What is IPL Laser Therapy?

What do the letters mean, and what can IPL do for skin improvement?

Doctor Answers 43

IPL, or intense pulse light, is a technology similar to...

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IPL, or intense pulse light, is a technology similar to laser. Instead of a single wavelength of light as with a laser, IPL uses a bright light in front of which filters are placed which filter out most wavelengths except those taken up by pigment and blood vessels, depending on the filter used. The light energy penetrates just below the skin's surface, damaging either the melanin (skin pigment) or blood vessels. The body's natural skin repair mechanisms then remove the damaged tissue and produce a smoother skin appearance. It will usually take 3-6 treatments to see a significant result and treatments can be spaced out every 3-4 weeks.

IPL is good for pigment (age spots) and small blood vessels (such as telangiectasias). It has been marketed for hair removal, though newer technologies seem to give better results. It does not work for wrinkles.

The advantage to IPL systems is that downtime is usually very minimal. Patients may experience slight darkening of pigment before they lighten. The procedure itself is usually described as feeling like a rubber band being popped on the skin.

Dallas Facial Plastic Surgeon
3.9 out of 5 stars 14 reviews

Meaning of IPL

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IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light. It basically lets you know that this is light based treatments and not a true laser. One of the best IPL's on the market is the Sciton BBL as it has one of the broadest ranges of light and most power to achieve great results in less treatments. The IPL is great for redness and brown spots, does very little for wrinkles, but can be used to tighten the skin if the device has a filter for this and has the power to go into the infrared spectrum. Although it is a great device to have, be weary of those who have nothing else in their office. This can lead to overpromises with this device and attempts to use it for everything from leg veins treatment to acne scars to blond hair removal (no laser or IPL can do this). Ask to see results from the doctor themselves not just the ones the company sends. Lastly, I have seen patients burned by others using this device so dont be fooled into thinking that because it is not a laser it cant burn you...it certainly can if used at the wrong settings

Shawn Allen, MD
Boulder Dermatologist

The primary goal of IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) is to...

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The primary goal of IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) is to make the skin tone or color more even. One of the signs of aging is irregular brown and sometimes red discoloration of the skin. These changes (called dyschromias) are due to sun damage, and are the usual reason women begin to wear foundation type makeup.

The light energy in IPL is absorbed by the colors that we don't like, causing the generation of heat that damages or destroys the structure that holds the color - the sun spot or dilated blood vessel. The body sees the structure as damaged and takes it away. This leaves the skin tone more even and homogeneous.

In addition, IPL brightens the skin and gives it a youthful glow. This is a remarkably consistent result of IPL. For many patients, this alone makes IPL worth the effort.

Another, but more subtle goal of IPL, is to add small amounts of collagen back into the skin near its surface. This will not reduce wrinkles, but it does have an effect on the texture of the skin.

So, a patient can expect 3 things from IPL:

It evens out skin color.
It brightens the skin and give it a youthful glow.
It adds back small amounts of collagen near the surface of the skin to give a slight improvement in texture.
As always, the results are operator dependent.

Robert Swanson, MD - RETIRED
Bay Area General Surgeon

Intense Pulse Light

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Intense Pulse Light or ipl is a type of light treatment where light is concentrated in certain wavelengths to improve the way the skin appears. As you age you accummulate dark spots and red spots and this can detract away from the appearance of your face. IPL is a great way of reducing the appearance of these spots without a lot of downtime. It does this by concentrating light which is preferentially absorbed by dark and red spots and avoiding damaging the top layers of the skin. It is based on the theories of Selective Photothermolysis which allows the light to concentrate on particular targets and avoiding surrounding structures that you wish to avoid. There are many things that can be done during and with IPL that can improve your results. So you want to go to someone who can help you with these issues and will go the extra mile to help you.

Philip Young, MD
Bellevue Facial Plastic Surgeon

IPL is an acronym for Intense Pulsed Light. Using...

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IPL is an acronym for Intense Pulsed Light. Using specific light filters, the energy of the intense pulsed light can be focused on a specific target within the skin.

Although IPL is not exactly a laser, it can be used in a similar manner to lasers for safe and effective treatment of unwanted hair, skin pigmentation, and visible and broken capillaries and veins in the skin.

IPL treatments can rejuvenate aging skin, help patients with rosacea, and can also treat certain types of skin cancers. The popular Fotofacial (Photofacial) treatment is performed using an IPL device.

IPL should not be used for tattoo removal.

IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light, otherwise known as Photofacial Laser

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IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light, otherwise known as Photofacial Laser. IPL involves minimal downtime and can be quite effective in reducing redness and pigmentation over a series of 3-5 treatments. Ethnic skin with pre-existing pigmentation problem should exhaust other modalities such as bleaching cream and/or microdermabrasion prior to IPL for there may be a risk of worsening pigmentation.

IPL is a Multitasker

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IPL is not a laser because it does not use a single wavelength of light as do conventional lasers. The range of light is typically between 500-1500 nm, depending on the machine and filter used. Lasers examples include the CO2 laser for resurfacing, which uses a wavelength of 10,600 nm, the Pulse Dye laser uses a wavelength of 585 nm for vascular lesions. A second dissimilarity to a laser is that IPL light is not collumated, it is scattered. The IPL is a multitasker, addressing a number of skin issues relatively well. It addresses brown spots (dyschromias), broken blood vessels (telangiectasias), tightens skin slightly (photo-facial effect), and can achieve hair reduction for darkly pigmented hair follicles.

IPL: what is it?

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IPL simply stands for "intense pulsed light". While not technically a "laser", IPL devices produce a very powerful and quick flash of light that can be absorbed by skin that has unwanted superficial vessels or pigmented lesions in the brown spectrum of colors.  Since these colors absorb the energy of the IPL light, they may be diminished over time and several treatments. Sometimes unwanted pigmented hair can be reduce as well. One of the most gratified groups of patients in our practice are those with rosacea, a type of adult acne and skin inflammation. While the treatments are warm, the use of a topical anesthetic cream beforehand, really makes this very tolerable for most patients.  Bottom line: small vessels, brown age spots and acne can be improved!

Donn R. Chatham, MD
Louisville Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 74 reviews

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatment

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Thank you for your question.

Intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment, also known as a Photofacial, is used to decrease the appearance of sun spots and redness and can also be used for hair removal. IPL is multi-wavelength, scattered light that is generated from Xenon flash lamps and is not actually a laser, although it is frequently mistaken for one. 

Number of treatments required to achieve desired results and length of results varies from individual to individual and can be dramatically altered by sun exposure. Dark spots that have been diminished with IPL can return to their original appearance or darker if not protected from the sun. In our San Francisco Bay Area practice we recommend all patients apply 30+ SPF throughout daylight hours and wear full brimmed hats when outside.

Not all skin types are appropriate candidates for IPL so prior to your treatment it is best to be evaluated in the office of a board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist.

I hope this helps.

"IPL Laser" therapy

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IPL is an abbreviation for intense pulsed light.  The IPL is regular light (imagine a powerful flashbulb in a camera) which is filtered to provide the right wavelengths for the treatment.  IPL is not a laser, even though lasers can be "pulsed" and can be "intense".  Laser light has special properties.  Here are some differences: Lasers have light of a single frequency (color), IPL has many frequencies mixed together.  Laser light remains collimated (narrow-focus), IPL spreads out like "regular" light.  Two different animals....hope this helps.
All the best,

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.