Intense Pulsed Light: How It Differs from Laser and What to Expect


For anyone exploring dermatological treatments, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) likely rings a bell. But, did you know IPL isn’t quite a laser? Join us as we delve into the nuances of IPL, how it distinguishes itself from laser treatments, its applications, and important considerations before undergoing the procedure.

1. Exploring IPL:

Intense Pulsed Light or IPL, emits multiple wavelengths simultaneously, catering to various skin concerns. Unlike lasers, IPL’s spectrum ranges from visible light to near-infrared, offering flexibility in treatment options. By utilizing filters, IPL can target specific wavelengths, making it versatile in addressing different skin issues.

Spectrum of Light

IPL uses a cut-off filter (ex. When a 590 filter is inserted, a wavelength between 590 and 1,400 nm is emitted, and when a 420 filter is inserted, a wavelength between 420 and 1,400 nm is emitted) to treat various lesions. 

Various BBL filters allows to treat many skin problems.

Strictly speaking, IPL and laser are different. So let’s take a look at what’s different.

2. Intense Pulsed Light vs. Laser: Skin laser treatment in Korea

LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) is light generated by artificially amplifying energy – with the same wavelength (monochromatic), – with the same shape and texture (coherent), and – maintaining focus without spreading in the same direction(collimated).

These three features are unique to the laser and distinguish it from IPL.

1) monochromatic

The characteristic of a laser is that it emits only a certain wavelength from sunlight.

The defining feature of a laser is its emission of a single wavelength, distinct from the broad spectrum of sunlight. When sunlight passes through a prism, it disperses into various colors. However, lasers emit specific wavelengths chosen by the medium they pass through, whether gas, solid, or liquid. This unique property gives rise to lasers named after their medium, such as the alexandrite laser or ruby laser, setting them apart from IPL.

2) Coherent

Laser coherence

Laser coherence refers to its uniform spatial shape. When emitted, laser photons travel in a consistent wave pattern, overlapping to cancel out energy. Maintaining this uniformity, or coherence, is crucial for laser quality. Luxury lasers excel in preserving this cohesion, distinguishing them from standard counterparts.

3) Collimated

Laser parallelism ensures consistent beam size regardless of distance, akin to a red laser pointer during the power point presentation. This feature prevents light dispersion, maintaining beam integrity. However, focusing handpieces may lack parallelism due to their nature.

4) Pulse duration

Pulse duration denotes the time laser rays interact with skin tissue, influencing treatment outcomes. Short pulses, as seen in nano and pico lasers, induce photoacoustic reactions with minimal heat, reducing side effects. Conversely, IPL employs longer pulse durations, primarily inducing photothermal reactions. To safeguard the skin, IPL devices integrate cooling mechanisms or cold gel application.

The difference between nano laser and pico laser comes from the difference in irradiation time.

3. Applications of IPL:

  • IPL effectively treats various conditions such as pigmentation, redness, acne, and improves skin elasticity.
  • Filters in IPL devices allow customization for specific concerns like freckles, redness, and acne.
  • Its versatility makes it a popular choice for clinics like Noonopi Plastic Surgery, utilizing Sciton’s BBL®(Broad Band Light) equipment.

1) Skin pigment

Pigment lesions : IPL is effective in treating epidermal pigments, especially freckles and blemishes.

2) Facial flushing

Facial redness : Choosing a filter that acts more on blood vessels can help improve facial flushing. Changes in redness before and after one time BBL flushing treatment in Noonopi Plastic Surgery.

3) Acne laser treatment

Before and after one treatment of acne with BBL.

4) Skin tightening

Skin tightening : BBL SkinTyte treats fine wrinkles

5) Hair removal

Hair removal : One time treatment with BBL.

In this way, BBL can be treated in a variety skin problems.
This is because the depth of penetration into the skin varies depending on the filter wavelength selected.

Laser wavelength and skin penetration depth.

4. Considerations and Drawbacks:

Considering the aforementioned features, it may appear that IPL is a panacea for all skin conditions…
However, this isn’t the reality.

