If your skin is in need of rejuvenation, you should seriously consider IPL therapy as an important part of your treatment. In the last few years, we have learned that the benefits of IPL extend beyond its traditional uses to reduce brown spots and tiny red vessels that appear on the face. The latest scientific research suggests that IPL can help restore the efficiency of the fundamental genetic mechanism that maintains healthy youthful skin.
What exactly is IPL?
IPL stands for intense pulsed light. Think back to your high school or college physics. You probably recall that the visible light that we see is made up of a spectrum of wavelengths that are visible to the eye. There is actually a much wider range of wavelengths above and below the wavelengths that we can perceive (above is ultraviolet, below is infrared).
Now think of a car painted a deep color that is parked outside on a bright summer day. Everyone knows that the sunlight that strikes the surface of the car will make it hot. This is essentially what happens when IPL is used to remove brown and red spots from the skin. IPL is simply a series of bright flashes of light that pass through a filter so that a specific range of wavelengths of light are allowed to reach the skin. These wavelengths of light will heat things that are brown or red and leave the rest of the skin alone. When just enough energy is applied it is enough to damage the brown spots or tiny red vessels to the point where the body’s natural repair mechanism will take them away. This is the traditional role of IPL treatments.
What about all those confusing names?
There is an array of confusing names that you will find if you start investigating IPL treatments. Each laser company has a different name for its intense pulsed light technology. Some of this comes down to trademarks and some come down to marketing. Here are but a few names that are applied to IPL treatments: IPL, photofacial, fotofacial, BBL, Lumecca, and the list goes on and on.
Each company in its promotional material will, of course, maintain that its version of IPL is the very best out there, but to my knowledge, there has never been a well-designed scientific study comparing the results of treatment between two different IPL technologies.
As a practical matter, the differences come down to the range of wavelengths selected by the filters and the peak amount of power a machine can deliver. Some machines are more “cookbooks”, while others allow more fine-tuning of what is delivered to the skin.
The three things that are really important with IPL
In the central areas of a city like Chicago, there is pretty much an IPL machine on every corner. You can find them in spas, hair salons, medispas owned by investors, and in medical aesthetics practices carefully supervised by physicians in the core specialties (plastic surgery, facial plastic surgery, dermatology, and oculoplastic surgery).
Here is what you should look for:
First of all, make sure your treatment is on a medical-grade IPL machine. You will obtain better results than on the machines that typically are available in spas and salons. This is all for the good since you really wouldn’t want a medical-grade machine in the hands of a person lacking medical credentials.
Second, make sure that the machine that is being used to treat you comes from a legitimate manufacturer. There are quite a few copycat devices that are manufactured in China. These are made to look like the real McCoy, but their performance may be highly variable. That means they can cause serious harm. As much as I can tell this is more of an issue in Europe than in the United States, but you can’t be too careful. I would be particularly skeptical of a medispa that claims to be treating you with medical-grade technology, but that does so at a salon price. It might just be that they are using a cheap knock-off machine.
Third, perhaps most importantly, consider the serious advantages of undergoing treatment at a facility that is owned and led by a physician with strong credentials in medical aesthetics. One good way to determine this is to ask whether the doctor involved is from one of the core specialties: plastic surgery, facial plastic surgery, dermatology, and oculoplastic surgery. Another useful question is whether the facility is truly part of the doctor’s practice or if the doctor is simply employed as a medical director with only occasional visits to the facility.
Who can be helped by IPL Treatment?
The most common use of IPL is to reduce the appearance of brown spots and tiny clusters of red vessels. In general, this is still the home run application for this technology, but there are important qualifications. It is essential that you not tan for several weeks before IPL treatment since the presence of a tan confuses the light and can lead to a bad outcome. Second, IPL is safest in people with lighter skin tones. Third, IPL is a commitment. You will need an initial series of treatments then maintenance every 6 months to 1 year. Also, especially with brown spots, if you are not willing to protect yourself from the sun after treatment is completed, much of the benefit will be undone.
At the Whole Beauty® Institute, we have found IPL to be very helpful in reducing the appearance of rosacea. Often treatment involves combined therapy and effective control requires regular maintenance treatments.
Another area where IPL can be helpful is in the treatment of melasma, larger brown areas on the cheeks, forehead, and around the mouth that are often associated with changes in the hormonal environment. When IPL is used to treat melasma it is part of a combination of treatments and is done at very gentle settings by an experienced clinician.
IPL is also very useful in the treatment of scars and surgical incisions. It is particularly useful in a scar that is staying red longer than would usually be expected. IPL can also be used as a routine preventive measure on surgical incisions.
How IPL improves skin quality
So far we have talked about IPL as a useful treatment for a variety of skin conditions. In this context, IPL can be thought of as something that removes an undesirable thing from the skin. Although these are the most common applications of IPL, its best role may be as a general promoter of skin rejuvenation.
Along with other busy clinicians, we have long noted that patients who come in for regular IPL treatments maintain a much younger appearance to their skin. This improvement goes beyond just removing red and brown spots.
Curious doctors have long wondered how it is that IPL produces youthful skin. Recent research has revealed a possible explanation. Please excuse the brief excursion into genetics, but this is necessary to understand what seems to be occurring with IPL treatment.
The structures and functions of the body are controlled by genes that reside on our chromosomes. These genes essentially are messengers that tell the body to make tissue or carry out a function such as immune protection. When we are young our genes are fresh and they tend to carry out their function beautifully.
As we age our genes also age. In other words, the complex mechanism by which genes carry out their jobs begins to go awry. This is true for the genes that control our skin as much as for the genes that control other aspects of our existence.
With some very fancy research methods, it is possible to map the patterns of gene expression in different cell types in the body and to see how they change with the aging process. A group at Stanford University demonstrated that skin cells on the arm treated with BBL (a form of IPL) changed their gene expression back to what would be expected in younger skin. This suggests that IPL treated skin may function more like young skin.
This research points the way to a possible explanation for the wonderful quality of skin that is regularly treated with IPL. There are many questions that we hope will be answered by more studies. For example, no one knows how long the beneficial effect on gene expression lasts in IPL treated skin.
Advanced IPL Treatments begin with an in-depth Evaluation
Any technology is only as good as the people who apply it. It is important to fine-tune each particular IPL treatment to the character of your skin at the present moment. You will benefit from the in-depth experience and deep knowledge of the team at the Whole Beauty® Institute.