What is Intense Pulse Light (IPL)?
Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a recent form of light technology introduced to remove multiple skin disorders, such as pigmentation and fine blood vessels (telangiectasia). It is also popularly known as "photorejuvenation" or "photofacial". The light device is not a laser but a broad band light source with a range of wavelengths, which can target different skin lesions at the same time. Different filters are used depending on the skin type and the predominant target. The improvement is more gradual and subtle than compared to laser therapy.
What is it used for?
IPL is effective for superficial pigmentation such as freckles. Solar lentigines (sun spots) and superficial melasma. It does not work as well for deeper forms of facial pigmentation or certain types of pigmentation e.g. acne marks. It is also effective for redness from fine blood vessels and certain skin conditions e.g. rosacea. IPL may improve skin texture to varying extent but it is not effective for deep wrinkles or movement-related wrinkles such as frown lines and "crow's feet". Deep scars such as those from acne or chicken pox also do not respond to IPL.
What are the IPL devices available?
Presently there are several models of IPL devices available in the market. Some devices are used mainly for hair removal while others are for "photorejuvenation". They have a range of wavelengths from 500 to 1200 nm. Some form of cooling is required to protect the skin surface (epidermis) so that complications such as blistering and burns are minimised.
How many treatments are required?
To achieve significant noticeable results, it has been reported that multiple treatments are necessary. The skin should be treated at intervals of 4 -6 weeks for 4 -6 times.
Is it painful?
An anaesthetic cream is applied one hour before the treatment to minimise discomfort. A mild burning sensation may still be felt for some people. Most of the time, it is very well tolerated. There is no need to take painkiller.
What are the possible side effects?
The overall risk of side effects is low. The treatment is associated with very little downtime and the patient can resume daily activities almost immediately. Following the IPL treatment, there is usually mild skin redness which lasts one to several hours. Other less common complications include prolonged redness lasting 1 -3 days. blistering and temporary darkening of the skin lasting several months (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentatlon). The risk of side effects is higher in dark-skinned individuals or people who are frequently in the sun.
What is the skin care regimen after treatment?
There is no special skin care required after IPL. If there is marked redness, the doctor may prescribe a mild steroid cream or moisturiser for a short while. For pigmentary skin conditions, lightening cream and sun protection should be continued in between and after treatment.
How effective is it?
The degree of improvement is variable and depends on the severity and depth of the pigmentation/ blood vessels. For people who have a mixture of superficial and deep pigmentation, patchy improvement and incomplete removal of pigmentation may be expected. However. the improvement must be maintained with good skin care such as sun protection and creams. As for redness and fine blood vessels, the results are fairly good. IPL is not the best treatment option if the predominant skin problems are wrinkles and scars. Please see your dermatologist to discuss alternative treatment options e.g. botulinum toxin injection, filler injection or laser treatments for these.