Most people in their teen years get pimples; the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says acne vulgaris (the scientific term for the condition) is the most common skin disease in the United States. Mild acne will clear with a good skin care regimen and some help from a topical product, but those with moderate and severe acne might need some additional assistance. Dermatologists increasingly are using intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments for acne, with some success.
Acne results when the skin's sebaceous glands produce too much oil, according to the AAD. That oil contributes to clogged pores at the skin's surface, and also provides an ideal environment for the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) to grow unchecked. The result is pimples, whiteheads, blackheads and inflammation. IPL acne treatments target and kill P. acnes, and also may shrink the sebaceous glands, the AAD says.
Before an IPL treatment for acne, the physician likely will offer the patient a topical numbing cream to spread on the area to be treated. After the treatment area is numb to the touch, the dermatologist or technician will spread a cold gel across the area, and then place a glass prism on the skin. Pulses of intense light will flash through the prism and onto the skin. After the treatment, the patient's skin might be pinker than normal, but this effect dissipates quickly.
Although the IPL technology is relatively new, researchers studying its effects on acne say it appears to be safe and effective, according to the AAD. For example, one study, reported in the "Journal of Drugs for Dermatology" in 2007, looked at IPL combined with a topical medication that's triggered by the IPL. That study concluded the technique appears to provide long-lasting relief from acne. Another study published that same year in "Dermatologic Surgery" compared treatment with IPL to benzoyl peroxide treatment, and found that IPL was better at treating certain types of acne and at evening out blotchy skin tone.
Acne patients shouldn't expect instant results from IPL acne treatment; the AAD reports that at least three treatments generally are needed before the patient begins to see significant improvement. Dermatologists generally recommend three to five treatments, and often give treatments monthly. Once patients complete a series of IPL treatments, they can expect their acne to remain in remission for at least six months, although many have even better results.
IPL treatment can be expensive, and because health insurers consider it to be experimental and unproven, your health policy likely won't cover it. In addition, dermatologists often recommend pairing IPL treatment with other acne treatments, such as oral or topical antibiotics. When used properly, IPL treatment can be useful in helping patients get rid of acne.