There used to be only two paths to blemish-free skin: daily treatment with topical medications and plastic surgery. One is painless but time-consuming and yields only modest results. The other leads to dramatic transformation but is risky, pricey and requires a long recovery. Fortunately, we live at a time when the in-between skin care options have the best qualities of their predecessors and almost none of their drawbacks.
A prominent dialogue in this modern skincare era revolves around Vbeam Laser vs. IPL, offering nuanced solutions that bridge the gap between the extremes of topical treatments and plastic surgery.
Vbeam and IPL are two examples. These minimally invasive procedures rely on the versatility of light energy to eliminate various skin lesions without significant damage to normal tissue. The best part is they can give you amazing results without much disruption to your routine. In this article, I explain how Vbeam and IPL work, their benefits and risks and how you can work with your provider to determine the light-based regimen most suitable for you.
Light Therapy in General
There are various types of light-based skin treatments. These technologies take advantage of the different light forms having different effects on the skin. With the right settings, they can get rid of blemishes without injuring the surrounding areas.
Light has different colors, each representing different energy levels. Particles in tissues heat up and vaporize when they absorb enough energy from the right spectrum of light. Incompatible light spectra, which they simply reflect or scatter, leave them intact.
The key to light therapy’s precision is its ability to isolate different skin structures based on their light spectrum sensitivities. For example, laser hair removal doesn’t work on light-colored hair, which lacks the dark pigment eumelanin. Vbeam and IPL are light treatments with overlapping applications but different mechanisms.
What Is Vbeam, and How Does It Work?
To know how Vbeam treatment works, you must first understand lasers.
Laser light is a type of light with waves traveling in sync. It has a narrow color spectrum and focused, high-energy light beams. Pulsed dye laser (PDL) is a kind of laser that uses light in the visible spectrum. Vbeam is one of its forms, and it uses 595-nanometer yellow light.
The Vbeam laser selectively destroys hemoglobin, the red pigment in red blood cells. Providers classify it as a “vascular laser” because it mainly targets blood vessels. It’s best for treating lesions with blood vessel abnormalities too risky to remove by surgical excision.
Vbeam laser therapy is most useful in the following skin conditions:
- Inborn vascular lesions like hemangiomas and port-wine stains
- Varicose veins, angiomas and other acquired skin conditions with dilated blood vessels
- Facial redness and broken capillaries associated with rosacea
The Vbeam laser can also remove benign lesions by shutting down their blood supply. Warts, raised scars, stretch marks and many others respond to this approach. Vbeam may also improve photoaged skin, which presents with sun spots, coarse wrinkles and broken blood vessels. Its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties make it a good alternative acne treatment.
The skin’s main pigment, melanin, moderately absorbs Vbeam laser energy. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is a risk in people of color undergoing the procedure.
What Is IPL and How Does It Work?
Intense pulsed light (IPL) operates a little differently from lasers. The light waves are not in sync, reaching their targets with less energy. Additionally, IPL has a broad light spectrum, ranging from 500 to 1200 nanometers. Water, hemoglobin, melanin, and tattoo pigments are all targets in this spectrum. We use filters to make IPL devices more selective.
Let’s break down IPL’s myriad applications, starting with those using water as the target particle.
Water is present in all skin cells. Water molecules absorb invisible infrared (IR) light but are more sensitive to long than short IR waves. Long IR rays can vaporize the epidermis, the skin’s outermost layer. The ablative lasers, CO2 and Er:YAG, produce long IR lasers. They’re risky for people with bad scarring tendencies.
On the other hand, short IR waves bypass the epidermis and target watery structures in the deeper skin layers. They don’t cause skin breaks like ablative lasers do, so they’re better for patients at risk of developing large scars. IPL devices emit short IR waves in the 700-1200 nanometer range.
One application of IR treatment in dermatology is skin resurfacing. Powerful IR light creates micro-injuries by zapping watery targets in the skin. Inflammation then begins, which later triggers the body’s repair mechanisms.
Once the skin is done healing, blemishes go away or vastly improve. It’s like having totally new skin. Hence the term “resurfacing.” IPL and laser skin resurfacing treatments correct skin texture and tone issues like wrinkles, acne scars, stretch marks and brown spots.
Pigments like melanin, eumelanin and dark tattoo colorants respond to IPL’s red and short IR waves. So, IPL treatment can remove tattoos and pigmented lesions like benign moles, melasma and cafe-au-lait spots. It can also take away unwanted hair as long as it’s dark and thick.
