Varicose Vein Treatment: What Is Intense Pulse Light Therapy (IPL)?

Intense Pulse Light Therapy (IPL) is a type of varicose vein treatment that is most often used to treat very small spider veins (telangectasias) on the face. These tend to be the very thin red spider veins, not the blue ones, as blue facial spider veins are usually a little bigger in diameter, and therefore, are usually treated differently. Instead, these larger facial blue veins may be treated by a Yag 1064 laser, sclerotherapy, ambulatory phlebectomy (complete removal), or a combination of these varicose vein treatments.

Varicose Vein Treatment

Intense Pulse Light Therapy, IPL, is different than laser varicose vein treatment. With laser treatments, a very precise single wavelength of energy is used. However, IPL uses bright visible light, containing multiple wavelengths of energy. As this multi-wavelength bright light is directed toward the skin, most of the wavelengths are removed using filters. After filtration, most of the intense light that hits the skin actually passes through the skin and instead targets the red pigment showing in the tiny red spider veins. In this way, the energy hitting the face during IPL does not damage the skin much but does destroy the tiny red blood vessels that are then “dissolved” and reabsorbed by the body, i.e. they disappear.

Note that we said the energy from the IPL varicose vein treatment didn’t damage the skin “MUCH.” It actually does damage the skin to some degree because it damages the skin pigment melanin. In fair skinned people, there is very little melanin in the skin so this is no big deal. Any damage that occurs in the trace amount of melanin in fair skinned people can be repaired quite easily by the body. The same is true for most lighter skinned people. However, in darker skinned people, such as those of African descent, IPL should not be used as the damage to the skin would be too great due to the high melanin content in the skin.

If you are a Caucasian person but have a dark tan, you probably fall in the middle of the melanin skin spectrum and you should talk to your vein doctor about the risks before agreeing to IPL varicose vein treatment. This is a gray area so to speak and your vein doctor may suggest another type of varicose vein treatment for your specific case that would carry less risk.

There is another important consideration about skin color. IPL varicose vein treatment works best when there is a good contrast between the color of the skin and the pigmented spider veins. So, if you have a medium toned skin color and or your red spider veins are lighter in color, pale pinkish for example, Intense Pulse Light Therapy may not be the best choice for varicose vein treatment for your particular case. You can bring this up during your discussion with the vein doctor and ask for their opinion on this.

Care must be taken when performing IPL varicose vein treatment on the face to wear protective eye gear for the eyes. There have been reports of some vein doctors not asking their patients to do so during the procedure, or instead asking them to close their eyes, but this is really risky. Before you give consent to undergo IPL varicose vein treatment, be sure you talk with your vein doctor about how he or she plans to protect your eyes during the procedure. If the vein doctor you are speaking with about this issue doesn’t offer protective eye gear during the IPL varicose vein treatment, or you are not convinced your eyes will be fully protected, you may want to shop around for a different vein doctor to perform IPL varicose vein treatment.

There is good reason that Intense Pulse Light Therapy, as a varicose vein treatment, is usually always used on the face and almost never on the legs. Often times, small veins and spider veins on the legs are fed by larger veins called reticular veins. These are also called “feeder veins” as they “feed” the smaller veins. If varicose vein treatment is applied to these smaller veins or spider veins, without also treating the source (reticular veins), then the spider veins will just form again!

Duplex ultrasound techniques are used to determine if smaller veins have damaged reticular veins feeding them. Unfortunately, however, not every vein doctor takes the time to do this before he or she performs varicose vein treatment on smaller veins. The good news is that the really thin red spider veins on the face are generally not fed by reticular veins so this is not an issue with them.

The IPL varicose vein treatment is a very popular choice for those circumstances where it works well in part because there is virtually no pain and no recovery. In some cases, patients feel a little “snapping” sensation (like really tiny rubber bands popping you) during the procedure but this rapidly goes away as the skin cools down. IPL is also sometimes used to remove age spots, freckles, certain types of birth marks, and other skin discolorations.

If you have spider veins on your face, IPL varicose vein treatment may or may not be the best choice of treatment. To know for sure, you’ll need a professional evaluation by an experienced vein doctor. You can get a free evaluation at any of Metro Vein Centers’ locations. Metro Vein Centers is a full service, highly respected vein clinic. They perform many types of varicose vein treatment and can advice you on the best treatment(s) for your condition. Good luck!