness. While results may be visible after one session, a series of 3-5 treatments is typically recommended for optimal results. Due to its non-ablative nature, intense pulsed light requires very little downtime and can be repeated once a month as advised by your skincare professional.
WHO IS A GOOD CANDIDATE FOR INTENSE PULSED LIGHT (IPL)?
Intense pulsed light treatments are ideal for individuals with light to medium complexions looking to improve fine lines and wrinkles, discoloration, skin tone, sun damage, vascular lesions, or capillary inflammation. Because of the multiple wavelengths used during an IPL treatment, it can be adjusted for a spectrum of skin tones. However, fair skin that is relatively elastic and “freckle-prone” shows the greatest improvement.
Deeper skin tones are more prone to blistering and post-inflammatory discoloration, especially since melanin is one of the primarily targets of an IPL treatment. An experienced practitioner may still have success on deeper skin, but additional treatments are generally needed, as the intensity of the wavelengths is decreased to avoid triggering a pigment response. Better results may be seen with laser treatments such as the YAG or Q-switched YAG laser.
There are also certain medications such as blood thinners that may increase the risks associated with photorejuvenation. You should discuss any medications being taken with your skincare professional prior to scheduling a treatment. Use extra caution if you are using medication such as Accutane as it increases sensitivity to the sun. In these cases, an IPL treatment should be postponed until at least 6 months after the medication has been completed. As a precaution, pregnant women should also avoid IPL treatments.
HOW DO INTENSE PULSED LIGHT (IPL) TREATMENTS WORK?
It is important to note that IPL is not a laser resurfacing treatment. While the two devices operate on similar mechanisms of delivering high-intensity light energy onto specific target cells within the skin, lasers operate using a single wavelength. IPL treatments deliver multiple wavelengths, which allow them to target various conditions. They are also non-ablative, meaning that they do not damage the surface of the skin, whereas some laser treatments can be ablative.
The range and frequency of the light emitted by an IPL device can be adjusted and controlled depending on the scope of treatment and your individual skin concerns. The resulting light waves are “filtered” to target either redness (hemoglobin) or dark spots (melanin). This light energy is absorbed by the target areas and is converted into heat energy, which damages the walls of the blood vessels or breaks up the pigment. These damaged blood vessels and pigment either rise to the skin's surface or are carried away by the body's lymphatic system.
As a result, intense pulsed light has been shown effective for age spots, vascular lesions, such as spider veins, and even some birthmarks. In addition, intense pulsed light may result in less flushing for patients with rosacea and other inflammatory conditions. It is particularly effective at improving overall skin tone.
WHAT WILL I EXPERIENCE DURING AN INTENSE PULSED LIGHT (IPL) TREATMENT?
Intense pulsed light treatments are not entirely pain-free, although the level of discomfort depends upon your individual threshold for pain. It is common for a topical numbing cream to be applied before treatment to reduce the sensation that is often compared to the snapping of a rubber band on the skin.
During the treatment, both you and your skincare professional will wear protective goggles. After cleansing the skin, your skincare professional will apply a thin coat of gel (used to cool the skin), then place the glass surface of a handheld device directly onto the skin. The device pulses flashes of light, which continue until the desired area has been treated. The length of time and the intensity of the sensation will vary depending upon the severity and size of the damaged area. Once the treatment is finished, the gel is removed and a cold compress may be applied for several minutes. The final step includes a nourishing moisturizer and a broad spectrum sunscreen.
Immediately post-treatment, you may notice some minor redness and swelling, similar to that of a sunburn. The level of redness is dependent on the type of treatment being received and your skin’s sensitivity to the treatment. If treating freckles and sun spots, you may dryness and flaking around the treated area. Generally speaking, most side effects will resolve within 3-7 days. However, this may be prolonged for more intense treatments. Your skincare professional may also recommend at-home skincare products such as Metacell Renewal B3 to help complement results. Proven safe to use immediately post-IPL treatment, this daily emulsion strengthens skin’s moisture barrier, thereby significantly increasing hydration.
WHEN SHOULD I GET AN INTENSE PULSED LIGHT (IPL) TREATMENT?
Intense pulsed light may be administered throughout the year. However, any results achieved from this treatment will be minimal and short-lived without proper sun protection. As you may experience redness post-procedure, it is recommended that a broad spectrum sunscreen is applied daily and diligently. Extra caution should be exercised if receiving the treatment during summer or periods of sun exposure. Use of protective clothing and limited sun exposure is also encouraged.
WHERE SHOULD I GET AN INTENSE PULSED LIGHT (IPL) TREATMENT?
Although the range and wavelength of intense pulsed light can easily be controlled, the treatment is not risk-free and requires a knowledgeable, experienced skincare professional for the best results. Hypopigmentation (loss of skin color) or discoloration (darkening of skin) may occur if the practitioner does not follow proper guidelines when adjusting the settings of the device to account for skin tone and type.
The cost of an IPL treatment will vary depending upon the sessions needed, the area to be treated and the machine used. Additionally, some machines are designed to focus on specific issues and are less effective on others. It is best to consult an experienced cosmetic dermatologist to help decide which treatment and device will deliver the best results.
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SHOULD I INCORPORATE AN AT-HOME SKINCARE REGIMEN?
It is recommended to incorporate an at-home skincare after an intense pulsed light treatment; always consult with your physician for individual at-home advice.