Intense Pulsed Light

What is intense pulsed light?
A device which uses wavelengths of light to treat specific skin conditions

What’s it useful for?
Pigmentation (certain types)
Redness and blood vessels
Hair growth
Signs of ageing

What’s the downtime?
Downtime is minimal, most people can return to work the following day

How often can I have treatment?
Treatments can be performed every four to six weeks


What is intense pulsed light (IPL)?

Intense Pulsed Light, commonly referred to as IPL, uses a range of wavelengths of light directed at the skin, to treat specific skin concerns. The basic principle behind both lPL and laser is that specific wavelengths of light delivered to the skin are absorbed by certain targets – for example melanin (pigment), haemoglobin (found in blood), and water. This light heats the targets without damaging the surrounding skin. In the case of pigment, this can lead to the body eliminating the pigment. When treating blood vessels, heating of the vessel can cause it to be resorbed by the body. When treating hair, heating of the melanin in the hair follicle can destroy the hair follicle and stop hair growth. When using IPL for photorejuvenation, it’s thought that heating collagen fibres can cause them to contract, leading to skin tightening, and heating of water in the skin can stimulate the formation of new collagen and elastin. 

Is IPL the same as laser?

No, IPL is different from a laser. IPL uses a broad spectrum of wavelengths of light, whereas lasers tend to use one wavelength. This means IPL is less targeted than laser so may be less powerful, but larger areas can be treated at a time and multiple targets (for example pigment and redness) may be treated at the same time. Filters are often used with IPL, to refine what wavelengths are delivered to the skin, to more selectively target certain elements in the skin. 

What can IPL be used to treat?

IPL can be used to treat certain types of pigmentation, redness and blood vessels, hair growth, and photoaging

What does treatment with IPL involve?

Treatment should always be performed by a qualified professional. Usually, you would have a consultation to determine your skin concerns and the best treatment for you. You may be asked to avoid using active skincare ingredients such as retinoids for a week prior to treatment, and sun protecting prior to treatment is essential. On the day of treatment, your skin will be cleaned. A cool gel will be applied to your skin, and you’ll be provided with goggles to wear. Your treating clinician will hold a handpiece to your skin, and you may see a flash of bright light with each pulse. You will feel a sensation similar to an elastic band snapping against your skin, and you may feel a warm sensation. Treatment usually takes around 20 minutes.

Afterwards, the gel will be wiped off and a cooling cream or gel, and/or sunscreen may be applied. Your skin may look red and swollen initially. Over the subsequent days, any freckles or sun spots that were treated may darken and then gradually peel off. The downtime is usually minimal,  and a number of treatments may be required, usually spaced four to six weeks apart. 

What are the risks of IPL?

Generally, IPL is safe and well tolerated. Rare risks include burns, blistering, infection, scarring, and the development of lighter or darker patches of skin. 

Babilas P, Schreml S, Szeimies RM, Landthaler M. Intense pulsed light (IPL): a review. Lasers Surg Med. 2010 Feb;42(2):93-104. 

Goldberg DJ. Current trends in intense pulsed light. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012;5(6):45-53.

Ross EV. Laser versus intense pulsed light: Competing technologies in dermatology. Lasers Surg Med. 2006 Apr;38(4):261-72.

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Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…