The New Zealand sun is harsh. This is why we have the highest skin cancer rate in the world and why we look, on average, five years older than North Americans, Asians and Europeans. Sun damage causes hyperpigmentation, freckles, age spots, wrinkles and poor skin quality. These complaints can be treated using non-invasive, non-surgical treatment options before surgery becomes necessary. Intense Pulsed Light Treatment or IPL is one such option and it’s a good one.
Here is a quick low-down on everything you need to know about IPL to help you find out if it’s the treatment for you.
What it is and how it works:
IPL uses controlled, intense bursts of specific wavelengths of light that penetrate the skin and are absorbed by targeted parts of the skin like pigmented cells and tiny blood vessels.
This has five positive effects:
- Pigment patch cells and overgrown veins which cause brown and red patches are selectively overheated then removed from the body. This is how IPL reduces pigment, redness and pigmented hair.
- That controlled heat damage stimulates the wound healing response, the same response triggered by PRP, needling, chemical peels and laser treatment. This stimulates new collagen and elastin formation.
- The light energy also rejuvenates by stimulating sirtuins and heat shock proteins. This is the same mechanism by which saunas cause people to live longer and develop less heart disease. Think of it like exercise – a little uncomfortable at the time but forces the body to work more efficiently.
- Younger gene expression. Studies have shown that the DNA in the skin of women in their 50s treated with IPL acts more like the DNA of women in their 30s. Their skin looked younger, firmer, and plumper too.
- Biostimulation. The light energy stimulates the enzymes in the mitochondria to work harder and more efficiently. Mitochondria are the little power plants of the cells. Children have lots which is why they can run around all day and not feel the cold. They wear out as you get older, causing us to feel the cold and get tired more easily. Biostimulation is how LEDs and bioptron lights work.
Because IPL uses multiple wavelengths of light it has multiple benefits to the skin, all during the one treatment. Laser treatment uses a single wavelength of light, limiting the number of ways it can help the skin.
Skin conditions that can be addressed with IPL:
Some of the ways IPL can heal and repair superficial skin damage caused due to sun exposure, aging, skin diseases, etc. are:
- Reduce or remove freckles and sunspots
- Tighten pores
- Treat acne
- Reduce acne and other scars
- Reduce signs of aging like fine lines, age spots, and wrinkles
- Reverse sun damage
- Treat broken capillaries and skin redness
- Treat rosacea
- Fade stretch marks
- Remove hair and prevent further growth
- Tighten skin
- Help facial contouring
- Make skin look plumper and younger
The procedure is simple, and depending on the area being treated, will take between 25-50 minutes per session. The target area of skin is first cleaned and a cooling gel is applied (like an ultrasound gel). Your skin is then targeted by bright, intense pulses of light from the IPL device.
Special dark glasses are worn to protect your eyes. You will feel a slight stinging sensation during the procedure.
Care needs to be taken not to overheat and burn the skin. And because different parts of the skin absorb different amounts of IPL energy the brightest the light can be is the safe level of the most sensitive part of the skin. This is usually the larger patches of pigment. Once these are cleared the smaller and lighter patches can be treated next session with a brighter light. You may require 3-6 treatments depending on the degree of pigment, redness and hair coverage being treated. The treatments usually follow a monthly cycle to allow the skin to recover between sessions.
Who should consider IPL?
Those with paler skin are the best candidates for IPL. People suffering from blotchy skin, redness or rosacea are also ideal candidates. People with darker skin tones should discuss the procedure with their skin care specialist as they can suffer from changes in skin pigmentation after the treatment. Pregnant women, people taking Roaccutane, Isotane or Oratane, and those suffering from diabetes should avoid it. Also, people with severe skin conditions may not get the result they seek with this treatment.
Undergoing IPL treatment? This is how you should prepare.
Don’t leave starting IPL too late as those with the most sun damage have more issues in their skin and are more sensitive to IPL. Extra care needs to be taken to avoid burns in those with more severe sun damage. This means more sessions.
If you have an appointment for IPL scheduled, make sure you don’t step out in the sun without proper sunscreen for at least four weeks before the treatment. The months of April to November are the best time. Stop using Vitamin A in any form at least a month in advance. Stop using Roaccutane, Isotane or Oratane, at least 3 months ahead of the procedure. Avoid blood thinning medications like gingko and St John’s Wort. Discuss aspirin, warfarin, dabigatran with your treating practitioner. Carry a good sunscreen on the day of the procedure.
How to care for skin that has undergone IPL treatment:
Start with applying a good moisturiser and sunscreen with at least 30SPF immediately after the treatment. It is best to avoid sunlight for the next 48 hours. Do not take hot showers or bath, and avoid any type of activity that will make you sweat a lot. Cool flannels can soothe hot skin. Avoid applying any type of vitamin A until the skin settles.
Consider IPL as an effective skin treatment of the pigment and redness caused by sun damage as well as for skin rejuvenation. Being a powerful tool IPL also has risks. Of course, seek the advice and guidance of a skilled nurse laser specialist or doctor before making your decision.