Intense Pulse Light Therapy (IPL) for Spider Veins

Unsightly veins are a common problem for millions of men and women. This problem affects all ethnic groups, of all ages and both genders. Estimates indicate that more than 60% of the adult population suffers from unsightly veins somewhere in the body. Spider veins are the small superficial purple or red veins stretching like a "Star" under the skin. The reticular veins are similar to the spider veins but are just a few mm deeper in the skin. Both spider and reticular veins are linked to increased pressure within the venous system.

Over the years numerous treatments have been developed to treat these veins and today, we have the Intense Pulse Light Therapy (IPL).

Using Pulsed Light technology one can remove unwanted spider veins and numerous skin imperfections using controlled levels of light energy in a pulse fashion.

How does IPL work?

This newer technique of treating spider and reticular veins uses intense, pulsed light that can be used to selectively damage or destroy abnormal veins including small spider veins and small vascular birthmarks. Unlike laser, the intense light therapy is more suited for vascular lesions slightly deeper in the skin. This treatment may be recommended when sclerotherapy or laser therapy does not effectively treat the superficial vein. Two to four treatments may be required depending on the number and size of the lesions.

Are spider and reticular veins bad for health?

The spider and reticular veins are always superficial to the skin and much smaller than the varicose veins. Because these veins are dark and superficial to the skin, they are a major source of embarrassment for most females.

One thing to note about these veins is that they are harmless and not associated with any symptoms. The disfigurement is only of a cosmetic concern. While we do not have a cure for spider and reticular veins, one can protect against these unsightly veins by wearing support hose stocking and maintaining a normal weight.

Are spider and reticular veins associated with pain?

No, both these veins are only of cosmetic concern. If there is pain, swelling of the feet or fatigue, then the symptoms are not from spider or reticular veins.

What causes spider and reticular veins?

These veins are typically caused by abnormal blood flow and weakening of the blood vessel wall. Any condition or activity that places pressure on the veins (like weight gain, prolonged sitting or standing) can contribute to their development.

Spider veins increase with age and thus are quite common in the elderly. There is also a genetic basis, since spider veins do tend to run in families. In pregnancy, spider and reticular veins are quite common and have been associated with an increase in the female sex hormone, estrogen. Estrogen is known to weaken the walls of the veins and may contribute to the development of spider veins. During pregnancy spider veins are most common in the 2nd trimester.

Do spider and reticular veins disappear on their own?

Unfortunately no; these veins once developed generally get worse and do not resolve on their own. Weight gain, lack of exercise and a sedentary life style is associated with progression of spider veins.

Can spider and reticular veins occur in men?

Yes, spider and reticular veins are universal and affect all ethnic groups and gender. In men, spider veins are most common in obese males. Fortunately, males are not too much into aesthetics and most do not even know if they have the problem.

What are non surgical methods of treating spider and reticular veins?

The most conservative approach for treating these veins is to wear properly fitting support hose (also called compression stockings). These stockings can generally be purchased at any pharmacy and come in various styles including below-the-knee, above-the-knee and pantyhose styles. They also come in different compressions varying from 18 to 20 mmHg and up to 40 to 50 mmHg. Unfortunately, once the veins have developed, they do not disappear even with wearing stockings.

Other conservative treatment approaches include practicing good skin hygiene, losing weight if you are overweight, exercising regularly (especially walking), avoiding prolonged periods of sitting or standing, and elevating your legs while sitting and sleeping. When you need to stand for long periods of time, take frequent breaks to sit down and elevate your feet.

What are other methods of treating spider and reticular veins?

If conservative treatment does not achieve satisfactory relief of symptoms or if the appearance of the veins is bothersome, other treatments may be offered, depending on your overall medical condition. Depending on the size and location of the veins, other treatment techniques include:

  • Sclerotherapy: This technique is not useful for varicose veins, only spider veins. This procedure involves the injection of a concentrated solution of sodium chloride directly into the vein with a small needle. The solution irritates the veins and causes it to collapse. Over time, the vessel turns into scar tissue that fades away. The procedure is usually done in a clinic, is relatively inexpensive, and has little downtime. Most individuals require a couple of sessions to treat all the spider veins. Side effects of sclerotherapy may include slight swelling, bruising, and redness and itching at injection sites. If the solution leaks out of the vein, pain and darkening of the skin occurs.
  • Laser: The best and gold standard treatment for spider veins is laser. Laser vein removal is an easy, fast, and effective way to treat superficial veins. However, laser therapy is not the best for more deeply located veins. Laser therapy has been used in the medicine for more than 30 years. Advances in technology have helped developed many different lasers. The laser uses a focused beam of light. In the treatment of veins, the wavelength of light is targeted to the pigment in the blood. The laser heats up the small vein and destroys it. The laser beam is focused and does not damage the nearby skin tissue. Over a period of four to six weeks, the vein is reabsorbed by the body and disappears.
  • Surgical ligation/stripping: Spider veins are almost never treated with surgery. Surgery is only reserved for the large varicose veins.

