Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) 101: Shining Light On Aesthetic Skin Treatments
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is used in photo-rejuvenation for the skin and hair removal treatments. Broad Band Light (BBL) is essentially the same thing as IPL and is used in the same way. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is not actually a laser. IPL emits a non coherent, broad spectrum light, rather than a monochromatic single wavelength like a laser. Basically lasers have one wavelength ( for example: 800nm) with a very specific target, and IPL uses a wide spectrum of wavelengths at the same time (for example: 500nm — 1200nm) that can target any chromophore in that range. You can think of the laser like a sniper that can precisely hit a single target with one shot, and IPL is like a grenade that hits several targets at once.
IPL uses special filters that block unwanted wavelengths. The filters can be changed to “cut off” the shorter wavelengths. The appropriate filter will depend on the depth of the intended target.
The cut off for the wavelength at the deeper end is predetermined, but can vary with each devise.
For example: Lumenis One has a wavelength of 515 – 1200nm,
and has 7 filters: 515, 560, 590,615, 640,695, and 755.
The 515 filter would block out wavelengths above and below 515nm – 1200nm, while the 560 filter would block out wavelengths above and below 560 -1200nm. The deeper wavelength, in this case 1200nm remains the same, while the “cut-off” filter can be changed to block out specific shorter wavelengths.
Each devises may use different wavelengths.
Sciton BBl: 420 -1400nm
Lumenis One: 515-1200nm
iPulse 1200: 530 – 1200nm
LimeLight: 520 – 1100nm
Cynergy XPL: 560 -950nm
IPL is well absorbed by chromophores that have color such as melanin, hemoglobin. The concentration of a specific chromophore peaks at different depths in the skin. The filter used in treatment is decided based on the depth of a desired target and the color of skin. A deeper cut off filter would be used for hair removal, while a shallow filter would be used when treating vascular issues such as rosacea. It is important to remember that IPL targets color in the skin, so tanning must be avoided before treatment. Patients with darker skin should seek treatment from someone experienced in treating their skin type, to avoid complications. IPL treatments can provide beautiful results, but can also cause serious burns. It is the patients responsibility to choose an experienced professional, be honest about sun exposure and follow all pre and post treatment instructions.