A Guide to Light-Based Therapies: Laser and IPL

Light therapy has been used for therapeutic purposes for thousands of years, with recognition of its healing properties dating back to ancient Greece and Rome.

In 1903, Danish physician Niels Finsen Ryberg was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on light therapy and created a machine emitting wavelengths similar to the sun.

In 1917, Albert Einstein theorized about the stimulated emission of radiation, known as lasers, which are now widely used in various products and systems. In the beauty industry, lasers are utilized for skin irregularities correction, pigmentation treatment, wrinkle reduction, and hair removal.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) was first conceived by Nikola Tesla in the early 1900s. Still, it was when a group of Russian Jewish physicists in Israel implemented its use in medicine that IPL treatments became possible.

Lasers and IPL machines work similarly, selecting a wavelength easily absorbed by target tissue and heating it to destroy it without causing damage to adjacent normal tissue.

The main difference between the two is that lasers emit a single, coherent frequency of light, allowing maximum heat absorption by the target tissue. Different lasers are needed for specific skin problems as other target tissues absorb different wavelengths of light.

IPL devices emit a broad range of wavelengths, unlike lasers which are more specific to the conditions they treat. IPL uses light wavelengths to target melanin or hemoglobin in the skin, effectively reducing unwanted hair, fading brown spots, and cauterizing enlarged or broken capillaries and birthmarks. While IPL can reduce surface capillaries and brown spots, it may not address extensive sun damage or discoloration.

Intense pulsed light (IPL) is commonly used for: hair removal, pigmentation, including sun damage and brown spots, reduction of fine lines and wrinkles, improving skin texture and revitalizing the complexion, reducing the appearance of surfaced capillaries and broken blood vessels, rosacea treatment, birthmark reduction (e.g. port wine stains).

Laser Therapy

Laser therapies target tissue and are used for various treatments such as pigmentation, scarring, hair removal, spider veins, sun-damaged skin, wrinkle reduction, and complexion rejuvenation. The introduction of fractionated laser therapy, where microscopic columns of skin are treated while surrounding tissue remains intact, has made it possible to achieve results similar to traditional CO2 laser resurfacing with fewer side effects and minimal downtime.

Laser is commonly used for pigmentation, including melasma, tattoo removal, acne and surgical scars, improving skin texture and pores, rosacea and broken capillaries, port wine birthmarks, wrinkles, and hair removal.

Compared with lasers, IPL devices are more general in their treatments, whereas lasers treat more specific conditions.

Samantha Welch, Esthetician

Fractional laser technology breaks up light beams and stimulates the body’s natural healing responses through the creation of microscopic thermal injuries. This triggers collagen production and cell renewal, plumping the tissues and treating skin conditions from scars and birthmarks to wrinkles. The laser creates tiny holes in the skin’s surface, penetrating the dermis and triggering the production of new collagen. The surrounding tissue around each “dot” remains intact, allowing for efficient healing.

Fractional laser technology offers anti-aging benefits such as improving skin tone and texture, reducing the appearance of pores, lines, and wrinkles, and reversing sun damage. The number of sessions required for treatment may vary, with a gentle treatment requiring multiple sessions and a more aggressive treatment needing just one.

Laser and IPL differ in terms of the size of the treatment area. IPL treatments are quicker due to larger treatment heads but are less targeted, whereas lasers have a smaller spot size and are more precise but take longer.

Both laser and IPL are safe, but eye protection is required for laser treatments, and the procedure should take place in a protected area. Lasers are typically safer for darker skin types, while IPLs may not be suitable for darker or tanned skin. The most suitable choice depends on an individual’s needs, and a professional practitioner can advise on the most suitable option.

Note that not all IPL systems have the necessary energy to treat specific conditions effectively, and can lead to complications. Always choose an accredited practitioner in a medical-based clinic to avoid these issues.

The results of light-based therapies can vary depending on the practitioner’s technique and the patient’s characteristics. It’s advisable to ask the practitioner about the age and model of the laser or IPL machine, as newer models often provide more predictable and precise results.

IPL and Laser for Home Use

IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) and laser removal treatments at home have become increasingly popular in recent years, with the advent of handheld devices that can be purchased for personal use. Note that these devices may have a different level of intensity or precision than professional treatments. In addition, there is a higher risk of side effects or complications. Make sure to seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional before starting any at-home light-based therapy.

Laser and IPL removal treatments direct high-energy light into the skin to target hair follicles, pigmentation, or blood vessels. Home devices typically use lower energy levels and may not be as effective or safe as professional treatments. For instance, improper use of IPL devices can result in burns, hyperpigmentation, or other skin damage. When it comes to laser hair removal, choose the right device for your skin type and hair color, as pigment absorbs laser energy in the hair.

It’s best to choose from popular brands such as the JOVS Venus Pro 2, the Silk’n Infinity, and the Braun Silk-Expert 5.

In conclusion, while at-home IPL and laser removal treatments may seem appealing due to their convenience and low cost, weigh the benefits and risks before starting. It may be more appropriate to seek the guidance of a licensed dermatologist or esthetician for safe and effective treatment.


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