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Intense pulsed light (IPL): What to know

Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a skin treatment of a cosmetic nature. It may be used by people to reduce signs of aging or remove unwanted hair. Certain applications include can scars, lightening darker skin patches and enhancing the appearance of spider veins.

IPL acts in a similar manner to laser therapy. The difference is that where laser therapy offers a single luminous energy wavelength, IPL provides several wavelengths. That means IPL can treat a larger skin area in a shorter time than laser therapy.

The article explains how the IPL operates and what people are using it to do. It will also discuss its safety and efficacy, and evaluate the potential risks and side effects of the treatment.

How does it work?

A person may get treatment with IPL to remove unwanted hairs.
A person may get treatment with IPL to remove unwanted hairs.

IPL makes use of light energy to efficiently target and remove pigmented or weakened skin cells or hair follicles.

A medical professional will use a handheld device to target multiple wavelengths of light onto the skin. The light heats and breaks down cells in the skin. Afterwards the body naturally removes the damaged tissue.


People may choose IPL as a treatment for a range of skin issues. These include:

  • acne scars
  • birthmarks
  • rosacea, a condition that causes redness of the face
  • hyperpigmentation, including liver or age spots and freckles
  • melasma, a condition causing brown or gray-brown skin patches
  • scars
  • spider veins
  • stretch marks
  • sun damaged skin
  • wrinkles

People may also commonly use it to remove unwanted hair or tattoos.

Safety, risks, and side effects

IPL is safe for most people but unfit for everybody. For example, pregnant women and people who are on blood thinners can avoid IPL.

Other factors which make people unfit for IPL therapy include:

  • currently or recently taking the acne drug Accutane
  • having active acne
  • suffering from a skin resurfacing disorder
  • being susceptible to keloid scarring
  • having severe scarring
  • having suffered severe sunburn recently

As with any medical procedure, IPL does carry the risk of complications. These include:

  • pain
  • skin discoloration
  • swelling
  • infection
  • bleeding
  • scarring
  • crusting

How effective is it?

IPL’s success depends on a great many things. For example, it works better on white or light brown skin than it does on black skin. Another consideration is the type of equipment used by a health-care provider during the operation.

Everyone responds differently to IPL, and before they begin to notice results, most people will need multiple rounds of treatment.


Someone hoping to have IPL treatment will address the potential benefits, side effects and complications with a dermatologist. P

A dermatologist would normally ask people to avoid the following for 2 weeks to prepare for the procedure:

  • sunbathing and tanning beds
  • waxing
  • chemical peels
  • collagen injections

Participants should also stop using any perfume or deodorant on the treatment area immediately before and after the therapy.

The American Society for Dermatological Surgery is also advising that people do not take any aspirin, anti-inflammatory medications or herbal supplements before the treatment. Such medicinal products can lead to bleeding risks.

What to expect

A medical practitioner will be using a handheld device to provide light therapy. People can experience a pinching sensation during the procedure. Some people have described this as feeling close to “snapping” an elastic band on the skin.

Most IPL providers will help people by providing a local anesthetic or cooling gel to relieve this pain.

The duration and number of prescribed sessions will depend on the treatment plan for each patient. It is worth noting that notification of the outcomes of IPL care will take up to several weeks to accomplish something.


The treated area can look red or pink immediately upon the treatment. This appears to last for 4 to 8 hours.

In the 4 to 6 hours following IPL, people may also feel a stinging sensation. This sensation should imitate a slight sunburn. A cool or moist cloth may help to ease the stinging.

Swelling is also common, and usually lasts a few days after the procedure.

People should avoid putting makeup or lotion on the treated area for 24 hours after the procedure, or until all the swelling is gone, during the recovery period. Individuals can moisturize the treated area for a minimum of 3 months after this date, at least twice a day.

Other options

IPL may not be the best treatment option for everyone. Some people find it too difficult while others consider the recovery time frustrating.

Therapy with Fraxel is a form of laser treatment that reduces ageing signs. It’s not boring and most people just need one session instead of the several sessions IPL takes.

People may get treatment for Fraxel on the face, back, shoulders and arms. Nevertheless, it has the same potential side effects as IPL, because it is a laser treatment.

Microdermabrasion is another option for people trying to rejuvenate their skin’s appearance. This removes the outer, dead layers of skin, exposing the underlying healthy, younger skin.

The effects of microdermabrasion do not last as long as those of treatment with IPL or Fraxel. Microdermabrasion may be as opposed to IPL:

  • cheaper
  • pain-free
  • have fewer potential side effects
  • have a shorter recovery time

Alternatives to IPL treatment are common in terms of hair removal, waxing, or shaving.

Although the effects of these more traditional methods do not last as long, they tend to hurt less, have less potential complications and require less, if any, recovery time.


IPL is a medical product for the skin. Patients may choose to go through the procedure to minimize ageing signs or remove unwanted hair. Certain applications include reducing skin hyperpigmentation frequency, such as freckles, birthmarks or age spots.

This kind of light treatment appears to work best for patients with lighter skin and a patient usually needs multiple treatment rounds.

Generally speaking, IPL is healthy but can bring potential complications such as discomfort, swelling, bleeding. Pregnant women should not be handled using IPL.

Chukwuebuka Martins

Chukwuebuka MartinsĀ is a writer, researcher, and health enthusiast who specializes in human physiology. He takes great pleasure in penning informative articles on many aspects of physical wellness, which he then thoroughly enjoys sharing to the general public.

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