IPL To Reverse The Signs Of Ageing

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Dr Caitriona Ryan is a Consultant Dermatologist in Blackrock Clinic, Dublin, Ireland and a Clinical Assistant Professor in University College Dublin. Prior to returning to practice in Ireland in September 2016 she was Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology for the Texas A+M Health Science Center and Vice Chair of the Department of Dermatology at Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas.

We spoke with Dr. Ryan about how IPL can be used to treat the signs of ageing skin and to prevent further damage.

In terms of skin treatments available at beauty salons, how effective is IPL?

When it comes to “lunchtime procedures” with minimal downtime, photorejuvenation with IPL is one of the most effective and simple non-invasive skin treatments used to address irregular skin tone and compares favourably to most beauty salon treatments.  IPL can be used to treat irregular pigmentation, age spots, redness, broken blood vessels and large pores, to erase years of skin damage. IPL is also widely used for hair removal.

 Some people are looking to maintain their skin by promoting collagen production, does IPL do this?

IPL does stimulate collagen production to some extent which can improve skin texture but this effect is mild when compared to the collagen production induced by fractionated and ablative resurfacing lasers.

How does IPL work?

IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light, where a range of lightwaves are released that target hemoglobin in blood vessels and melanin in freckles and age spots within the skin – this closes the small blood vessels and fragments the pigment, making redness and irregular pigmentation less visible. Collagen production is enhanced by stimulation of  fibroblasts in the dermis of the skin. Typically 4-6 treatments 4-6 weeks apart are trequired to achieve an optimal effect.

When should somebody look to start incorporating regular IPL sessions into their skincare routine?

When discolouration, freckles, age spots, redness of broken veins start to become apparent. This varies greatly with a person’s skin type and tone, genetics, UV exposure history and smoking history. I have commenced IPL on patients in their late teens while others don’t require it until well into their 40s. The less sun damage someone has, the fewer treatments they will need.

People spend a lot of money on expensive facials at beauty salons, how would you rank IPL in comparison?

IPL is vastly superior to facials no matter how expensive they are!. While facials may leave your face feeling more moisturised for a day or two, they have no significant long-term benefits and will not improve redness or uneven pigmentation of your skin. I often suggest that my patients save the money they would usually spend on facials or spa days for a course of IPL instead.

What can somebody expect during a session?

Often we apply a topical anaestheic to the area being treated but this is not always necessary. Patients should always be given protective eyewear. Cold gel is applied to the area being treated. The IPL treatment head is a rectangular shaped glass applicator which is applied to the skin and pulses of light are deliverered to the area being treated. The pulse feels like a snap of a rubber band or a pinch and can be mildly uncomfortable – this sensation is lessened by prior use of topical anaesthetic cream and typically improves with further treatment sessions as the skin begins to clear. A treatment of the face usually lasts about 20 minutes. A course of 4-6 sessions every 4-6 weeks is typically needed to achieve optimal results. IPL has the great advantage of having virtually no down-time so you can re-apply your sunblock and makeup, return to work and carry on with your day as normal.

What results can you hope to see? Will you see results immediately?

Immediately after your treatment you may have some redness and minor swelling similar to a minor sunburn– for most people this lasts for a few minutes to hours but ocassionally can last a few days. This typically only occurs after initial treatments. Age spots and freckles can darken for 3-7 days before they begin to clear. After the first treatment, your skin will feel smoother and look more radiant. With each treatment there will be a gradual decrease in redness, flushing, age spots and freckles .

What about aftercare?

After the treatment, the area will be cleansed and a sunscreen should be applied immediately. Make-up can be used after the treatment. Avoid retinoid based creams for two weeks before and after the treatment. Those with a history of coldsores may need prophylatic antiviral treatment. A broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF30 should be used daily to the treatment area for the following month at least, but it is preferable to continue with daily sunscreen to prevent re-pigmentation and further UV damage.

Is IPL something that you think people should do regularly, whatever age?

A course of IPL typically requires 4-6 treatments. The frequency of further treatments depends on subsequent UV expsoure and damage. Those who are meticulous about sunscreen will require far fewer treatments in the future. To maintain your results and to continue to stimulate a small amount of collagen production, I typically recommend a maintenance treatment every 6 to 12 months, particularly in patients with rosacea.

Is it possible to postpone the effects of ageing skin with regular IPL sessions?

Yes, regular IPL sessions can minimize UV and age-related pigmentary and vascular changes in the skin while increasing collagen production. Of course, it is essential to combine this with daily sunscreen for optimal results. 

 What are the possible side effects?

Common side effects of IPL include redness, pain, minor swelling, hair loss and minor bruising. Blistering can occasionally occur and if very severe, this can result in scarring. Hyper- and hypo-pigmentation (darkening or lightening) of the skin can occur, particularly in darker skin types. In those with a history of coldsores IPL can trigger flares.