Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Therapy

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy uses short bursts of high intensity light to treat a variety of skin conditions. It is most commonly used for photo-rejuvenation procedures and to treat mild skin discolorations caused by hyper-pigmentation. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy is also occasionally used to treat active acne symptoms and certain types of mild acne scars.

How Does Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Therapy Work?

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatment of Neck
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatment of Neck

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) systems are one of the most commonly administered forms of light therapy for dermatology applications. IPL systems are designed to administer many rapid, high intensity pulses of light.  The rapid pulsing prevents thermal damage to the skin and minimizes discomfort of the patient.

The light produced by IPL treatment is absorbed more by pigmented tissue than non-pigmented tissue causing thermal damage to pigmented cells. Because hair and hair follicles generally have a higher density of melanin (pigment), IPL can be used to damage those structures. IPL is a common procedure for treating areas of hyper-pigmented skin (eg. melasma).

IPL treatments generally use a broad spectrum and non-coherent light source, much like standard white light. In many cases a special optical filter is used that limits the light to a specific range of wavelengths (colors). One of the most common IPL filters is designed to limit the light to orange and red wavelengths.

IPL Therapy, Active Acne and Acne Scars

IPL Treatment of Active Acne Before and After 2 (Rojanamatin)
IPL Treatment of Active Acne Before and After 2 (Rojanamatin)

IPL is not a common treatment for active acne or acne scars. IPL can be used to improve the appearance of hyper-pigmented acne scars, but other laser systems (eg. C02, Nd:YAG, Er:YAG) are much more effective treatments for acne scars. Although IPL is not regularly used as a treatment for active acne, several research studies have reported positive results that suggest IPL might be an effective acne treatment.

IPL vs PDL Treatment of Active Acne Summary of Results (Choi)
IPL vs PDL Treatment of Active Acne Summary of Results (Choi)

IPL has been tested as a treatment for active acne symptoms. For the treatment of active acne, IPL is commonly used as the light source for Photodynamic Therapy (PDT), which uses a topical photo-sensitizer to increase the effectiveness of the treatment. Several clinical research studies have been conducted to evaluate the efficacy of IPL as an active acne treatment. Overall, these studies have found that IPL alone was partially effective at improving acne symptoms. Very few patients experienced dramatic improvement of their acne symptoms in response to IPL treatment. However, the research does suggest that IPL can be partially helpful, and IPL may be a valuable addition to comprehensive acne treatment regimens.

How and Where is IPL Therapy Administered?

IPL vs PDL Treatment of Active Acne Before and After (Choi)
IPL vs PDL Treatment of Active Acne Before and After (Choi)

IPL is usually administered in a spa or clinical environment. IPL is a non-ablative treatment with a good safety record. The incidence of serious complications and side effects is lower for IPL than with more invasive types of laser treatment. Therefore, IPL can be safely administered in many settings.

There are numerous types of IPL treatment systems, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Some IPL systems include special filter sets to control the wavelengths of light being used, while others include automated cooling systems to prevent damage to the outer surface of the skin during treatment. Because of the variability in the treatment itself, there is a wide range of efficacy with IPL procedures.

There is a substantial range in prices for IPL treatment. This often reflects the particular type of treatment, IPL system being used, area being treated and other factors. In general, IPL treatments range between $100 and $1500. Treatment of simple hyper-pigmentation (e.g. small sunspots) is an example of a a procedure that you might find at the low end of the cost spectrum, while full facial photo-rejuvenation or large scale hair removal treatments tend to run at higher costs. The cost of IPL and IPL-based Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) acne treatments can also vary significantly, but are often in the mid cost range ($300-$600).

Common Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Systems

AccelaWave, Chromolite, IPL Quantum SR, LimeLight, StarLux.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Images


The use of a novel intense pulsed light and heat source and ALA-PDT in the treatment of moderate to severe inflammatory acne vulgaris. Gold, et al. 2000.
Treatment of Inflammatory Facial Acne Vulgaris with Intense Pulsed Light and Short Contact of Topical 5-Aminolevulinic Acid: A Pilot Study. ROJANAMATIN, et al. 2006.
Effectiveness of Photodynamic Therapy with Topical 5-Aminolevulinic Acid and Intense Pulsed Light versus Intense Pulsed Light Alone in the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris: Comparative Study. Arianee, et al. 2005.
A comparative study of intense pulsed light alone and its combination with photodynamic therapy for the treatment of facial acne in Asian skin. Yeung, et al. 2007.
Treatment of Facial Acne Papules and Pustules in Korean Patients Using an Intense Pulsed Light Device Equipped with a 530‐to 750‐nm Filter. Chang, et al. 2007.
A comparison of intense pulsed light, combination radiofrequency and intense pulsed light, and blue light in photodynamic therapy for acne vulgaris. Taub, et al. 2007.
Treatment of hypertrophic scars and keloids using intense pulsed light (IPL). Erol, et al. 2008.
Intense pulsed light (IPL): a review. Babilas, et al. 2010.
Intense pulsed light vs. pulsed‐dye laser in the treatment of facial acne: a randomized split‐face trial. Choi, et al. 2010.
A Comparative Study of Topical 5-Aminolevulinic Acid Incubation Times in Photodynamic Therapy with Intense Pulsed Light for the Treatment of Inflammatory Acne. Oh, et al. 2009.