laser and IPL  background information

The use of light as a medical treatment has grown significantly in recent years. There are now a number of devices delivering different types of light for an ever-increasing number of cosmetic treatments,  including the effects of sun damage, the  removal of body hair  and recently the treatment of psoriasis and acne.

Ultra - Violet light, for example, has been used to treat psoriasis (a skin condition) for a number of years, and many people use light boxes during the winter to reduce the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Simply, the exposure to certain kinds of light makes people feel better!

Lasers are also commonly used by ophthalmologists (eye specialists) for the treatment of certain eye conditions, as well as offering the use of lasers as a treatment for nearsightedness.

Since the early 1990s, lasers have become the high tech equivalent of dermabrasion (a form of exfoliation) or of chemical peels for skin resurfacing (removal of outer layer of skin) resulting in a sometimes dramatic improvement to the complexion.  The new machines are aimed at giving you maximum treatment results with minimum recovery time after the treatment.

More recent still is the arrival of Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), Light Heat Energy (LHE) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) systems that can be more flexible in their use than some other lasers.  IPL laser machines were initially  introduced as a permanent hair removal option (this was not exactly the case).  Unfortunately along with a steep buy-in, treatments were quite painful and didn’t even work half the time.  

  Early IPL machines used nearly unfiltered light. They removed the hair but also deposited significant energy into the skin. Side effects including stimulation or suppression of normal skin pigmentation, occasionally surface burns and possible scarring were very common. Patients rated treatment as very  painful, and often required local anesthesia.

Second-generation machines used better filters to remove many of the harmful wavelengths (colours) of the light and some machines used pre-cooling systems which alleviated some of the side effects and gave substantially better results. Treatment was rated as  moderately uncomfortable, although skin cooling systems alleviated the stronger sensations at the expense of uncomfortable coldness.

As technology improved  the industry began to produce more refined machines, and as technicians became more knowledgeable, the inferior producers were culled from the market.  IPL treatment suddenly became a very useful and practical addition to any self-respecting skin establishment. The companies that do remain have made many positive changes to the industry, superior products that are covered with extensive training  programs, expert service and support available for a practical cost.,

Third generation machines  provide more rigorous filtering of the light and also deliver their energy in a carefully controlled sequence of micro-pulses which allow much better selective temperature rise.

In these machines the flash-lamp is surrounded by water cooling, which prevents the head from becoming uncomfortably hot during lengthy treatments and also removes significant bands of light in the infra-red which serve only to heat the superficial cell layers or to penetrate deep into other tissues such as bone and muscle.

The micro-pulsed sequence provides energy as a rapid sequence of short doses separated by a brief cooling period which allows the skin layer to cool but is too short for the hair shaft to lose significant heat, so the hair shaft rises to a much higher temperature than the skin layer. This removes the need for supplementary skin cooling, provides significantly greater comfort levels in treatment and greatly reduces the possibility of adverse side effects, even in heavily pigmented skin.

What are the advantages of IPL phototherapy?

One of the greatest benefits of IPL photothearapy is that it can treat a wide range of skin problems.  Patients can undergo a single treatment for multiple skin conditions, rather than having to undergo several procedures, such as laser skin tightening and laser skin resurfacing. IPLT phototherapy is usually less expensive than laser treatment as well. In the studies that have been performed so far, IPL can smooth the skin, remove age spots, freckles, melasma, and even visible blood vessels. IPL  tightens skin and improves fine lines, giving your skin a taut, youthful glow.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of IPL Phototherapy, however, is that it is associated with a smaller risk of burns and scarring than laser treatment.  Unlike lasers, which use intense, focused light, IPL is intense broadband light. Although IPL delivers energy to both the superficial (epidermis) and deep (dermis) layers of the skin, the epidermis is spared from damage. Thus, there is virtually no recovery time.


Figures From The American Society For Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), Which Started To Track IPL Treatments For Skin Rejuvenation From 2007, Indicate That In 2015 Just Under 482,800 Treatments Were Performed, An Increase Of 30.3% On 2014 Figures. See Laser Skin Resurfacing For Details Of Ablative And Non-Ablative Laser Statistics.

If you are considering a light based treatment for improvement of your skin, this information will give you a basic understanding of the procedure. It can't answer all your questions, since a lot depends on the individual patient and the practitioner involved. Please ask a practitioner about anything you don't understand.