Intense Pulsed Light or IPL devices utilize the energy of high-intensity broad spectrum pulsed light (590-1200 nm) which is absorbed by pigmented structures in the skin – from hair follicles to pigmented lesions to spider veins. This energy coagulates or destroys the pigmented structure resulting in death of the hair follicles, removal of pigmentation and collapse of micro capillaries in vascular lesions.
Long-term unwanted hair removal has become one of the fastest growing, nonsurgical aesthetic procedures in Europe and all over the world. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery already in 2014 IPL hair removal had become the seventh most popular procedure among plastic surgeons and related specialists.
Scientific trials comparing IPL and Laser for hair removal have demonstrated similar effectiveness for both devices, but a lower incidence of severe local pain and side effects with IPL. A study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology in June 2017 comparted effectiveness and side effects of IPL and Nd:YAG laser for hair removal. Comparison of the efficacy of the two devices on each visits showed no significant difference, however there was statistically lower pain score in patients treated with IPL and statistically higher redness, burning sensation, and swelling in patients treated with laser. Eight months after the last treatment, there was significant hair reduction both in patients treated with IPL and laser, so there was no difference in efficacy. However, patient satisfaction scores were higher with IPL.
When treating large areas, as often required in hair removal and many aesthetic dermatology indications, IPL technologies show advantages over laser devices because of their high skin coverage rate. Also compared to lasers, the wide range of selectable treatment settings is a strong advantage of IPL, allowing the treatment to be tailored to the individual skin type and colour.
Hair grows in stages. At any given time, there are hair follicles that are in each stage of growth. Stress and general condition may influence the relative percentages of hair follicles in each phase, i.e. in health 80-90% of hair if in the Anagen (growing) phase, whereas extreme stress can put up to 70% of hair follicles into Telogen (resting) phase.
Stage 1 – Anagen : This stage is the beginning phase of hair growth. This is when the hair is visible above the skin and is still attached to the papilla, a knoblike vascular indentation at the bottom of the hair follicle on which the hair bulb fits. This phase is ideal for hair removal because the IPL energy is absorbed by the papilla and destroys it preventing any new growth. This stage usually lasts for about 2-3 weeks for both facial and body hair.
Stage 2 – Catagen : This is the intermediate period of hair growth. Hair follicles prepare for the resting phase and the deeper portions of the hair follicles start to collapse. This stage is not ideal for permanent hair removal as the follicle will most likely produce another hair.
Stage 3 – Telogen : This is the resting phase. The hair is neither growing nor developing and it is no longer attached to the papilla, therefore IPL or laser will not be effective in this phase. At the end of this period, older hairs that have finished their life will fall out and newer hairs will begin to grow.
Studies show that hair reduction became significant after the third treatment with either IPL or laser. Treatments should be spaced four to six weeks to allow for new hair to enter the Anagen phase.
Over and above the permanent hair reduction, there is a wide range of cutaneous disorders amenable to IPL treatment due its versatile range of vawelengths. A recent evidence-based set of recommendations show that IPL is very effective in treatment of melasma, acne vulgaris, rosacea, telangiectasia and capillary malformations. It also improves sun damage (actinic keratosis) and corrects skin texture (sebaceous gland hyperplasia). IPL treatments induce new collagen formation in the dermis and a more neat arrangement of elastin fibers which leads to photorejuvenation.
A known side effect of hair removal with laser or IPL is pigmentation. Although more common with laser treatment, it may occur with IPL. Treated skin may become sun sensitive so minimizing the sun exposure of treated areas offers added protection. Winter months, when the treated areas are covered by clothes and daytime sun expose is minimal, are therefore ideal for hair removal. And with a series of treatments throughout the winter months you will be “bikini ready” in time for summer!