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How is intense pulsed light (IPL) different from laser skin resurfacing?

How is intense pulsed light (IPL) different from laser skin resurfacing?

IPL Charlotte

As a double-boarded plastic surgeon, Dr. Miles is able to achieve great outcomes for his patients from surgical procedures like facelifts. Although a facelift can offer dramatic results, there are also some people who prefer nonsurgical facial rejuvenation options. We’ve carefully selected certain nonsurgical treatment modalities to offer here in our office, to offer a full range of treatment options. 

Two of the options that we offer are laser skin resurfacing and intense pulsed light (IPL). Both of these modalities use light to affect the skin, but they do so in different ways. What are the differences between IPL and laser? How can you choose between them?

How light can impact the skin

In general, cosmetic treatments that are based on light work through the heating of tissues. When the light is shined onto the skin, the tissues absorb the light and heat up. This causes a mild thermal injury. This will stimulate the body’s natural healing response, causing increased production of collagen and elastin (the structural proteins of the skin). 

Certain structures may absorb more light than others. This gives us the ability to target specific types of tissues for removal. For example, dark spots will generally absorb more light than lighter ones. We can target red spots (such as acne and rosacea) in a similar way, by adjusting the wavelength of light that’s used. Hair is also generally darker than the surrounding skin, so it will tend to absorb more light. Structures that absorb more light will undergo more heating than the surrounding tissues, so they’ll experience more thermal injury due to the treatment. The body will then naturally remove these unwanted structures.

Laser uses more focused and intense light

In general, laser light is more intense and focused than other forms of light. The light produced by a laser is all the same wavelength (meaning that it’s just one color). It’s also organized into a highly concentrated beam in order to increase the intensity. Because it’s more intense, laser light has the capability to disrupt the surface of the skin.

Here in our office, we offer treatment with coolpeel, which is a CO2 fractional laser. This means that the laser light is applied to specific discrete spots across the surface of the skin. The laser disrupts the skin’s surface at each spot, but the spots in between are not affected. These untreated zones are able to help the treated zones heal, which helps to minimize the side effects of the treatment. The laser treatment stimulates the production of collagen and elastin, leading to effects like skin tightening.

In general, laser treatments can offer more dramatic results than IPL. They work best for skin tightening and addressing issues with skin tone and texture. Lasers can also be used for reducing the appearance of scars, such as acne scars.

IPL is more broad, with lower intensity

With IPL, the light is applied more broadly across the whole surface of the skin. The device produces light of many different wavelengths (white light), although this can be filtered to a narrower range in order to target specific structures. We can generate a mild thermal injury across the whole surface of the skin in order to increase collagen and elastin production and get a rejuvenating effect. We can also filter the light and target particular structures to receive a greater thermal injury, triggering their natural removal by the body.

IPL is particularly effective for targeting dark spots, red spots, or unwanted hair. It can also be used for skin tightening and rejuvenation. In general, when it’s used for tightening, the effects of IPL are less dramatic than what a laser treatment can accomplish. At the same time, IPL creates fewer side effects and is a gentler treatment. (However, we have chosen the gentlest laser currently available to offer here in our office, so you will not have the week or two of downtime that’s required with traditional lasers.) 

Should you choose laser or IPL Charlotte?

Neither one of these treatments is inherently better than the other; they’re just different. Which one is right for you depends on the issues that you’re having with your skin and the effects that you’d like to accomplish.

If you’re not sure which one to choose, Dr. Miles and his experienced staff would be happy to discuss this with you during a consultation. They’ll let you know what results you could likely expect with each treatment, and they will give you their professional recommendation about which one would be better in your case. To book your consultation, please contact our office.

Dr. Erik J. Miles
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