Luminous Skin in a Flash! Is IPL for You?

Have you seen the light? IPL treatments may help with conditions such as sun damage, dark spots, rosacea, acne, and broken capillaries.

For many people, the thought of laser procedures for skin rejuvenation may sound daunting. But fear not! A good alternative that has promising results may be IPL treatments , or Intense Pulsed Light. IPL treats conditions that a laser may treat, but isn’t exactly a laser.

What is IPL and What is it for?

IPL works by emission of high intensity pulses of light towards the deep layers of the skin. As the light is emitted, specific targets in the skin absorb the light at specific wavelengths. The targets that specifically absorb the light are melanin, water, and hemoglobin. This is important because the heat that’s formed when the light is absorbed leads to correction of various skin problems. For example, if a person complaining of uneven skin tone resulting from sun damage, freckles, or an old acne mark, has the problem of hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation simply means that the skin in a particular area has produced too much melanin. Melanin is produced by skin cells, and it is what determines a person’s skin color.Therefore, the “target” here is melanin. When melanin absorbs the light from an IPL treatment, the cells that contain melanin are heated and destroyed, which helps to rid of unwanted uneveness in skin color.

What else can IPL treatments help with? Because IPL targets redness caused by hemoglobin differences, it can also help to minimize rosacea (facial flushing), telangiectasia (facial capillaries and “spider veins”), hemiangiomas/cherry angiomas (red sac-like blood vessels), and port-wine stains (usually a red-like vascular birthmark). Pigment, such as melanin was mentioned as a target, which means IPL can also treat sun damage, facial discolorations (such as post-acne marks, melasma, freckles), and flat birth marks.  IPL can even be used for hair and tattoo removal. Patients who have had IPL treatments also reported reduced pore size, diminished fine lines, and a smoother texture.

Are YOU a good candidate for IPL?

Those who have age spots, broken capillaries, and the aforementioned conditions may be good candidates for IPL. Howver, if a person may need to seek additional medical opinion if he/she is prone to keloids or hyperpigmentation, dark-skinned or dark-tanned, or someone who is extremely sensitive to heat (easily burns or is on photosensitizing medications). Insulin-dependent persons and those with blood disorders (ie, problems with clotting) cannot be treated because they have poor wound-healing response.

\Although rare, IPL has a few risks people need to be aware of before deciding to start treatment. An effect known as “striping” may occur if the operator has poor technique or is inexperienced with how to overlap each shot. “Striping” occurs from uneveness in treatment overlaps, resulting in alternating patches of light and dark skin tone (much like zebra stripes). If a treatment is too aggressive, it is possible to get blistering from too much heat. Blisters may result in scarring if not careful to properly protect the injured skin. Pigmentation problems may also occur in forms of hyper- (skin darkening) or hypopigmentation (lack of color). It may take anywhere from 3-12 months to completely return to baseline skin tone if pigmentation problems happen.

Always research for a respectable skincare practice before committing to treatments. IPL machines are VERY user-dependent, and if the user is not that proficient at using the machines your risks of skin injury increases. Honestly discuss all health and medication history during the consultation, including your current skincare regimen. Some topical creams or lotions may need to be held a few days or discontinued prior to treatment because they may make the skin photosensitive. Like many procedures in aesthetics, multiple IPL treatments are required to get the best results, so discuss the best package option that would get the most bang for your buck.

Before the start of the first treatment, make sure to do a test shot in another area (like the hand if you’re doing a face treatment), to gauge your sensitivity as well as get a good baseline setting. At the start of the treatment, your eyes will be protected by safety shields or goggles, and a cold gel will be layered on the area. The head of the IPL machine is a glass prism, and will be placed directly on the skin. When the user begins treatment you will notice an intense pulse of light that flashes throughout the duration of the treatment. Initial treatment settings are usually not aggressive (settings depend on the user), so you may feel a slight warmth. I like to compare it to a light rubber band flick against the skin- but again, this should be a tolerable level. Be honest with the practitioner about your level of (dis)comfort, and if at all you feel too much heat, never hesitate to let them know, so as not to damage the skin and cause blistering.

After the light pulses, a calming mask may be applied to soothe any redness or irritation. There is really no downtime after an IPL treatment, but expect the skin to be slightly pink like a soft blush, and mildly swollen (swollen as in a fuller appearance, not bee-stung or hive-like!). These are completely normal and subside from 2 hours to 2 days, depending on the individual. Patients may also be instructed to hold off on topical lotions, like retinols, for a few days to avoid sensitivities. A few days after a treatment, people may notice darker spot s to be slightly darker and a little flaky. These are expected and desired results since it is a sign of the treatment working to replace the top layer of skin. SPF application must be religiously applied (and re-applied!) daily to protect the skin.


So bye-bye to blah skin, and hello gorgeous! Contact a skincare professional to determine if IPL is right for you, and get luminous skin in a flash!

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Online Editor, Beauty Writer at Beauty-Goodies
As a New York City-based registered nurse with backgrounds in pharmacology, medical research, medical spa aesthetics, and cosmetic dermatology, Cristal became interested in the ways people go about achieving beauty. When she's not working full-time at Cornell Medical Center or performing aesthetic treatments at a midtown NYC medical spa, she daylights as a beauty writer, and has a penchant for scoring sample sale treasures, bellydancing, playing dress-up, and of course, chatting about beauty goodies.

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