What is IPL (Intense Pulsed Light Therapy)?
Intense Pulsed Light or IPL therapy is a skin treatment originally created to help with age-spots and wrinkles. Over time, medical professionals found that besides the cosmetic benefits, patients' dry eye symptoms began to improve. Because the same blood vessels that provide oxygen to our face and skin, also provide oxygen to our eyes' tear and oil glands. When inflammation is reduced or eliminated, the symptoms of dry eye syndrome are alleviated.
IPL Therapy involves flashes of light to the skin around the eyelids and face. Light is absorbed by the mitochondria of the Meibomian Glands. This helps to switch 'on' the Meibomian Glands making them become 'younger' and more active. The Meibomian Glands produce better Meibomian Oil and the symptoms of dry eye syndrome naturally improve.
IPL therapy also helps target Ocular Rosacea (inflammation that causes redness, burning and itching of the eyes). The intense flashes of light from IPL therapy get absorbed by the small, leaky capillaries present in Ocular Rosacea. The therapy helps to 'seal off' these leaky vessels resulting in less inflammation and redness. IPL therapy also kills bacteria and Demodex (a type of mite that lives in human hair follicles) on the surface of the eyelids and can be a great treatment for styes, and chalazia (lump on the edge of the eyelid caused by blockage of the gland at the base of an eyelash.)
IPL therapy does not hurt or damage the eyes. A typical IPL therapy session typically lasts about 20-30 minutes. Recovery is minimal, and patients may feel a slight "wind-burned" sensation on their skin for a day or two.
Is IPL Therapy Right For You?
Your optometrist will start with a comprehensive eye assessment to diagnose the severity of the meibomian gland dysfunction and determine your skin type. The assessment tailors the treatment plan for your particular dry eyes.
Your doctor will usually first recommend conservative treatment methods. Initially, this can be lifestyle changes, such as avoiding fans, using artificial tears, taking fatty acid supplements, avoiding irritants, and using warm compresses and eyelid massage to help release blocked meibomian glands. However, these interventions do not work for everyone.
If a person's symptoms persist, they may experience eye pain or burning. Dry eye can also cause serious health issues, including vision loss, infections, and damage to the eye. Managing symptoms or addressing the underlying cause may lower the risk of these complications.
Issues with the meibomian glands are the most common cause of dry eye. Approximately 80 percent of Dry Eye Syndrome cases are caused by Meibomian Gland Dysfunction, (MGD). MGD generally presents itself as inflammation at the eyelid margin. Because IPL therapy treats the underlying cause and reduces inflammation, it is often the best treatment for acute and chronic DES.
If you are experiencing chronic dry eye symptoms that are affecting your productivity and quality of life, your eye doctor may recommend IPL therapy.
Lumenis, the inventor of IPL, is the only IPL FDA-approved for the management of dry eye disease due to MGD, and is the exclusive IPL device utilized by optometrist Dr. Rich and the other doctors at Retuva.
Dry Eye Syndrome and MGD is becoming more prevalent and affecting people younger and younger as we are spending more time in front of screens, blinking less, and applying harsher chemicals on lids and lashes such as eye-liners and lash-extension glues and insufficiently cleaning them off.
Contact lens wear has become more prevalent as well - which if a contact lens wearer is in an improperly fitting lens or wearing a lens outside of its recommended wearing schedule, can obstruct and damage meibomian glands and contribute to lifelong dry eye issues. Additionally many lenses will often soak in your tears drying your eyes out even more.
Visit the eye specialists at Family Focus Eyecare to ensure the lenses you wear are the best for your eyes.
Mandy Moore is an American singer, songwriter, and actress that endorses IPL Therapy.
What Should I Expect During My IPL Therapy?
Before beginning the IPL therapy, your doctor will place eye shields over your eyelids to protect them from the bright light pulses. A thin layer of cooling gel will also be applied to the skin around your eyes to protect those sensitive areas as well as serve as a conduit to help the light reach the specific layer of skin desired for treatment.
Your doctor will then hold a small device over your eyelids to administer the pulses of light. The heat from the light pulses will then lead to the melting of the thick, crusty secretions blocking your oil glands.
After the IPL therapy has successfully opened your meibomian glands, your doctor may also express a small amount of oil from the glands in your eyelids to stimulate normal oil flow.
