Medical Spas and a lot of aesthetic physicians have adopted IPL devices to treat a variety of skin conditions, from hair removal to age spots.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is a non-laser flash lamp light source that emits broad spectrum, high-intensity visible and infrared (IR) light and is used for permanent hair reduction, acne (including photo dynamic therapy, aka PDT), Rosacea, dyschromias and telangiectasias, and age related treatment of facial lines and creases.

Wavelengths are chosen by selecting a particular wavelength filter or attaching a specific treatment head or hand piece that is configured with the filter already attached. Since IPL medical devices use a ‘pulse’ of light they deliver their energy into the dermis over a longer time than a laser, providing different treatments and usually resulting in significantly more pain for the patient.

Shorter wavelengths in the visible spectrum are used to target hemoglobin (red skin conditions like acne and Rosacea) and melanin (brown spots). Longer infrared (IR) wavelengths target water in the skin and can treat other conditions. Since IPL devices use a ‘pulsed’ light instead of a high-intensity focused beam like lasers do, IPLs emit more scattered light (feathering) and are less selective than a laser in heating the skin. With IPL devices there are often additional treatments needed to achieve optimal results than with lasers.

Practitioners more or less agree on the applications of different wavelength available in IPL devices:  

Wavelength (nm) Used to treat:
420 acne
500 pigment
510 pigment
515 pigment
520 pigment and some vascular lesions
525 pigment and some hair removal
560 pigment and some vascular lesions
590 pigment in skin types
615 larger facial spider veins
640 superficial leg veins
650 hair removal
695 thicker vascular lesions (angiomas, hemangiomas), superficial leg veins, hair removal
755 thicker vascular lesions (angiomas, hemangiomas), superficial leg veins, hair removal

Major manufacturers of IPL Intense Pulsed Light devices: Candela, Palomar, Cutera, Lumenis and Sciton. 

IPL Pros

  • Cheaper than lasers
  • More compact than most lasers
  • Results are comparable to the 810 nm Diode or the 770 nm Alexandrite lasers for hair and to the 532 nm KTP Laser, the 595 Pulsed Dye Laser for the treatment of Rosacea and vascular lesions

IPL Cons

  • Cannot be used safely on darker skin types (IV-VI) or tanned skin
  • Filters (heads) have a short life span (50,000-75,000 pulses)
  • Filter/head replacement is expensive
  • Many different wavelengths, settings, cooling requiremnts may be confusing for the operator
  • Maintenance and service required Comment:

More and more experts agree that from the practical standpoint Nd:YAG 1064 nm may have established itself as the single most versatile wavelength for all of the treatments mentioned above. For all skin types and tanned skin.