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Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Therapy

What Is IPL Treatment?

IPL treatment, or intense pulsed light therapy, is a cosmetic procedure to improve the skin's texture. The goal is to give your skin a clearer and more even, youthful look.

IPL therapy treats a range of skin pigment and blood vessel issues on areas such as your:

  • Face
  • Hands
  • Neck
  • Chest

These issues may be due to sun damage, hormonal changes, or a genetic vascular condition.

IPL treatment is safe for most people. It's a low-risk, non-invasive way to correct skin or vein issues.

Conditions We Treat with IPL Therapy

At UPMC, we use IPL therapy to treat:

How Does IPL Treatment Work?

IPL therapy uses many wavelengths to fix unwanted skin pigment conditions or vein changes.

The light waves pass through the top layer of skin (epidermis) to the targeted lesion, either pigmented or vascular.

In IPL treatment for pigment issues:

  • The light heats the pigment cells and destroys them.
  • The lesions could appear darker for a few weeks after treatment.
  • The pigment cells then will either flake off or break down to let the body absorb them naturally.

In IPL therapy to treat blood vessel problems:

  • Wavelengths heat the blood supply in the vessel.
  • The heat causes the blood to thicken in the vessel walls and hinder circulation.
  • The tiny veins collapse, letting the body absorb them.

For most skin conditions, you'll need 3 to 6 treatments about a month apart. Spacing out appointments gives your skin time to heal.

Hair removal may take 6 to 12 IPL treatments.

IPL Therapy Side Effects

Most people have minimal discomfort and heal quickly after IPL treatment.

You'll likely have some redness, which can last between an hour to a few days. Patients rarely experience swelling.

Other possible, but less common side effects of IPL therapy include:

  • Blistering
  • Bruising
  • Changes to skin color (usually short term)
  • Crusting

What Results Can I Expect From IPL Treatments?

Results vary based on your skin tone.

IPL treatment has the best results for people who have lighter skin tones. If you have darker skin tones, it may not be the best option for treating your pigment, vein, or other skin issues.

Our highly trained staff will review expected results with you before you have the treatment.

Before IPL Treatment: Making Sure It's Right For You

Before you have IPL therapy, you'll meet with one of the experts at UPMC Plastic Surgery who will:

  • Look at your skin.
  • Ask you about your overall health.
  • Talk to you about what to expect from IPL treatment and what results you're likely to see.

How to get your skin ready for IPL treatment

Here's what you'll need to do a few days or weeks before each appointment to prep your skin for treatment:

  • Avoid self-tanners, sunbathing and tanning for 2 weeks before treatment.
  • Avoid waxing, chemical peels, or cosmetic injections for 1 week before treatment.
  • Stop taking antibiotics for at least 1 week before treatment.
  • Do not wear lotions the day of treatment.
  • Do not take aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, or herbal supplements the day of your treatment as these may increase some risks.

What to Expect During IPL Treatment

When you arrive, a licensed aesthetician or physician assistant will:

  • Clean your skin around the treatment area.
  • Apply a cooling gel to your skin.
  • Give you glasses to protect your eyes during treatment.

Next, our highly trained technicians will apply the intense pulse light. Most people say it feels like a sting, much like someone snapping you with a rubber band.

Your therapy will last about 20 to 30 minutes.

Recovery After IPL Treatment

Your skin may look red after treatment, but rarely does swelling occur. You can return to your normal routine right away.

After treatment:

  • It may feel like you have a mild sunburn for a few hours. You can use a cooling gel pack or cold compress to soothe the skin.
  • Your skin may feel sensitive for a few days.
  • Call our office if you have any problems or questions.