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Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a cosmetic skin treatment. It is used to reduce the signs of aging or remove unwanted hair. Other uses include reducing the appearance of scars, lightening darker patches of skin, and improving the appearance of spider veins.


IPL works in a similar way to laser therapy. The difference is that where laser therapy delivers a single wavelength of light energy, IPL delivers multiple wavelengths. This means that IPL can treat a larger area of skin in a shorter time than laser therapy.

People may choose IPL as a treatment for a range of skin issues. These include:

  • acne scars

  • birthmarks

  • rosacea, a condition that causes redness of the face

  • hyperpigmentation, including liver or age spots and freckles

  • melasma, a condition causing brown or gray-brown skin patches

  • scars

  • spider veins

  • stretch marks

  • sun damaged skin

  • wrinkles


People may also commonly use it to remove unwanted hair or tattoos.


Safety, risks, and side effects

IPL is safe for most people but is not suitable for everyone. Pregnant women and people who are on blood thinners, for example, should avoid IPL.

Other factors that make people unsuitable for IPL treatment include:

  • currently or recently taking the acne drug Accutane

  • having active acne

  • suffering from a skin resurfacing disorder

  • being susceptible to keloid scarring

  • having severe scarring

  • having suffered severe sunburn recently


As with any medical procedure, IPL does carry the risk of complications. These include:

  • pain

  • skin discoloration

  • swelling

  • infection

  • bleeding

  • scarring

  • crusting


How effective is it? 

The effectiveness of IPL depends on many things. It works better on white or light brown skin than on black skin, for example. Another factor is the kind of equipment a healthcare professional uses during the procedure.

Everyone responds differently to IPL, and most people will need multiple rounds of the treatment before they start to notice results.



Anyone planning on having IPL treatment should speak to a dermatologist about the potential benefits, side effects, and complications.

To prepare for the procedure, a dermatologist will usually ask people to avoid the following for 2 weeks:

  • sunbathing and tanning beds

  • waxing

  • chemical peels

  • collagen injections


Immediately before and after therapy, people should also avoid using any perfume or deodorant on the treatment area.

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