Intense Pulsed Light Therapy

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy also known under the short name IPL therapy, is a high-tech cosmetic treatment for the skin. It is one of the most advanced and effective therapies with anti-aging effects. The procedure is based on focused light, just like laser. However, IPL uses several types of light while laser is only one variety.

Intense pulsed light therapy can be used for both medical and cosmetic purposes, with various applications. It can treat numerous skin diseases such as acne, as well as eliminate hair. It is often used to improve the skin's aspect by repairing sun damage, irregular pigmentation or thread veins. These cosmetic improvements are collectively known as photo rejuvenation. This treatment has lately been used by eye doctors as well, to counter a meibomian gland issue that can cause the so-called evaporative dry eye disease.

The light use to achieve these effects is very powerful and usually located in the visible spectral range. It has a broad spectrum, usually between 400 and 1200 nm. Application is normally done with a flashgun held in hand and controlled by a computer. It is possible to filter dangerous ultra violet light and other dangerous light with a low wavelength, by using various types of filters. The light that is allowed to reach the skin has a specific spectral range that can destroy some of the compounds in the various layers. These are heated until they break up and are assimilated back into the body. Examples include skin melanin or the oxyhemoglobin of blood veins.

Since it is based on the heat generated by light to destroy skin compounds, Intense Pulsed Light Therapy has many things in common with laser treatments. However, Intense Pulsed Light Therapy has a wide spectrum that can be controlled and focused by filters. This allows it to destroy several skin elements and treat many conditions. Lasers only have a single light color, so they can only target one chromophore and cure one problem.

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy treatments involve a number of sessions. It can be helpful to know what the prerequisites of this therapy are and what you can expect from it. A normal session takes around 20 minutes and a full treatment requires between four and six such sessions. Intense Pulsed Light Therapy consists of four separate stages.

Getting started

It all starts with an initial assessment when the doctor also decides on a strict regime that must be followed. The regime is very important and the patient will have to report to the clinic a few hours before the first treatment, in order to check if he respected it.

Your personal history with anesthetics usually has to be discussed with a specialist anesthetist. This must be done in order to avoid very dangerous allergic reactions and the anesthetist might want to ask a few questions even if you have already discussed it previously with your doctors. As a preventive measure, dermatologists sometimes decide to give the patient minor doses of pain medication and anti-allergens used in anesthesia. These are usually over the counter medications.

Administering anesthesia

The second stage is a local anesthetic administered by a specialist. This will numb the area and prevent pain but some people choose to continue without it and endure the effects. The dermatologist will then apply a cold gel over the area, only after the skin becomes completely insensitive. The purpose of the gel is to allow the light pulses to penetrate the skin, which will speed up its rate of recovery.

Applying Intense Pulsed Light

After covering the skin with gel, the actual light will be administered through an object with a shape similar to a prism. The light is then applied in short but very intense bursts. The entire procedure is controlled by an operator, who makes sure the right intensity is used. The wavelength has to be adjusted, depending on the area of the skin that is being treated. A skilled technician will be able to focus the highest amount of light in the areas with problems, while causing minimal damage to healthy skin tissues.

Because the treatment requires a lot of skill, dermatologists rarely do it themselves. Specialized pulse light technicians are usually the ones who apply it and make sure that the strength and duration of pulses is correct, as well as the interval between them.

Unlike laser procedures, which can't be customized at all, the Intense Pulsed Light Therapy can be adjusted and personalized based on the needs and skin condition of every person. This allows it to be extremely effective, with minor side effects.

Am IPL treatment usually requires between 4 and 6 sessions, at intervals of 3 to 6 weeks. Every session lasts no more than 20 minutes. The Intense Pulsed Light Therapy doesn't have important side effects and rarely prevents patients to resume work immediately.

The intense light used in the treatment can damage the eyes, so eyewear is needed for protection. Unlike other skin treatments for the face, Intense Pulsed Light Therapy is not very painful. Those who have experienced it compare the sensation to light pinching or slapping. However, some people don't tolerate it.

Immediate recovery

As soon as therapy finishes, the equipment is removed and gel is cleared from the skin. There is no direct recovery needed after Intense Pulsed Light Therapy but patients are usually told to lie for a few extra minutes, as a general precaution.

The doctor will then check the skin and look for any red or inflamed areas. Even if these appear on the surface, additional treatment is rarely needed. The red skin can be reduced by simply applying a pack of ice, or other simple home remedies. Since the skin will be sensitive for some time, long periods of direct sun exposure have to be avoided.

Are there any side effects?

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy can have side effects but these are usually minor. The procedure itself can be mildly painful, which can be countered by applying ice or local anesthetic. The aftermath of the procedure can resemble minor sunburn for a few days, with patches or red and swollen skin and some peeling. If too much energy is used, blisters sometimes appear on the skin's surface. Immediately after IPL, the area might turn pink and be sensitive when touched.

More serious side effects of Intense Pulsed Light Therapy include temporary bruises, in about one in 10 cases. Hair loss can also be experienced if the treatment wasn't applied correctly. When melanocytes are affected, which are the skin cells that produce pigment, the skin can become too light or too dark. This is usually just a temporary symptom.

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