Clinical Studies

IPL technology: a review.

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Current Trends in Intense Pulsed Light

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Intense pulsed light: what works, what's new, what's next

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Current Indications and New Applications of Intense Pulsed Light.

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Intense pulsed light is the use of intense pulses of non-coherent light over a range of wavelengths from 500 nm to 1200 nm. Xenon flashlamps produce high output bursts of broad spectrum. Cooling is used to protect the skin in contact with the device.


Regulations governing IPL vary by jurisdiction. "Intense Pulsed Light" is not a registered trademark. A distinction is sometimes made between beauty-grade and medical-grade machines, mainly to get around regulations. Under the CE system no such distinction exists.


The first FDA approval of IPL was for telangiectasias in 1995. Use quickly spread to a variety of medical and cosmetic settings. Treatment is generally safe and effective, but complications can occur such hyperpigmentation. The polychromatic light can reach multiple chromophores in human skin: mainly hemoglobin, water, and melanin. This results in selective photothermolysis of the target, which can be blood vessels, pigmented cells, or hair follicles.

Hair removal


IPL can permanently reduce hair growth, most effectively in darker, coarser hair. There are many names and devices for pulsed light treatments such as E-Light, ELOS, and M-Light. Laser hair removal is different and uses coherent, monochromatic laser light.

Intense Pulse Light Therapy (IPL)


Commonly abbreviated as IPL, is a technology used by cosmetic and medical practitioners to perform various skin treatments for aesthetic and therapeutic uses including hair removal, photorejuvenation, and dermatologic diseases.

The technology utilizes a broad spectrum lightsource, with a general spectral range of 500 to 1200 nm. Various cutoff filters are commonly used to filter out lower frequencies and narrow this spectrum to target specific structures and chromophores. Because of the broad spectrum of the IPL light source they are unique, as opposed to lasers, in the ability to filter the light spectrum to target various chromophores in the skin.


How does IPL work?


IPL devices, like laser devices, have different settings that can be customized to address specific skin concerns. IPL devices direct a specific spectrum of light on your skin in “pulses.” The light pulses feel like hot snaps (like a rubber band) against your skin. Most patients do not find this application to be painful.

An IPL session can take anywhere between 15 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the area to be treated.


What are the possible side effects of IPL treatment?


IPL treatment is a mild, non-invasive procedure, so side effects should be minimal. Side effects may include blistering, pain, and excessive pigmentation or hypo-pigmentation. Occasionally scarring can occur. In the hands of an experienced technicial, these side effects are rare.



Broad-spectrum light is applied to the surface of the skin, targeting melanin. This light travels through the skin until it strikes the hair shafts or the bulb (root). The bulb is usually where the highest concentration of melanin is located. As the light is absorbed the bulb and most of the hair shaft are heated, destroying the hair-producing papilla. It is also claimed that heat conversion occurs directly in the darker capillaries that bring blood to the follicle.


At any one time, not all hair follicles are ‘active’, and only active hair follicles can be affected by the treatment. ‘Inactive’ hair follicles can be treated as they become ‘active’ over time. For IPL treatments an average of 8–10 treatments are required to remove most visible hair. No common treatment protocol exist and it depends on the equipment used and skin patient skin type. Commonly the treatment area needs to be clean, shaved and free of sunburn. Treatment sessions are usually 4 to 6 weeks apart at a beauty salon.


Contrary to what is often claimed, photoepilation is not a permanent hair removal method but a permanent hair reduction method. Although IPL treatments will permanently reduce the total number of body hairs, they will not result in a permanent removal of all hair. This distinction is only relevant in the USA because of FDA wording.


Certain skin conditions, health irregularities, and medications can impact whether it is safe for a person to receive a light based hair removal treatment. Photo-sensitizing medications, or damage to the skin are contraindications to treatment. According to Remington, manufacturer of an IPL device, all IPL and laser devices should only be used on light to medium skin tones, and work best on darker hair.

What is the difference between laser therapy and light-pulse therapy?


Laser therapy uses a single-frequency, focused pulse of light shined onto the skin. In contrast, IPL uses a spectrum of pulsed light shined onto the skin. Laser therapy is most effective at targeting one type of skin issue, such as small varicose veins or spider veins. IPL effectively treats a combination of skin issues simultaneously, such as spider veins and skin redness. Some IPL devices allow the doctor to control the spectrum of light shined onto the skin so that treatment can be customize to address your specific skin issues.

Doctors sometimes use a combination of laser therapy and IPL to treat skin and vein issues.

What other conditions can IPL treat?


IPL can be used to treat the following conditions, often simultaneously:

  • Spider veins

  • Reticular veins

  • Vascular birthmarks

  • Skin redness

  • Hair removal

  • Brown spots and other skin discolorations




The first use of a specific IPL system developed for hair removal is reported in the literature in 1997. Hair count reduction was found to be ~60%(12 weeks), 75%(1 year), 60%(2 year). Various treatment protocols have been studied.


It is important to note that these studies utilized a variety of IPL devices on various skin areas, and used patients with varying hair and skin types. Thus the results are not directly comparable. In evaluating these results it is also important to remember that even a reduction of 75% indicates that 25% of the hair regrew after treatment. Permanent hair removal in these studies, as defined by the FDA, means the "long-term, stable reduction in the number of hairs regrowing after a treatment regime". The number of hairs regrowing must be stable over time greater than the duration of the complete growth cycle of hair follicles, which varies from four to twelve months by body location. No treatment to date has shown the ability to permanently eliminate all hair growth, however many patients experience satisfaction with a significant and permanent reduction.


A 2006 article in the journal "Lasers in Medical Science" compared IPL and both alexandrite and diode lasers. The review found no statistical difference in effectiveness, but a higher incidence of side effects with diode laser treatment. Hair reduction after 6 months was reported as 68.75% for alexandrite lasers, 71.71% for diode lasers, and 66.96% for IPL. Side effects were reported as 9.5% for alexandrite lasers, 28.9% for diode lasers, and 15.3% for IPL. All side effects were found to be temporary and even pigmentation changes returned to normal within 6 months.

Medical Use


  IPL was first developed for vascular conditions. It is at least as effective as pulsed dye lasers and can penatrate deeper with reduced risk of purpura and hyperpigmentation. IPL can treat pigmented lesions with rapid recovery. Dyschromia can be cleared after repeated sessions. Photoaging treatment has been explored. A series of IPL can be used for facial rejuvenation, improving skin laxity and collagen production. IPL combined with facial injections can be used for dynamic rhytids. Home devices have been developed recently.



  IPL is employed in the treatment of a range of dermatological conditions including:

  • Photodamage induced dyspigmentation and vascular changes

  • Poikiloderma of Civatte

  • Rosacea

  • Acne vulgaris

  • Sebaceous Gland Hyperplasia

  • Broken Capillaries / Telangiectases

  • Vascular Lesions (small blood vessels)

  • Pigmented Lesions (freckles, liver spots, birth marks )

  • Melasma

  • A Ctinic Keratosis

  • Photorejuvenation

  • Basal cell carcinoma

  • Bowen's disease (squamous cell carcinoma)



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