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Intense Pulsed Light vs. Laser Treatments

Posted on: February 29th, 2016 by California Skin Institute

One of the common questions we get here at California Skin Institute is about the difference between intense pulsed light treatments and laser treatments. It’s a really great question, because both technologies can be very effective for improving skin appearance, but work quite differently.

To help you better understand how they affect your skin, the associated down times, and the potential outcomes of intense pulsed light treatments, we’ve put together this great informational article for you.* And if you have any questions, please call a California Skin Institute practice near you and we’ll be glad to provide you with more information!

It’s all About the Light

Both lasers and IPL devices use light waves. The difference, however, lies in the type of light emitted by the device.

  • Monochromatic Light: Lasers emit what is referred to as monochromatic light. It’s a stream of very focused wavelengths of light, which make it very powerful. The monochromatic light in lasers is strong enough to vaporize skin cells and can be used to perform laser skin resurfacing for very dramatic outcomes after just one treatment.*
  • Incoherent Light: The light emitted by IPL devices is called incoherent light, because it produces many different wavelengths. Just like the laser technology, this light is also absorbed by specific structures in the skin and produces a heating / damaging outcome to specific cells.* However, because this light is more diffused the heating is typically less intense.*

The benefit of these properties of incoherent light in IPL devices is that the treatment can target a broader number of skin structures at once (because a broader spectrum of light wavelengths are delivered to skin at the same time).*

Filters for Different Skin Conditions

The benefit of having many different wavelengths of light emitted by intense pulsed light devices is that they give your California Skin Institute provider greater ability to custom-tailor the IPL treatment to your needs.*

This is achieved through the use of specialized filters that will block the emission of some light wavelengths.* In this way, your provider can adjust the light spectrum to address a variety of skin conditions, including*:

  • Vascular Lesions: By customizing your intense pulsed light treatment, your California Skin Institute provider can target the chromophores in blood vessels.* The vessels are heated up to a point of coagulation – which simply means they collapse and become sealed off.*
  • Wrinkles: Intense pulsed light treatments can also penetrate deeper into the skin, to heat up the dermis and stimulate the production of collagen.* The gradual strengthening of the skin’s support network will produce a tightening effect that can reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.* (This tightening effect can also be achieved with non-IPL devices.* For example, Ulthera uses ultrasound waves instead of light waves to heat up the deeper skin layers with the same goal of stimulating collagen production and tightening the skin.*)
  • Brown Spots (a.k.a. Age Spots): Hyperpigmentation is another issue that can be effectively addressed with intense pulsed light treatments.* By adjusting the filters on the IPL device, your California Skin Institute provider can target melanin inside the sun-damaged skin cells, causing the gradual destruction of these cells and their eventual replacement with healthy skin.*

Further, by carefully selecting the appropriate filters and settings on the IPL device, California Skin Institute providers can treat several issues at once; which reduces the treatment time and produces a compounded improvement in the appearance of the skin (for example, reduction of wrinkles and reduction of acne scars).*

Intense Pulsed Light Treatment Results – Gradual

Because intense pulsed light treatments are less aggressive than laser skin resurfacing, the typical California Skin Institute patient will need more sessions to achieve the desired aesthetic outcomes.* Usually, it takes multiple treatments spaced several weeks apart for optimal effect.*

However, one of the reasons IPL treatments are so popular with patients is because, most of the time, they don’t need to take time off work.* Further, the ability to treat several issues at once (also referred to as IPL photofacial) can produce a compounded improvement in the appearance in the skin.*

Lastly, this gradual improvement appears natural to others, so your friends, family and co-workers will be unlikely to be able to tell that you’ve had a procedure performed.*

We’re Here if You Have Questions

If you have any questions about intense pulsed light treatments, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Just call a California Skin Institute practice near you, or use the Contact Form below to send us a message!

*Individual results may vary and are not guaranteed.