What is Intense Pulsed Light Treatment (IPL)?
Intense pulsed light therapy (IPL) or flash-lamp therapy is another type of non-invasive and non-ablative light treatment that utilizes high intensity pulses of visible light to correct or improve the appearance of our skin problems — or another tattoo removal option for those who prefer less pain than a laser tattoo removal treatment. IPL uses filtered xenon flash lamps, not lasers. The tattoo is covered in a special anesthetic gel, a prism is placed on it, and a light-emitting wand is passed over the area to be treated. IPL is less painful than laser treatment but more expensive, costing around $10 per pulse. If however you have a large tattoo, you would probably need a lot of $10 shots to completely remove your tattoo — and these can add up especially if you have multiple large tattoos that needs to be removed!
IPL is sometimes incorrectly referred to as laser treatment. It is not. However, like a Q-switched laser, IPL is light transmitted in short bursts at high intensity. It is frequently used in hair removal. The debate about the relative effectiveness of IPL and Nd:YAG laser treatment is ongoing. The consensus is that IPL is as effective as laser treatment but may require more treatments. One thing everyone can agree on is that IPL is less painful than laser treatment. It described as feeling something like a light sunburn. Aside from hair removal, IPL is often employed in the treatment of acne, spider veins, and birth mark removal.
IPL skin treatment is also called photorejuvenation and is used to remove wrinkles and reverse some aging effect. This is achieved by causing “controlled wounds” to the skin, which then stimulates new skin production.
How Does IPL Work?
For tattoo removal, IPL works by sending light through a prism that is put on the skin. When this light hits dark areas such as the tattoo pigment, it breaks these areas apart and allows the lymphatic system to clear away the now-shattered and smaller pigment particles. The closer the tattoo is to your heart the quicker the clearing process occurs, meaning that ankle and wrist tattoos take longer.
As with laser removal, IPL works through the absorption of heat energy by the ink pigment. This is wavelength-dependent. Different wavelengths of IPL are also needed to target and break up different tattoo ink colors.
IPL works best on people with light colored skin and has a lower success rate on dark skin. This is because IPL targets the dark color in the dermis. The greater the color discrepancy between the tattoo ink and the surrounding skin, the more effective it is. As with lasers, those with darker skin who undergo IPL treatment are at risk of hypopigmentation, or localized permanent loss of skin color. The risk of this occurring is less with IPL than with lasers.
People with diabetes will need to exercise caution here as diabetes may impede the healing process.
How Long Does It Take?
Practitioners claim that on average “amateur” tattoos require three to five treatments while professional tattoos require five to eight treatments. Scarring is reported to occur in around 2% of patients undergoing IPL treatment. After treatment the skin will turn red and swell a little. Blisters may form but the skin should return to normal in one to two weeks after treatment.
The reason IPL hurts less than laser treatment has to do with the main difference between them. IPL directs light to the dark areas of the skin, which in this case is the tattoo ink sitting in the dermis. It does not damage the epidermis, or outer layer of skin, in order to do this. Lasers, on the other hand, have to pierce the epidermis to reach the ink in the dermis. This superheats and damages the outer layer of skin, causing more pain and more damage.
Another advantage of IPL compared with lasers is that there is less down time between visits. With IPL, treatments are usually performed every three to four weeks. Laser treatments are more invasive and require a six-to-eight-week gap between treatments.
How Much Would It Cost?
IPL can cost anywhere from $ 250 to $ 600 per treatment depending on the variables discussed earlier. Packages for treatment are often available and this can help lower the per treatment cost. All terms should be discussed thoroughly and fully understood before you commit to treatment.
But does IPL Work for tattoo removals?
There are mixed opinions currently out there where people view using Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL) to treat tattoo removals. Many tattoo removal experts do not recommend or even say IPL should not be used for tattoo removal as adopting this process can lead to scarring, ink retention and dys-pigmentation problems. Many would advice using the current gold standard and common method of removing a tattoo via Q-switched laser technology.
It does seem however, to be the case that IPL works better on treating large areas of the skin, and hence may not be necessary or suited for the treatment of removing small tattoos. It emits larger pulses than a Q-switched laser which can result in skin damage and scarring. In this situation, laser tattoo removal may prove to be a better option. However it may be a better option with removing bigger tattoos especially those that cover a large portion of the body, e.g. the thighs or the back. All in all, you would need to research and understand the pros and cons on both of these treatments as a way to obtain the best tattoo removal method for yourself. Feel free to do some further background reading or kindly speak to a reputable clinic on those options.