By shinychris on September 5th, 2012
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is an alternative to laser skin therapy, and is offered by specialists like Ellipse IPL.
Lasers typically work only over a very narrow range of frequencies (and therefore, a narrow range of wavelengths of light), but modern-day IPL equipment can be tailored to specific frequencies depending on the type of therapy being carried out.
That means the treatment is much more specific to the skin complaint being tackled, and typically means there is less unwanted heating of the surrounding tissue, making it a much more comfortable procedure.
Choosing the wavelength
Different skin problems – from birth marks and uneven skin tone, to liver spots and unsightly visible veins – can be caused by different ‘chromophores’ in the skin.
You don’t really need to understand exactly what these are – but you should know that they typically exist at slightly different depths in the skin, and respond to different wavelengths or frequencies of light.
As such, the type of treatment being carried out will determine the wavelength of light that is to be used, and the rest of the spectrum produced by the IPL equipment will be masked or filtered out.
This highly specific nature makes the treatment highly effective only on the targeted chromophore, reducing side-effects and discomfort caused in laser-based therapies when the surrounding tissue is affected by the laser energy.
The brief but bright flashes of light you see in IPL treatments can be alarming at first – you rarely see anything like them elsewhere, except perhaps during thunderstorms – but again, they’re designed to ensure maximum comfort during the treatment.
By keeping the pulses very brief, the targeted tissue is quickly taken to the temperature needed for the therapy to work, but quickly returns to normal body temperature.
Once again, this helps to make sure heat doesn’t affect the surrounding tissue, so there’s no uncomfortable warmth in the healthy skin.
What can it fix?
IPL can work on almost any pigmentation issue, weakened collagen and unwanted hair growth.
By targeting the relevant chromophore, the therapy can lessen the appearance of dark patches, kill follicles such that they are unable to grow new hair, and stimulate collagen to plump out wrinkles or saggy skin.
As development of new-generation devices continues, new treatment possibilities are becoming available all the time, so it’s worth consulting a clinician if you have a specific problem but don’t know if it can be treated.
Anything else I should know?
One more part of the treatment that often takes people by surprise is the use of a gel to improve contact between the light emitter and the patient’s skin.
This optical coupling gel is simply a way of improving the transfer of light energy into the skin, ensuring the full power of the pulse reaches the desired level of penetration in the skin, and has the maximum chance of being effective.
You should also look out for square-wave IPL systems – these are where the maximum power output of the pulse is achieved very quickly, rather than at the peak of a smooth curve.
Square-wave treatments maximise the effectiveness of each pulse, while minimising the risk of unwanted heating of surrounding tissue during the period in which the power level is still growing or tailing off – so opt for these where possible, for the most effective result with the minimum of discomfort.