Intense Pulsed Light Treatment: Unwanted Hair and Spider Veins Gone with a Flash of Light?

Intense pulsed light (IPL) uses technology similar to lasers to improve the skin’s condition. IPL produces a high intensity beam of light that is then converted to heat energy to eliminate unwanted areas of skin or hair by causing the body’s natural healing processes to take over and produce new, undamaged cells. By targeting the lower layers of the dermis, instead of the surface skin, IPL produces the hair removal results and skin rejuvenation patients desire without the recovery time associated with more intense light therapies like lasers. However, even though laser skin treatments and IPL procedures are performed for similar reasons, there are technical differences between the two techniques that are important for patients to understand.

Intense pulsed light is not the same as a laser skin treatment in that lasers emit a single wavelength of light while IPL emits a larger spectrum of light. A broad-spectrum light is applied to the area of treatment with a hand-held wand-like application device, and emits light through the layers of the skin to the deepest layer (dermis) or to the targeted area (like a hair follicle) to treat the unwanted condition(s) whether it be hair or visible veins.

Because IPL can be targeted to focus on different aspects of the skin, it can be used for multiple purposes. When targeted toward red pigments in the blood, IPL can reduce the appearance of broken capillaries of the face and spider veins in the legs and arms by destroying the pigment while leaving the surrounding tissue unharmed. This same ability facilitates the IPL treatment of age spots, freckles, and sun damaged skin. By heating the inner layers of the skin, the blood vessels are destroyed and absorbed by the immune system to eliminate the look of irritated or splotchy skin.

Likewise, IPL can be focused on the hair follicle to cause the hair to fall out and prevent regrowth, leaving skin smooth and soft. As the light travels through the skin, its energy is converted to heat which vaporizes the hair shaft and destroys the unwanted hair follicle. Recovery time from IPL procedures is short and patients can often return to normal activities immediately after the procedure. As well as areas of the face, IPL can be performed on hands, neck, chest, and anywhere there are noticeable sun spots or unwanted hair.

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