Intense Pulse Light Therapy (IPL) uses a spectrum of light shined onto the skin to treat a variety of skin and vein issues. IPL delivers a concentrated pulse of light which heats and damages blood vessel walls, shrinking the targeted veins and making them disappear. Because the light is concentrated and focused, IPL treatment does not damage surrounding tissue.
Doctors can control the spectrum of light applied with an IPL device, and therefore can use it to treat a variety of conditions. IPL is used for photo rejuvenation where longer wavelengths of light are applied to the skin (usually the face) in order to destroy old collagen and stimulate the production of new collagen, leading to firmer and softer skin. IPL is also used to treat spider veins, reticular veins, age spots, and non-cancerous skin lesions.
Clinical results for the use of IPL vary with skin type. Individuals with fair to light brown skin experience the best results from IPL. Individuals who tan easily have varied results, and IPL is not recommended for some individuals with dark skin. Talk to your doctor about whether IPL would be right for you.
How does IPL work?
IPL devices, like laser devices, have different settings that can be customized to address specific skin concerns. IPL devices direct a specific spectrum of light on your skin in “pulses.” The light pulses feel like hot snaps (like a rubber band) against your skin. Most patients do not find this application to be painful.
An IPL session can take anywhere between 15 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the area to be treated.
What can I expect after an IPL treatment for spider and reticular veins?
After treating your spider and reticular veins with IPL, your doctor may recommend over the counter pain medications to alleviate mild discomfort. Avoid sun exposure after your IPL session. You will be able to resume normal activities immediately after your IPL treatment.
Over the 2-6 weeks following treatment of your spider and reticular veins, the treatment area will redden, fade and eventually disappear. Spider vein treatments sometimes require several IPL sessions 4-6 weeks apart to achieve the desired cosmetic result.
What are the possible side effects of IPL treatment?
IPL treatment is a mild, non-invasive procedure, so side effects should be minimal. Side effects may include blistering, pain, and excessive pigmentation or hypopigmentation. Occasionally scarring can occur. In the hands of an experienced physician, these side effects are rare.
What are spider veins and reticular veins?
Spider veins, also known as telangiectasias, are thin red clusters of capillary veins located at the surface of the skin. They appear reddish or bluish, and often in a “spider-web” pattern. Reticular veins are located slightly deeper in the skin, and appear as small, flat bluish veins, often appearing behind the knees. The thin veins associated with spider veins or reticular veins are sometimes known as “thread” veins. Spider veins are common: over 50% of adults have at least one spider vein on their leg, with women seeking treatment for spider veins more often than men.
Many patients are primarily with the appearance of spider and reticular veins, and they do not experience pain or discomfort. Sometimes people with spider and reticular veins experience a similar aching, throbbing, or burning sensation that they experience with varicose veins.
While spider veins and reticular veins may only be a cosmetic concern, they sometimes indicate a more serious vascular issue.
Talk to your doctor about your spider and reticular veins. Your doctor will take a complete medical history and do a thorough physical exam to determine if you have any underlying venous issues present. If other vein issues are present, your doctor will often treat the more severe vein issue as priority. If you have spider veins surrounding varicose veins, your doctor will likely choose one treatment method to treat your varicose veins, and another treatment method to treat your spider and reticular veins.
Can spider veins and reticular veins be treated non-surgically?
While conservative, non-surgical methods can slow the development of spider and reticular veins and alleviate their symptoms; only restorative techniques such as IPL will remove them completely.
Conservative treatment for spider and reticular veins includes:
- practicing good skin hygiene
- maintaining a healthy weight
- losing weight where indicated,
- exercising regularly (especially walking)
- avoiding prolonged periods of sitting or standing
- elevating your legs while sitting and sleeping
- if you stand for long periods of time, take frequent breaks to sit down and elevate your feet
Wearing properly fitted compression garments is essential in the treatment of any venous problem. Compression encourages circulation and slows the development of spider and reticular veins. Compression stockings can be purchased with varying degrees of support, ranging from over the counter support hose, to garments supplying compression levels of 18 to 20 mmHg up to 40 to 50 mmHg. Compression garments come in different styles including below-the-knee, above-the-knee and pantyhose styles.
What is the difference between laser therapy and light-pulse therapy?
Laser therapy uses a single-frequency, focused pulse of light shined onto the skin. In contrast, IPL uses a spectrum of pulsed light shined onto the skin. Laser therapy is most effective at targeting one type of skin issue, such as small varicose veins or spider veins. IPL effectively treats a combination of skin issues simultaneously, such as spider veins and skin redness. Some IPL devices allow the doctor to control the spectrum of light shined onto the skin so that treatment can be customize to address your specific skin issues.
Doctors sometimes use a combination of laser therapy and IPL to treat skin and vein issues.
What other conditions can IPL treat?
IPL can be used to treat the following conditions, often simultaneously:
- Spider veins
- Reticular veins
- Vascular birthmarks
- Skin redness
- Hair removal
- Brown spots and other skin discolorations
Will my spider veins or reticular veins come back after IPL treatment?
Spider veins or reticular veins sometimes return after treatment, especially if underlying venous issues are present. Spider veins and reticular veins which develop after IPL will require additional treatment to resolve.
Will my insurance cover IPL treatment?
Private insurers generally cover procedures with demonstrated “medical need”. IPL procedures are often considered cosmetic. Talk to your doctor about the medical necessity of your IPL treatment, and consult with your insurance carrier about your coverage options.
Reviewed February 13, 2017