Therapy sessions are initially completed in a series of four, each spaced four to six weeks apart, and follow up therapies are performed every six to twelve months. What is MOST important is that patients maintain proper follow-ups and recommended maintenance so inflammation does not overtake the meibomian glands and repeat dry eye therapy becomes necessary.
Most people notice a significant difference after the third therapy session. Occasionally, some people notice an improvement after the first treatment. Although each person is different, around ninety percent of people notice a significant difference with IPL therapy.
BEFORE your scheduled IPL therapy session we recommend:
- Avoid more than 30 minutes of sun exposure 1-2 days prior to session and in between IPL therapy.
- Do not expose your skin to UV light and artificial tan (sprays, lotions, gels, etc.) before and in between your IPL therapy.
- Avoid swimming in strongly chlorinated water before your treatment.
- Don't use exfoliating or peeling products for a week before your appointment.
- Avoid intake of aspirin or ibuprofen for a week before your scheduled session. Inform your doctor if you're taking medications beforehand.
- Remove all makeup and other skin products.
- Keep the area to be treated clean and dry.
- Bring a headband to hold your hair back
AFTER you undergo an IPL therapy session:
- Avoid sun exposure to reduce chances of burning and dark and light spot formation on treated areas.
- Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on treated areas.
- Do not expose the treated areas to UV light.
- Do not pick on treated areas.
- Avoid hot baths, showers, and saunas for a week. Humid conditions can aggravate treated areas (and bring more inflammation to the surface).
Your doctor may also advise supplements and dietary recommendations, natural remedies, lifestyle changes, and other best practices to ensure the health of your eyes and meibomian glands.
Immediately following the procedure, you can return to your regular activities.
IPL Frequently Asked Questions
- Is IPL Therapy Covered by Insurance?
The cost of IPL therapy varies depending on the recommended therapy sessions and will be outlined by your optometrist or consultant at Retuva. Therapy plans cost $1200-1800 depending on severity and the number of filters and devices used. Initial eye assessment and additional procedures like meibomian gland expression may cost extra depending on the therapy plan you manage to procure.
Some dry eye sufferers spend just as much, if not more, on lubricant eye drops and medicines used to cover up the symptoms of dry eye syndrome. This is unfortunate because these patients, though having their symptoms masked with these remedies, will never actually treat the cause and continue to suffer. Investing in IPL therapy offers long-term results that can save tons of money in the long run. By treating the root cause of the disease, IPL reduces your dependency on eye drops and other pharmaceutical remedies.
It is also important to note that lubricant eye drops can exacerbate the symptoms of dry eye syndrome especially if the drops used aren't preservative free, contain harsh chemicals, and are used too much (exposure and chemical keratitis). Your eye doctor can direct you to the appropriate drops and regime for your condition.
IPL therapy can offer significant relief from dry eyes in addition to offering pleasurable cosmetic benefits like reduction of sun-induced skin damage and vascularity issues.
- Is IPL Therapy Safe if I've Had Skin Cancer or Melanoma?
Typical IPL device settings will not have a photochemical or photothermal reaction with melanomas. The existing evidence base of over 25 years of laser and IPL use to-date has not raised any concerns regarding its long-term safety with only a few anecdotal cases of melanoma post treatment over two decades of use.
- Are There Any Harmful Effects of IPL Therapy?
Some patients experience burning after treatment, much like a sunburn. This can even include a sunburn-blister. Follow up treatment for these side-effects is like you would any burn: with Neosporin and aloe. Be sure to let your doctor know, (and we suggest taking a photo), so the next IPL therapy session can be adjusted.
- Does IPL Therapy Hurt?
If there is inflammation or increased redness and pigmentation in the areas treated the pulses of light can feel like a rubber band snap or quick shock. There are no lingering side effects or long term pain associated with pulses of light. Treatment levels can be dialed down and lidocaine lotion applied to treatment areas to reduce sensation as needed.
- Who Should Not Have IPL Therapy?
IPL is not safe to be performed on dark-skinned individuals, (skin type 5 and 6). Higher levels of melanin in their skin absorb more light energy, so people with darkly pigmented skin are more likely to experience skin damage and adverse effects.
TearCare and other anti-inflammatory dry-eye techniques may be recommended by your doctor if you are of a darker complexion.