Intense pulsed light, commonly abbreviated as IPL, is a technology used by cosmetic and medical practitioners to perform various skin treatments for aesthetic and therapeutic uses including hair removal, photorejuvenation, and treatment of dermatologic diseases. The technology utilizes a broad spectrum lightsource. It may be described as a “soft” laser.
Xenon flashlamps produce high output bursts of broad spectrum. Cooling is used to protect the skin in contact with the device.
The first FDA approval of IPL was for burst capillaries in 1995. Use quickly spread to a variety of medical and cosmetic settings. Treatment is generally safe and effective, but complications can occur such hyperpigmentation. IPL targets blood vessels, pigmented cells, or hair follicles.
IPL can permanently reduce hair growth, most effectively in darker, coarser hair. Broad-spectrum light is applied to the surface of the skin, targeting melanin. This light travels through the skin until it strikes the hair shafts or the bulb (root). The bulb is usually where the highest concentration of melanin is located. As the light is absorbed the bulb and most of the hair shaft are heated, destroying the hair-producing papilla, or hair root.
At any one time, not all hair follicles are ‘active’, and only active hair follicles can be affected by the treatment. ‘Inactive’ hair follicles can be treated as they become ‘active’ over time. For IPL treatments an average of 4–8 treatments are required to remove most visible hair. The treatment area needs to be clean, shaved and free of sunburn. Treatment sessions are usually 4 to 6 weeks apart
Although IPL treatments will permanently reduce the total number of body hairs, they will not result in a permanent removal of all hair.
Certain skin conditions, health irregularities, and medications can impact whether it is safe for a person to receive a light based hair removal treatment. Photo-sensitizing medications, or damage to the skin are contraindications to treatment. All IPL and laser devices should only be used on light to medium skin tones, and work best on darker hair.
Photoaging treatment has been explored. A series of IPL can be used for facial rejuvenation, improving skin laxity and collagen production. IPL is employed in the treatment of a range of dermatological conditions including:
- Photodamage (“sundamage) induced dyspigmentation and vascular changes
- Acne vulgaris
- Broken capillaries/telangiectases
- Vascular Lesions (small blood vessels)
- Pigmented Lesions (freckles, liver spots, birth marks )