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Lighting the Way to Beautiful Skin

By: Wendy Reichert
Posted: June 24, 2008, from the February 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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IPL uses high-power energy and, as such, also operates by selective photothermolysis. The same benefits, dangers, training, restrictions and mandates that apply to lasers are also applicable to IPL. It is used to improve hyperpigmentation, telangiectasia, rosacea, collagen production, and fine lines and scars, as well as employed to reduce hair growth. IPLs also are classified as Class IV medical devices by the FDA.

Some IPL and laser light is visible. When the wavelength used is in the visible range, it appears as a blinding flash of colored (laser) or white (IPL) light. Anyone who is present in the room when a laser or IPL is operated must wear protective eyewear. Multiple nonablative laser or IPL treatments often can deliver results similar to those achieved with a resurfacing laser peel, but without the downtime associated with medium or deep laser peel procedures. Lasers are effective for some cosmetic procedures, and IPLs are beneficial for others.

Light-emitting diodes (LED). LED technology normally uses one or more individual wavelengths of light delivered at a low intensity. Whereas laser and IPL deliver light in short (millisecond) pulses at extremely high power, LED is a constant, gentle nonthermal treatment. It is rated as a Class I or II device by the FDA, depending on the model, with only a relatively minor risk of eye injury. For comparison’s sake, bar code readers and laser pointers are Class I and II devices. LED equipment can be sold to and used by anyone, although devices marketed for home use may be less powerful than professional models. LED light is visible as colored light—most often red, blue or amber. When infrared wavelengths also are incorporated, those are not visible. Covering the client’s eyes is recommended, but protective eyewear is not required for the technician.

LED light therapy is a form of phototherapy, and technicians sometimes make a comparison to photosynthesis—the production of organic substances in plants in the presence of sunlight—to help explain its beneficial effects. This may be a good starting point, because the public already understands that plants convert light to cellular energy. This type of light therapy sometimes is referred to as photomodulation, photobiomodulation, low-level laser therapy, low-energy laser therapy or light therapy.

When low-energy laser light passes through the skin, different components of the skin and the cells are affected by various wavelengths, stimulating certain beneficial effects. Red and infrared light therapies have been used therapeutically in Eastern Europe for 40 years, and UV therapy for psoriasis has been utilized in the United States for many years, as has light therapy for treating jaundice in newborns.