However, melanin absorbs red and short IR light weakly. Setting the IPL device to these light spectra makes it safer for patients with dark skin tone.
Hemoglobin absorbs IPL’s yellow light component as it does in PDL treatment. It’s also sensitive to short IR waves, but only modestly. Setting the device to short IR makes IPL a safe alternative for removing vascular lesions in people with skin of color.
What Are the Benefits of Using Vbeam Laser vs. IPL?
The benefits of using Vbeam laser therapy include the following:
- It’s the gold standard minimally invasive treatment for vascular lesions. That means, among minor cosmetic procedures, Vbeam produces the best esthetic outcomes and mildest side effects when treating such blemishes. A laser expert can give it safely to rosacea patients and children born with prominent facial veins.
- Skin cooling—done by spraying a cold mist on the treatment area—is usually enough to make Vbeam painless. That makes it safer than ablative procedures, which require local or general anesthesia. However, patients with pain anxiety and very young children may need to be sedated during a Vbeam session.
- It’s a non-ablative procedure, lessening the risk for people who tend to develop bad scars. It also requires little to no downtime and an easy aftercare regimen, unlike ablative laser therapy.
- You need fewer Vbeam than IPL sessions to treat the same lesion. That means fewer disruptions to your routine.
- It’s generally less expensive than ablative procedures.
Meanwhile, the benefits of IPL treatment are the following:
- IPL is also non-ablative. As in Vbeam treatment, downtime is minimal, and aftercare is simple.
- It causes less inflammation than lasers, so it has milder side effects.
- IPL is generally less expensive than laser treatment.
- IPL’s broader light spectrum allows clinicians to use it for a wider variety of skin problems than PDL.
- Providers can easily adjust IPL settings to suit all skin types.
- The procedure rarely requires anesthesia. Skin cooling using a cold gel or mist spray suffices for most patients.
However, getting excellent results requires more than simply choosing the right procedure. Good aftercare and trusting a highly experienced laser dermatologist to do it are just as important.
What Are the Disadvantages of Vbeam Laser vs. IPL?
Vbeam’s biggest drawbacks are the following:
- It’s riskier for skin of color than IPL.
- It’s more expensive than IPL.
- It produces subtler changes than ablative laser therapy. You’ll need more Vbeam than ablative laser sessions to treat the same skin condition.
Meanwhile, IPL has the following downsides:
- IPL’s results are more gradual than those of laser treatment.
- It takes more IPL than laser therapy sessions to correct the same blemish.
- IPL is ineffective against severe lesions.
Neither procedure is suitable for treating skin cancer. Additionally, you need a bona fide laser expert to do Vbeam and IPL treatments, and not all geographic locations have one.
The table below highlights the similarities and differences between Vbeam and IPL:
Head-to-Head: Vbeam Laser vs. IPL
|Points of Comparison||Vbeam||IPL|
|Indications||Vascular lesions (gold standard), benign growths, stretch marks, sun damage lesions, acne||Vascular lesions, benign growths, sun damage lesions, acne, skin texture and pigmentation issues, unwanted hair, tattoo removal|
|Pain management||Skin cooling in most cases
Anesthesia or sedation for very young children and people with pain anxiety
|Skin cooling in most cases
Anesthesia use is rare
|Downtime||Minimal to none||Minimal to none|
|Safe for all skin types||No||Yes|
|Number of sessions required||Generally multiple||Usually more than laser treatment for the same lesion|
|Cost||Usually cheaper than ablative laser therapy||Generally cheaper than laser surgery|
|Suitable for skin cancer treatment||No||No|
|Should be performed by a licensed medical specialist||Yes||Yes|
What Are the Side Effects of Vbeam Laser vs. IPL?
When done by a laser specialist, Vbeam and IPL generally produce minimal side effects. The most common are mild redness, pain, and swelling of the treated area. These are normal reactions to any form of cosmetic surgery and last only a few days. Bruising may occur and last a few weeks after vascular lesion removal.
Rarely, complications occur, such as:
- Laser burns
- Pigmentation problems
- Unexpected new hair growth
- Interactions with medications and skin care products
- Eye injury
However, these mishaps can only happen when an unqualified person performs laser and IPL procedures and fails to take the necessary precautions. Some of these complications are permanent and can be disfiguring. That’s why it’s important to get the right provider for your therapy.
