- Rosacea is a chronic skin disorder characterized by facial flushing and visible blood vessels
- IPL treatments use intense light waves to constrict and destroy these blood vessels to ease redness
- Treatments are noninvasive but may involve some social downtime
- On average, it takes 3–6 treatments to achieve optimal results
Rosacea is an autoimmune skin disorder characterized by skin flare-ups that cause flushing of the facial skin, irritation and pus-filled bumps. It is caused by dilated and broken blood vessels beneath the skin. Symptoms are cyclical, but without treatment are likely to progress with time.
Intense pulsed light therapy (IPL) for rosacea is a treatment that can effectively destroy these blood vessels using high intensity light sources to eliminate unwanted redness.
What Is IPL?
IPL is a noninvasive broad spectrum light therapy used to treat a wide range of skin concerns such as wrinkles, dark spots, age spots and unwanted body hair. It can also treat birthmarks, varicose veins and rosacea. Once treated, skin has improved color and texture.
Using a handheld device, light energy is converted into heat energy that penetrates the upper levels of skin where it is absorbed by melanin, pigmented cells that are both at the skin’s surface and within deeper tissue.
The technician can precisely apply the therapy by controlling not only the wavelength but pulse duration and sequences, as well as pulse delay time. These features allow for control, precision and versatility when providing treatment.
The energy produced by the light waves breaks down pigmented skin cells, and constricts and destroys superficial blood vessels which are then slowly flushed out of the body. It also effectively reduces hair growth by destroying targeted hair follicles.
In contrast, traditional laser treatments use a single wavelength of concentrated light which penetrates deep within the skin and requires some downtime as opposed to broad spectrum IPL which addresses concerns at the surface level.
How Does IPL Work to Treat Rosacea?
While rosacea can not be completely cured, it can be effectively controlled with IPL. The intense pulses of light increases the temperature of oxyhemoglobin in the blood which destroys damaged capillaries near the surface of the skin. It also causes visible blood vessels to constrict and shrink.
Both actions work together to reduce the appearance of redness and irritation caused by rosacea. This in turn reduces pimples and bumps, and calms the irritation and itchiness which often accompanies this skin disorder.
How does it feel?
Your technician will put a layer of gel over your face and provide you with eye protectors. During the treatment, they will pass a handheld device over your entire face, delivering short pulses of light to the treatment area. Typically, they will make three passes to ensure full coverage is achieved.
With each pulse, you will notice a short burst of intense red light, some warmth and a sensation similar to being snapped lightly with a rubber band. The pulse of light is not continuous, but measured, as your technician monitors your skin and methodically treats your entire face.
The entire session should take no longer than 30 minutes. Afterward, it is important to moisturize your skin well, twice a day, as your skin will likely dry out and peel slightly as it heals.
After each treatment and between treatments it is essential to protect your skin from the sun; wear a zinc broad-based SPF50 and a hat or cap.
How long does it take to work?
IPL is a very effective treatment for rosacea. You should notice an improvement in just a few days after the first treatment but optimal results will be seen with 3–6 treatments scheduled about 1 month apart.
One study demonstrated that after an average of 7.2 treatments, 80% of patients saw a reduction in redness; 78% had less flushing and an improvement in skin texture; 72% saw an improvement in acne breakouts.
Is there a recovery period?
You can expect several days of social downtime following treatment due to redness and swelling, and possible bruising. Your skin may feel itchy and dry. You may also notice a darkening of age spots or freckles which will develop a crust, dry up and slowly flake off.
These are expected and temporary side effects that will all resolve within 1 week.
You may apply makeup immediately after a treatment but you must forgo exfoliative products and topicals that contain retinol or glycolic acid for 1 week; this is to allow your skin sufficient time to recover.
Using IPL for Rosacea at Home
At-home devices are primarily geared toward removing hair from the face and body, and will most likely be ineffective for treating rosacea. While they seem a more cost-effective option in comparison to professional treatments, they are less powerful and carry a greater risk. Improper or overuse of these devices can also lead to painful burns and blisters.
If you do purchase a device for home use, the steps for treatment are as follows:
- Ensure your skin is clean and dry before using the IPL device
- Set your intensity level
- Place the device onto your skin, applying gentle pressure
- Pass the device across your entire face once, pressing the flash button as you go
- Repeat one more pass
Follow with a soothing or cooling gel moisturizer. Do not use the device more than once per week, as this may exacerbate your symptoms.
Cost of IPL for Rosacea
The cost of IPL for rosacea will depend on a number of factors including your location, the severity of your skin and provider’s fees. With that being said, the average cost of a single treatment is about $450.
With 3–6 sessions recommended for optimal results, an entire course of IPL is likely to cost between $1,350–$2,700 in total.
When discussing your treatment with your provider, they will determine the number of sessions you would benefit from for optimal results. They may have a discounted price if you commit to a number of sessions and may offer financing as well.
At-home machines can cost anywhere between $100–$800, depending on the brand and model.
IPL is an effective and noninvasive solution in treating the chronic symptoms of rosacea. It works by delivering pulses of light energy to the skin which constricts superficial blood vessels and eliminates blood vessels close to the skin’s surface.
Eliminating the blood vessels reduces the flushing, redness and irritation as well as pimples and bumps that are common features of this skin disorder. The result is smoother, even-textured skin and complexion.
IPL is considered a safe treatment for rosacea with some minimal social downtime as the skin slowly heals from the treatment. You can expect redness and some swelling, and darkening of dark spots and age spots; this will resolve in about 1 week.
The number of sessions needed will depend on your skin condition as well as your response to treatment, but typically 3–6 sessions are recommended to achieve the best results. While at-home IPL machines are a cost-effective option, professional treatments provide greater outcomes and ensure IPL is performed safely.
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