Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), or Photo Rejuvenation as it’s widely known, is often marketed as the cure for a wide range of conditions. These include: an improved skin texture; the removal of wrinkles; addressing diffused facial redness and photo aging; ending acne; the reversal of some skin damage from the sun; and the elimination of spider veins.
The results of IPL for the above conditions vary greatly. Some patients find the texture of their skins much improved after a few IPL sessions and others report no change at all. In addition, some people find that their treatments are painless. Some compare it to a light stinging sensation and others find their first treatment so painful they don’t wish to continue.
In addition to the treatment of all these skin conditions, IPL is also marketed as a solution for permanent hair removal. Its suitability for this kind of treatment is questionable however, especially when compared to laser hair removal (IPL is often loosely – and incorrectly – labelled as a laser).
A laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) sends out one single wavelength of light in which the waves are in phase and run parallel to each other. Lasers can therefore be directed very precisely to destroy the melanin within hair follicles. This causes thermal injury to the cells producing hair, preventing them from performing their function.
Unlike a laser, it isn’t possible to refine IPL to one wavelength. This means that IPL struggles to direct enough energy to hair follicles in order to destroy them, particularly as an IPL can’t attain the same peak energies a laser can reach. In fact, IPL produces a broad spectrum of light which spreads throughout the skin. This means that its energy can quite easily be delivered to unintended targets, making IPL more prone to causing skin damage. This is particularly true for people with higher quantities of pigment (melanin) in their skin, who are at higher risk of complications. So IPL for tanned skin, IPL for Asian skin and IPL for black skin can be problematic.
In summary therefore, whilst IPL can be an effective treatment for certain skin conditions in some people, it is not well suited for hair removal. If the removal of unwanted hair is the aim, it would almost certainly be better to choose a medical grade laser which can be altered to treat different tones of skin and densities of hair. This increases the prospect of obtaining long-lasting or even permanent hair removal.