How Much Do Vbeam and IPL Treatments Cost?
Costs vary by geographic location, provider expertise, lesion type and severity and many other factors. IPL is usually cheaper than Vbeam treatment. Health insurance covers light treatments if they’re medically necessary, such as when a benign growth impairs vision or movement.
The best source of pricing information is your laser dermatologist’s clinic, so don’t hesitate to call and ask. At BHSkin Dermatology, our staff will be happy to answer any questions you may have about treatment cost information.
How Do You Know If Vbeam Laser or IPL Is Right for You?
Determining your best treatment option requires a full medical evaluation by your dermatologist. In my practice, when a patient consults me for the first time about a skin condition, I start by investigating the current problem. Then, I look for clues in their medical, family and social history that will tell me if a procedure will be safe and effective for their condition.
For example, many patients with rosacea are also on oral isotretinoin for severe, recurrent acne. Oral isotretinoin use can make the skin photosensitive. In such cases, I may recommend an alternative rosacea treatment or postpone the light therapy session for some time. Active infection is also a contraindication to light treatment. It can develop around dilated leg veins left untreated for a long period.
After taking my patient’s history, I perform a physical exam, which may reveal more clues about a procedure’s suitability for their skin condition. A full-body skin check may be necessary to rule out skin cancer.
At the end of their visit, I discuss the diagnosis and therapeutic options. I then give them an appointment and pretreatment prep instructions if I think Vbeam or IPL is appropriate in their case.
However, I may recommend confirmatory testing if their history and physical exam are not enough to come to a diagnosis. In patients with a pre-existing medical condition, I ensure they are medically cleared before scheduling them for a light-based procedure.
Vbeam Laser vs. IPL: The Highlights
Vbeam and IPL are minimally invasive procedures classified as light-based technologies. Specifically, Vbeam is a type of laser best suited for vascular skin lesions, sun damage symptoms and some cases of acne. However, it’s risky for people with skin of color.
By comparison, IPL can treat a wider array of skin conditions and is safer for all skin types. However, its results are more gradual, and it’s ineffective against severe skin problems. A complete medical evaluation can determine which procedure is right for you.
Trust LA’s Top Dermatologists for Your Light Treatments
Think you need a Vbeam Laser or IPL treatment? Get no less than LA’s best to do it. BHSkin Dermatology has some of California’s best laser dermatologists, and they have been in practice for many years. You’re in excellent hands when you entrust your light procedures to our specialists.
Book your appointment at our clinic today!
- Alexiades-Armenakas, MR, et al. (May 2008). The spectrum of laser skin resurfacing: Nonablative, fractional, and ablative laser resurfacing. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 58(5). 719-737. http://oxforddermatology.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Review-of-Facial-laser-Resurfacing-Techniques.pdf
- Forbat, E and Al-Niaimi, F. (October 2019). Nonvascular uses of pulsed dye laser in clinical dermatology. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. 18. 1186-1201. https://drfirasalniaimi.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Non-vascular-uses-of-pulsed-dye-laser-in-clinical-dermatology.pdf
- Gaitan, S and Markus, R. (August 2012). Anesthesia Methods in Laser Resurfacing. Seminars in Plastic Surgery. 26(3). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3580976/
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- Kono, T., et al. (November 2007). Comparison Study of Intense Pulsed Light Versus a Long-Pulse Pulsed Dye Laser in the Treatment of Facial Skin Rejuvenation. Annals of Plastic Surgery. 59(5). 479-483. http://westcoastlaser.com/files/pdfs/vbeam/PDL%20vs%20IPL%20for%20skin%20rejuvenation.pdf
- McIlwee, BE and Alster, TS. (2019). Chapter 209: Laser Skin Resurfacing: Cosmetic and Medical Applications. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology, 9th edition. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=2570§ionid=210446721
- Orringer, JS. (2019). Chapter 210: Nonablative Laser and Light-Based Therapy: Cosmetic and Medical Indications. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology, 9th edition. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=2570§ionid=210446830
- Pei, S, et al. Light-based therapies in acne treatment. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. May-June 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439741/
- Srinivas, CR and Kumaresan, M. (May-June 2011). Lasers for vascular lesions: Standard guidelines of care. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology. 77. 349-368. https://ijdvl.com/lasers-for-vascular-lesions-standard-guidelines-of-care/
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