Written by: Natalie Ledbetter


Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) and Broad Band Light (BBL)

For any of you who are in your 40’s or above (maybe even in your 30’s), do you regret the days you spent blissfully tanning on the beach or by the pool, or even in your backyard possibly slathered in baby oil and betadine? I know I do! Knowing what I know now about how sun exposure and aging cause age spots, visible blood vessels, and sagging skin, I would love to go back and wear that sunscreen!

Well, even though we can’t undo all the damage caused from sunlight, poor food choices, pollution, and not enough sleep, we can help reverse some of the injury with IPL. IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light and these non-invasive light waves are pulsed into the skin to help correct many of the signs of aging and rejuvenate the skin anywhere on the face and body. Broad Band Light (BBL) is form of IPL that is very strong with the ability to choose which wavelengths to send into the skin. It is the technology developed by the laser company Sciton so only a Sciton machine can be used to administer BBL. 

The light energy heats the upper layers of the skin and gives energy to the cells that they can use to perform their duties and to repair themselves. The light is absorbed more by targets with color such as hemoglobin in the blood and melanin in the tissue so small shallow blood vessels and brown spots or hyperpigmented areas get hotter than the surrounding skin and are destroyed. The destroyed blood vessels are reabsorbed and the brown spots slough off, usually within a week on the face and 2 weeks on the neck and body. 

What Can IPL/ BBL Treat?

IPL and BBL can treat pigmented lesions which include freckles, age spots, red and brown spots, and sometimes melasma (if treated very gently). Vascular lesions such as broken capillaries, small shallow blood vessels, and rosacea improve with a series of IPL treatments. Other issues that can be addressed are acne, acne scarring, uneven skin tone and texture, skin laxity, and fine lines. Poikiloderma, often known as “red neck”, is a condition that leads to thinning skin, redness, visible capillaries, and a blotchy appearance on the neck, and chest. It is not completely curable, but IPL/ BBL is used in the treatment of red neck and can help the appearance considerably. 

Can IPL/ BBL Actually Slow the Appearance and the Genetic Expression of Aging?

Regular IPL/BBL treatments were shown to decrease the appearance of age. In one study, skin treated with Sciton’s BBL for a minimum of eight years appeared to have aged less than would be expected for the participants’ chronological age. One participant had aged 11 years from the before photo to the after photo, but evaluators thought she looked younger in her after photo than she did in her before photo from 11 years before. Wow! I don’t know about you, but I want some of that action!

Another study of Sciton’s BBL technology found that two or three IPL treatments per year can restore the gene expression of older skin to resemble that of much younger skin. According to these findings, improvement at a molecular level occurred and favorably altered genes linked to the aging process.

How Often is an IPL/BBL treatment Recommended?

If there is any condition to be treated such as brown discoloration, redness, acne, etc., a series of 3 to 5 treatments spaced 2 to 4 weeks apart is recommended. Once the treatment phase has been finished or if there is nothing to be corrected and you just want to slow down the aging process, then one treatment a quarter is optimal. 

Are There any Considerations Before Having an IPL/BBL?

This technology is not benign and can have serious consequences if used incorrectly. People have experienced severe burns, permanent discoloration, and damage to the eyes. You want to make sure your provider works in a clinic with a medical director who is involved with the day-to-day practice or a clinic that has a nurse practitioner or physician assistant on staff. This way, if anything happens, you will be taken care of immediately and appropriately by a medical practitioner. Also ask your provider how many IPL/BBL procedures they have done. You don’t want someone brand new unless an experienced physician, PA, or NP assesses you and chooses the settings first.

You want a medical grade device, one that can only be purchased by medical practitioners. Any machine that can be purchased for home use or by non-medical providers will not be powerful enough to give an adequate treatment. 

It is not Totally Painless.

Most people I have treated with IPL/BBL want to know before hand if it hurts. I would by lying if I said it was relaxing. It feels to me like a hot rubber band snap with each pulse. It is tolerable, but I always jump just a little with the pulses. I think it is a combination of the light flash, the sound it makes, and the hot snap that surprises me even though I am expecting it. I always get through it and without numbing cream, but I feel a little frazzled after it is over. 

I have been to some clinics that numb prior to the treatment, but for safety reasons, it is better to not be numbed the first time you have an IPL/BBL with that provider. Your feedback about how the pulses of light feel help the provider give you a treatment that is safe. If the pulses are too hot, you will be able to tell them and they can decrease the temperature and/or increase the cooling on the device to prevent your skin from being burned. After your provider has a baseline to use and knows how your skin reacts to the light, you may receive numbing on subsequent treatments if you and the medical staff agree it is preferable.


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