Photorejuvenation (light therapy) uses the latest innovations in light energy science to reverse sun-induced or environmental damage to the skin. This damage is called photoageing.
Everyone is susceptible to photoageing. However, those skin types with higher melanin content experience delayed and less severe photoageing. This is due to the photoprotective role of melanin. Lighter-complexioned people are more prone to the effects of ultra-violet (UV) light. It is characterised by fine wrinkles, mottled pigmentation, and freckles and sunspots.
High-tech non-invasive light-based treatments offer more options than ever before. Light therapies include Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), lasers, and light-emitting diodes (LED). IPL skin rejuvenation devices emit multi-colour, non-focused, broad spectrum light. They are less powerful than lasers, but can treat a greater number of colour targets, for example, both brown and red pigment in the skin.
The same device can be used to simultaneously treat different kinds of skin problems. It can be used for pigmented areas (eg age spots, sun spots, freckles, rosacea or unsightly broken capillaries), as well as acne and wrinkles, though the effects on wrinkles are somewhat less dramatic. This versatility has made IPL quite popular in many cosmetic medicine clinics.
Mechanism Of Action
The IPL skin rejuvenation device generates a high intensity beam of light by passing an electrical current through a chamber filled with (xenon) gas. This light is then focused directly onto the skin. Deeper elements in the skin are able to absorb this specific light, causing them to heat up, while the outer skin surface remains undisrupted. This allows all the photorejuvenation action to occur deep in the skin dermis. Heating of the skin is thought to make skin cells release their pigment that is then carried up to and shed from the skin surface.
Within each pulse IPL flashes out light over a range of wavelengths (or colours). The same IPL skin rejuvenation device can be used to treat different targets by using ‘cut off filters’. These limit the wavelength reaching the skin to more selectively target the element in our skin that needs treatment.
The heat generated by IPL triggers the contracting and unravelling of collagen in the dermis (known as denaturation). Wavelengths in the 1200-nm spectrum are absorbed by water in the skin, which sets off inflammatory responses that remove old or damaged collagen. New healthy matrix replaces it, leading to at least partial replacement of the skin volume lost with age. This means a tighter, smoother texture, and increased softness with reduced lines.
The IPL spot size (or footprint) is larger than that of laser, making it faster and more effective when treating large areas. However, more IPL sessions are generally required to achieve the desired outcome as compared to laser treatment. Treatment areas include face, neck, arms, hands, and larger areas such as the upper back.
Our Elos IPL skin rejuvenation is the first and only technology that combines light and radio frequency energies to effectively and gently restore and rejuvenate the skin’s appearance.
Who Can Have This Treatment?
Deep wrinkles do not respond well to IPL skin rejuvenation, it’s more appropriate for addressing minor wrinkles or fine lines. Because the process involves the remodelling of matrix collagen, it may not be suitable for people with a susceptibility to excessive scarring (eg keloids). As well, it is not recommended in women with dark skin as there is a risk of pigment changes. People taking certain photosensitising medications also should not have this treatment.
What To Expect Before And During IPL Skin Rejuvenation?
Preparation is minimal but important, including avoiding excessive sunlight and artificial tanning agents for at least two weeks prior to treatment. As well, avoid other procedures and cosmeceuticals that induce collagen stimulation as they increase the risk of scarring. A skin assessment and patch test is required prior to treatment, especially to assess susceptibility to pigment changes.
An anaesthetic cream may be applied to numb the area 30 minutes or so before treatment. It is not always necessary, though it can help when treating large pigmented areas. Anaesthetic is not advised when treating blood vessels as it may reduce treatment effectiveness by causing constriction of blood vessels.
As IPL skin rejuvenation generates heat in the skin some form of cooling needs to be applied to the outer surface of the skin (the epidermis). It reduces the risk of damage and improves the efficiency of light delivery into the deeper dermis. This is usually done with a cooling gel or spray built into the handpiece the practitioner uses.
Since there is heating (and cooling) occurring, a warm to hot sensation is felt like you are being flicked with a hot elastic band. Treatments last between three and 20 minutes, and any discomfort soon disappears after treatment without residual effects.
The number of treatments required varies. On average, three to six treatments are required, performed every few weeks. Gradual and cumulative improvement of skin tone and texture, with increased softness is typically achieved in five treatment sessions.
Pigmented areas treated will eventually blend sufficiently into the surrounding skin. This depends on the size and location of the area, how dark the area being treated is, and the darkness of the surrounding skin. Treated blood vessels will usually rapidly disappear, and the skin will look normal for the first time in a long while. Occasionally treated blood vessels may reappear in the days following a treatment. This is not an issue as multiple treatments may be required to completely destroy the vessel.
What Side Effects Can Occur With IPL Skin Rejuvenation?
Recovery is rapid after treatment, and it is possible to go back to work soon after. There is a low risk of complications when the procedure is performed by an experienced technician. Most side effects are minor and subside within 24 hours. Temporary itching and redness may be experienced for a few hours, but is easily covered with makeup. There may also be some skin peeling for a few days after treatment. Occasionally a cold sore breakout may be stimulated by IPL if the Herpes Simplex virus affects you. This can be prevented by taking an antiviral medication.
After the procedure, dark areas treated may temporarily get a little darker instead of lighter. This condition known as ‘microcrusting’ is not cause for concern, in fact it is a sign that the treatment is working. It will quickly settle after old skin cells are pushed to the surface and peel off, typically within seven days. Applying a moisturiser twice a day accelerates the process.
Some people may also experience pigment changes, with the treated area becoming too light or too dark. This is less common in experienced hands with the dose and pulse intensity carefully titrated to our skin type. Most changes are usually temporary and the skin will normally return to its natural colour within two to three months. It tends to be more common in women with naturally dark skin.
Protecting the treated area from the sun for at least two weeks after the treatment helps minimise any risk of pigment changes. Preferably use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, every day, regardless of weather. In some cases, regardless of the best efforts, the pigmentation may return. Other modalities may need to be used if that occurs.
Scar tissue is a potential side effect of IPL treatments, due to the remodelling of matrix collagen, but can be virtually eliminated by knowledge of proper patient selection. It is also important to avoid other procedures and treatments that induce collagen stimulation during the healing process, including cosmeceuticals.
Microdermabrasion of the area one to two days before IPL treatment will reduce dead surface skin cells and prepare the area for the treatment. Microdermabrasion 2–3 weeks after IPL will accelerate the process of evening out transient skin discolouration. Anti-wrinkle injections combined with IPL have also been shown to be more effective on wrinkles than IPL alone. Sometimes, IPL is combined with 5-ALA which acts to sensitise the skin to the effects of IPL. This is known as ‘photodynamic photorejuvenation.’