1) Variability Depending on Equipment:

IPL is often lauded as a cost-effective option among medical professionals due to the availability of budget-friendly devices. However, lower-cost IPL systems may suffer from unstable output due to flash lamps, inadequate cooling mechanisms, and limited versatility in crystal tip shapes, potentially leading to unintended irradiation of undesirable areas. Consistency in spectral distribution is crucial, with devices demonstrating a square pulse phenomenon ensuring uniform wavelength output. 

Superior IPL shows constant spectrum distribution as shown in the right graph.

Effective cooling is essential to safeguard the skin during treatment, managed by the crystal tip, which adjusts cooling temperature to counteract rising skin contact temperatures. Diverse crystal tip options are imperative, especially for targeting smaller lesions, highlighting the importance of adaptable IPL systems equipped with varied adapters.

BBL adapters of various sizes

2) Challenges with Dermal Lesions:

While IPL yields favorable outcomes for epidermal pigmentation, its efficacy in treating pigmented lesions affecting the dermal layer, such as nevus of Ota, melasma, and ABNOM, is limited. In comparison to other cue switch lasers, IPL may prove less effective for such conditions. Therefore, relying solely on IPL for melasma treatment may lead to skepticism among medical practitioners. At Noonopi Plastic Surgery, BBL blemish treatment employs low fluence settings akin to 1064 Q-switch toning, yet its standalone efficacy is modest, often necessitating complementary treatments.

3) Limitations on Dark Skin:

IPL’s utility is constrained in individuals with dark skin tones, as heightened melanin levels in darker skin may inadvertently absorb IPL rays before reaching the intended target, resulting in unintended effects. Consequently, the benefits of IPL treatment are curtailed for individuals with dark skin, particularly Blacks and Asians, due to their higher epidermal melanin content.

In summary, while IPL presents a versatile option for various skin concerns, including pigmentation and acne, it’s essential to acknowledge its limitations and consider complementary treatments for optimal outcomes, particularly for challenging dermal lesions and darker skin tones.

5. BBL Information and Aftercare:

  • BBL treatment is effective for addressing various skin concerns such as facial flushing, dilated blood vessels, freckles, fine wrinkles, and acne. While some issues like facial flushing and blemishes may show improvement after a single session, optimal results are typically achieved with repeated treatments.
  • Prior to BBL treatment, it is essential to disclose any medications being taken. Acne or redness medications should be discontinued three days before the procedure, while the application of vitamin A ointment should be avoided one day prior.
  • To optimize treatment outcomes, avoid excessive tanning before and after the procedure. If necessary, consider using a whitening agent beforehand to reduce melanin pigment levels.
  • Following treatment, redness usually subsides within 12 to 24 hours. If redness persists for 2-3 days, it’s advisable to contact the hospital for further guidance.
  • To aid in the healing process, regularly apply ointment or cream to prevent scabs from drying out post-treatment.
  • Temporary darkening of pigmented areas may occur for about a week after treatment. This is a normal response indicating successful melanin pigment irradiation, with the pigment gradually lightening over time as it is absorbed by the body’s cleansing cells.
  • Hair removal may occur in areas with facial hair. If hair removal is not desired, please communicate this preference in advance.
  • Sunlight exposure should be avoided for one month following the procedure. Additionally, diligently apply sunscreen as part of your daily skincare routine to protect the treated skin.

6. Conclusion: Because Results Matter

IPL manufacturers tout the ability to address multiple skin concerns simultaneously due to the broad spectrum of wavelengths emitted. This purported versatility encompasses treating conditions like erythema, pigmentation issues, acne, dry eyes, and even hair removal. What’s your take on this? Do you find it believable?
However, despite these claims, critics argue that the efficacy of IPL treatments may be compromised, particularly when utilizing lower-cost devices. As a result, skepticism arises regarding the professionalism of such equipment.

Nonetheless, for discerning doctors equipped with the right knowledge and technology, IPL remains a viable option for comprehensive improvement across various skin concerns. Esteemed practitioners often favor IPL systems like Stella M22 and BBL for their unparalleled performance.

Although BBL by Sciton lacks the celebrity endorsements seen with other brands, its effectiveness speaks volumes. Instead of relying on celebrity endorsements, the true value of BBL shines through in tangible results.

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