IPL treatment, commonly known as flash lamp therapy, a photofacial, or intense pulsed light therapy, is performed using an IPL machine, which removes certain types of unwanted abnormalities beneath the upper layers of the skin. Treatment generally takes 20-30 minutes, depending upon the size of the target site. Patients are given an eye shield to wear while a handheld device is passed over the skin, emitting different wavelengths of intense pulsed light. The light heats the specified area, often causing it to flake off or break down. The treatment works on a variety of conditions, such as lesions, pigmentations, unwanted hair, and vascular issues. When applied to pigmentations such as freckles, age spots, and pigmented birthmarks, it will target the melanin in the skin's surface, heat it and destroy it, removing the discoloration. When applied to unwanted hair, it will attack the follicle, cause the hair to fall out, and make it impossible for the hair to grow back. When treating vascular issues such as vascular birthmarks, thread veins, and spider veins, the light will heat the blood supply within the vessel, causing the blood to thicken inside of it and hinder circulation. The veins collapse, and the body absorbs them.
IPL is similar to laser systems in that it uses heat to target specific issues within the dermal layers. But unlike lasers, it makes use of various wavelengths of pulsing or flashing light, meaning that it can target multiple issues at once. Also, the majority of IPL systems use some type of filtration that narrows the wavelength in order to target a specific type of abnormality inside the skin without affecting the surrounding area. It is considered a non-ablative resurfacing technique. Unlike certain types of ablative surfacing, it does not attack the upper layers of skin, known as the epidermis. Instead, it pushes through, applying heat directly to the bottom layers, known as the dermis. This means that the process isn't as drastic, and patients do sometimes need multiple treatments to see the results they are trying to achieve. Skin conditions may require 3 to 6 treatments to be removed. Hair removal often requires 6 to 12. Still, IPL treatment is preferred to other more dramatic treatment options, such as microdermabrasion and harsh chemical peels, which may damage the skin. Sometimes subtle is better, especially when considering the amount of recovery time. Patients who receive IPL treatment can often attend a session on their lunch break, then go back to work right away.