IPL refers to intense pulsed light therapy, a treatment for various skin concerns such as spider veins, freckles, age spots, fine lines, wrinkles, as well as hair removal. The treatment consists of high intensity pulses of visible light that are directed into your skin and converted to heat energy, which subsequently damages the targeted area. IPL differs from traditional laser treatments in that it sends many different wavelengths with each pulse of light, rather than just one. Advantages of IPL over other treatments include a minimum of down time, but certain side effects are common.
Even though intense pulse light therapy is considered to be one of the milder treatments for skin problems, you will likely experience some discomfort during the treatment. The treatment stings and compares it to snapping rubber bands on your skin. Anesthetic cream is often applied to help numb the area enough for a comfortable treatment.
After the treatment, your skin may take on a sunburned appearance, followed by some swelling and peeling. It is recommended to stay away from direct sun exposure for four weeks before the treatment and four weeks after. This applies to tanning beds as well. If sun exposure is unavoidable, a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is recommended.
If the doctor administering the treatment lets too much light get into the any one area, it could alter the pigment of your skin. IPL treatments are non-ablative, meaning they generally leave the outer layers of skin undamaged and penetrate to lower layers. Too much light pulsed can lead to internal heating under the surface, which can result in lighter patches of skin, especially in people with darker skin tones.
Infections with IPL are rare and happen more when the treatment is used for hair removal. When used for hair removal, the light is aimed at specific spots to try and neutralize hair growth. Sometimes, the heat generated can stimulate a dormant infection. The herpes simplex virus is one example.