For patients with rosacea, finding long term relief from symptoms often requires a combination of remedies. Topical application of substances such as aloe vera gel may be recommended along with various prescription medications to be taken orally. IPL (sometimes called photofacial) treatments may also be offered as an appropriate therapy.
The original Intense Pulsed Light device was invented in 1991 by Dr. Shimon Eckhouse. Over the last 20 years, this technology has been developed further. It is now used for a variety of medical and cosmetic purposes including the reduction of age spots and spider veins. Pulsed light can also be used to treat flushing, redness, and telangiectasias (areas that appear to contain broken blood vessels) common in rosacea patients.
Evidence for Effectiveness
The FDA has approved this technology for the reduction of dilated blood vessels in the face. FDA approval means that the treatment has been found reasonably safe. It is not an endorsement of effectiveness. However, over the past 7 years a number of scientific studies have been conducted to investigate the outcome of IPL treatment for patients with rosacea. In 2003, a U.S. study was published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology regarding a series of 32 patients treated with intense pulsed light. Over 80% of these patients experienced reduced redness. 75% noticed a reduction in flushing and an improvement in the texture of their skin as well. Side effects of treatment were minor and resolved over time.
A 2005 study from the Netherlands (published in the Dermatologic Surgery journal) followed the treatment of 60 patients with telangiectasias caused by rosacea. Photofacial treatments in this setting achieved similar success to that found in the 2003 study. The results lasted an average of 51.6 months. One of the most recently published studies is from the U.K. where 34 patients were treated for flushing, vascular lesions, and erythema (increased blood flow to the skin’s capillaries causing redness). More than 70% of patients in this study observed a 50% improvement in their symptoms after 4 treatments. At the 6 month mark, the improvement was still maintained.
From the available evidence, it appears that many patients with rosacea can benefit significantly from IPL treatment. Multiple sessions are generally required to achieve the desired results. The improvement is long lasting but not permanent. It is important to note that the patients who qualified to participate in the studies above were probably carefully screened for suitability. This would have an impact on the incidence/severity of complications and the success of the therapy. Not all individuals with rosacea are good candidates for this procedure. Patients should consult with their dermatologist about all their options before making a treatment decision.