IPL, also known as Intense Pulsed Light, uses the energy transferred by light to target particular pigments or other elements on or beneath the skin. IPL machines produce a very high-intensity light produced by a flashlamp. The output then is forwarded to a handpiece and introduced to the skin.
IPL works on the basis of selective light absorption meaning that certain parts of the skin are capable of absorbing the energy specifically, in turn producing heat in that area of the skin causing damage to unwanted areas/elements. These areas usually tend to be one or another type of pigmented target like brown spots secondary to sun damage, red spots as a result of very small tufts of vessels called hemangiomas or spider veins, and so on.
The three skin elements that can absorb light (hemoglobin, water, and melanin pigments) are all capable of a broad absorption, letting them be targeted by a range as well as a specific wavelength of light.
Most of the currently available IPL devices have means of filtering the light output, a very attractive feature that enables the treatment of various skin element targets with the same device by applying different filters. There are several other features of emitted light that can be controlled to customize the amount, frequency, and duration of the energy, therefore, affording the treating specialist a greater range of treatments and higher precision of targeting an element.
The first clinical use of an IPL technology in dermatology was in 1996 when it was used to treat 80 patients with facial port-wine stains (vascular malformations) in Germany. Soon after, the device was successfully used for hair removal in two patients in their beard area and was followed by several other studies that confirmed the safety and ability of IPL for long-standing hair removal.
The first IPL device was cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995 for the treatment of leg spider veins. Since then, its favorable cost and adaptability, as opposed to lasers, has led to rapid development and increased uses in several different clinical settings. Despite early statements of being ineffective and having too many side effects, technological advances have had a significant impact on developing more powerful and consistent devices enhancing their utility in skin rejuvenation.