Overview of Intense Pulsed Light Devices

Intense Pulsed Light Devices

By David Cauger

Today there are many companies selling intense pulsed light devices (IPL) with systems ranging from $12,000 to $85,000. IPL systems are mainly distinguished from lasers in that they do not operate at a single wavelength. These devices use specific parts or all of the spectrum between approximately 500 nanometers to 1200 nanometers. The energy they deliver within their selected spectrum range is one of the critical factors in satisfactory clinical outcomes for specific aesthetic treatments.

IPL systems can be considered the "jack of all trades and master of two." I say this because for most treatments, a good laser indicated for a specific treatment will in most cases outperform an IPL device. I say in most cases because this is not always true. If a patient has a large quantity of solar lentigines on the hands, face, and décolleté, a good IPL system works very well and is more practical than the competing Q-Switched YAG laser. In addition, a good IPL device can get similar results at a much faster rate with some rosacea patients and superficial telangectasia. Add this to the fact that a great deal of clinical observation has indicated that these devices can improve superficial rhytides and mild acne, and a very useful aesthetic device begins to emerge.

As mentioned, a laser is a single wavelength; and, therefore, it is easier to understand what amount of energy is being delivered to the target chromophore. IPL devices add a third dimension to this issue because they operate in a range of the spectrum. It is important to understand the concept of the spectral energy distribution of the IPL device. This means what percentage of the energy is at what part of the spectrum. Remember, there will be an average amount of light
energy in each "shot" as well as a percentage of time any given amount of energy will be in any given wavelength unit. This concept is critical to understanding clinical outcomes and determining the differences between the devices. IPL systems usually have much larger spot sizes than do lasers. When light interact with skin, a scattering effect takes place which reduces the energy from the light to the desired target at the appropriate depth. The longer the wavelength, the less the scatter. The larger the spot size, the less the scatter.

The newer IPL devices now possess improved heat transfer designs, and the larger spot can compensate somewhat for the naturally increased scatter. First generation devices require the operator to guide the handpiece through a thick layer of gel, which can be cumbersome. The newer devices do not required this step. To add to the equation, some devices use other methods for adding total energy to the targets. Syneron (Ontario, Canada) complements the photothermal energy of its Aurora IPL with radio frequency. Radiancy (Orangeburg, NY) employs a traditional heat source to augment the photothermal energy of their Skin Station and SpaTouch IPL devices.

Intense Pulsed Light systems have been gaining popularity over the last several years due to lower price points, better second generation technology, and the natural versatility they offer an aesthetic practice. Select a reputable manufacturer which has a solid presence in the marketplace. When purchasing, ask the manufacturer questions posed in this article, do a little math, and use your trained critical thinking skills to avoid choosing the incorrect device for your practice.

David M. Cauger is President of Boston Aesthetics, LLC, specializing in the
development and implementation of strategies for increased cosmetic
practice success.

Abstract courtesy of Aesthetic Trends & TechnologiesTMwww.aesthetictrends.com