Intense Pulsed Light Therapy: What Does IPL Treatment Do?

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy: What Does IPL Treatment Do?

You may be familiar with all of the serums and creams available when it comes to skincare, but there are some treatments that fall outside of that umbrella. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy is a popular cosmetic procedure that uses broad-spectrum light to address a variety of skin concerns.

Overall, IPL therapy can be a valuable addition to your skincare routine and can help to deliver smoother, more even skin.”

  • Shani Darden, esthetician

IPL can be used if you’re experiencing visible sun damage, age spots, redness, as well as a wide range of other concerns. But how can light help your skin? Well, let’s break down IPL — what it is, how it works, what it’s for, and whether or not it’s right for you.

How Does IPL Work?

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy — also known as flashlamp therapy — is a dermatology treatment that makes use of high-intensity light pulses to address a wide range of skin problems. In some ways, it operates in the same way that different laser therapies work. 

Laser treatment works because when the light is exposed to your skin, its energy is absorbed into certain cells in the targeted area. When your skin cells absorb that light energy, it’s transformed into heat energy. This heat can affect the treatment area, making it useful for treatments ranging from skincare to laser hair removal for unwanted hair.

IPL therapy is similar but different in that it delivers a wide range of wavelengths, or colors, within its light pulse rather than one specific, targeted wavelength. It targets the deeper layers of your skin or dermis without impacting the outer layers of your skin, or epidermis.

This means that IPL therapy is generally a gentler skin treatment than other options that may damage both your dermis and epidermis. While such treatments may be more immediately effective, they’re also more likely to have side effects or cause irritation around the treated area. 

Deep chemical peels, for instance, can address many of the same concerns that light treatment would be used for, but they also come with significantly longer downtime and a more complicated recovery process, which can include blistering and peeling.

What Does IPL Therapy Address?

You might be surprised to learn that these wavelengths of light can actually be incredibly effective at addressing a wide range of skin concerns and conditions. In general, though, it’s more effective on concerns that are related to discoloration.

IPL therapy is mostly used for addressing dark spots related to breakout scars or even sun damage. Sunspots can occur due to long-term sun exposure and damage and are often associated with age. This is because sun damage builds up over time, leading to an excess of melanin production and therefore increased pigmentation in certain areas of your skin. 

Sunspots are generally harmless, although if you notice that your sunspots are growing, changing in shape or color, or have an irregular border, it’s important to visit a dermatologist or doctor before seeking cosmetic solutions to ensure that something more serious isn’t at play. This is also why it’s so important to avoid sunburn and tanning and wear sunscreen every day.

Dark spots from breakout scars can also be addressed with IPL therapy, as can other forms of dark skin like freckles, birthmarks, or general dark spots.

In addition to addressing skin conditions that appear as brown spots and lesions, IPL therapy can also minimize the appearance of spider veins. It works by targeting a specific pigment in your blood without affecting your skin in a negative way. 

The same treatment can also address vascular birthmarks, which are caused by abnormal growth or formation of blood vessels and vessel cells.

Lastly, much like laser therapy, IPL therapy can be used for hair removal too. The light pulses can target your hair follicles, causing your hair to fall out and preventing future growth. IPL therapy is generally effective when it comes to hair removal of darker hair and can be used on any part of your body. So if you’re tired of waxing, IPL therapy may be for you!

What Does IPL Therapy Look Like?

In the days or even weeks leading up to your IPL therapy appointment, it’s a good idea to avoid sun exposure. While avoiding sun damage is wise in general, it’s especially important before an intensive treatment like this. You don’t want to go into your session with a sunburn because it could make the treatment painful, less effective, or complicate your recovery.

Before your IPL therapy session begins, your specialist will clean the treatment area thoroughly. Then, they’ll apply a cool gel to your skin before applying the IPL therapy device. 

Then, your technician will activate the IPL device, and it will start to deliver pulses of light. IPL therapy treatment sessions usually only take about 20 to 30 minutes. And because there’s really no downtime required afterward, you could basically attend an IPL therapy session on your lunch break. 

That said, for more significant treatments, you may need a course of several sessions to see the full results. If you need multiple treatments to achieve the results you’re after, these sessions should be spaced out, with about a month in between each session to allow your skin time to recover.

IPL therapy is relatively painless. Your practitioner may apply a topical anesthetic before the procedure, although it’s not strictly necessary. 

The sensation of IPL therapy is similar to a gentle pinch or a rubber band snap. So while it’s not comfortable, it’s not particularly intense for most people. Depending on your pain threshold, it might be worth discussing a topical anesthetic with your provider.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Many people who undergo IPL therapy experience mild redness or swelling following the procedure, which typically fades after a day or two. If you’re one of the more sensitive skin types, it’s possible you might experience more serious side effects like bruising, flaking, blistering, or crusting. These side effects aren’t likely to last long, and you may not experience them at all.

Is IPL Therapy Expensive?

IPL therapy can be fairly expensive, depending on what exactly you’re treating and how extensive the treatment area is. You can expect IPL therapy to cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000. As with any intensive treatment, it’s important to find a practitioner whom you trust. 

Unfortunately, because IPL therapy is cosmetic, your health insurance isn’t likely to cover it. That said, there are other options that may help you even out your skin tone. 

It’s possible to get your own personal IPL device that you can use at home. While it may be more expensive than traditional topical skincare up front, it more than makes up for the cost with the results it delivers over time.

My PRO LED Light Mask is cleared by the FDA, so you know you’re in safe hands. It’s also effective.

Ninety-two percent of users in a clinical study saw a visible improvement in fine lines and wrinkles after just twelve treatments, while 81 percent saw a visible reduction in breakouts in the same amount of time. It also was effective in addressing uneven skin tone, problems with pigmentation, and redness.

The new dual diode LEDs in this device deliver the highest dose of red, blue, and near-infrared light therapy in cutting-edge wavelength combinations for smoothing, clearing, and brightening benefits. It’s proven to help support your mood, soothe feelings of stress, and even support your sleep quality.

If you want something targeted to your specific concerns rather than overall photorejuvenation, there’s also LightStim for Wrinkles and LightStim for Acne. These devices use targeted LED treatments to help with resurfacing skin, whether you’re struggling with visible signs of aging or breakouts. 

So if you’re not sure a professional IPL photofacial is for you, there are many alternatives to choose from.

The Takeaway

In conclusion, IPL therapy is a popular and effective treatment for addressing a variety of skin concerns. With its non-invasive and relatively painless approach, IPL therapy offers a convenient and safe alternative to more invasive procedures.

Overall, IPL therapy can be a valuable addition to your skincare routine and can help to deliver smoother, more even skin. So whether you’re looking for a way to boost your complexion’s overall radiance or have specific skin concerns you want to address, IPL therapy can be a great way to feel more confident in your skin.

To learn more about skincare and how to address signs of aging, check out my other blog posts. I’m here to help support you through every skincare concern and guide you on your journey to skin rejuvenation.


Intense Pulsed Light Therapy | DermNet NZ

Age Spots (Liver Spots) | Mayo Clinic

About Vascular Birthmarks | NHS


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