What is so special about IPL treatment?

Intense pulse light therapy is a non-invasive treatment for spider veins, reticular veins, age spots, and a full range of non cancerous skin lesions. Intense Pulsed Light delivers a concentrated pulse of light to the vein to be treated. The light generates heat and specifically damages the vessel walls. As a result, the veins shrink and disappear. Intense Pulsed Light penetrates the unwanted vessel without damaging or scarring the surrounding tissue. Clinical results may vary with skin type. In general, individuals with fair skin usually have good results. On the other hand, individuals who tan easily tend to have more variation in response to treatment. Most dark skinned individuals may not have a good response.

What conditions can be treated with IPL Therapy?

Pulsed Light Therapy helps remove

  • spider veins
  • broken and dilated vessels
  • skin imperfections (caused by sun damage, age spots)
  • birth marks (port wine stains)
  • acne Rosacea
  • sun damaged skin
  • cherry hemangiomas
  • freckles
  • Reticular veins

What parts of the body can be treated with IPL?

In general, IPL is more effective than laser when treating deeply located veins. The therapy can be used to treat spider and reticular veins on the

  • face
  • arms
  • legs
  • back
  • thigh
  • abdomen
  • ankles

How does IPL treatment remove spider veins and reticular veins?

Pulsed light is a non-invasive form of light therapy that is specifically designed to eliminate undesired blood vessels from all parts of the body. The pulse light generates a pulse of intense, concentrated energy which is directed through a hand piece to the blood vessel underneath the skin.

This light energy passes through the skin to the blood vessels where the energy is absorbed by pigment in the blood, causing selective damage to the lining of the target blood vessel without damaging the surrounding tissues and skin. The deeply penetrating wavelength of the pulsed light allows one to target blood vessels which other, shorter wavelength lasers cannot safely reach.

Who is a candidate for IPL therapy?

There are no absolute reasons as to why one can not undergo laser therapy. However one should:

  • be in good physical health
  • have fair skinned
  • be mentally and psychologically stable
  • preferably does not smoke
  • Wants to improve his/her appearance
  • Is realistic about the procedure and results
  • Has no disease of the blood vessels or problems with bleeding

Who is not a candidate for IPL therapy?

You should not consider IPL therapy if you

  • are taking Accutane or have used recently
  • have keloid scarring
  • have severe or unusual scar formations
  • are pregnant
  • have recently been tanning or have acute sun burn
  • Have acute onset of acne
  • Are very dark skinned
  • Have black skin
  • are taking blood thinning medications
  • have had skin resurfacing disorders

How does the IPL therapy work?

The IPL system uses a well known form of technology that generates light that pierces the skin and penetrates the superficial blood vessel. The heat generated from the light coagulates the blood inside the vessel causing it to collapse and seal. Over the next few weeks, the vessel will disappear and all the blood will be removed by the body's scavenging cells. The newer light treatments allow the delivery of a precise dosage of energy to each blood vessel without injuring any nearby structures.

How do I know if I am a candidate for IPL treatment?

All individuals are evaluated prior to IPL therapy. Both Spider and reticular veins do not cause symptoms and are of a cosmetic concern only. For those who have symptoms, further investigation is done to ensure that they do not have varicose veins. IPL therapy is most effective for the deeper veins and not used to treat large varicose veins.

What preparations must I make?

There are no absolute changes in activities, before or after treatment. Prior to the following IPL treatment, you must limit your exposure to the sun (treatment should not be performed on tanned skin).

Other recommendations include avoiding aspirin, alcohol and not smoking for at least a week prior to the procedure.

On the day of the treatment one should avoid all creams, lotions and moisturizers on the area that is going to be treated.

One should wear comfortable clothing that allows easy access to the body part(s).

What happens during the IPL therapy?

The procedure is done in a doctor's office or clinic. In most cases, both the spider and reticular veins are treated in the same session. The majority of individuals do not require any type of anesthesia, but for those who are squeamish or anticipate pain, the physician may apply a topical anesthetic 20 minutes prior to the procedure. Most current day IPL systems also have a cooling system which prevents the tip of the light from getting hot.

How long does treatment take?

Intense Pulsed Light Vein Therapy may take anywhere from 15-45 minutes. The amount of time needed will depend on the size of the treatment area and the severity of the spider veins or skin imperfections. You can expect to receive at least 2 treatments spaced several weeks apart for best results.

What is IPL treatment like? Is it painful?

A pulse of IPL light may feel like a pinch similar to a snapping rubber band. The physician may apply a chilled gel or a topical anesthetic to prevent any discomfort. The entire procedure is brief and non-invasive - no needles are used at any time.

How does one feel after the IPL therapy?

Soon after the procedure, you may feel a slight bump on the skin which will disappear in the next 2-4 hours. The area may also appear slightly redder and occasionally may be bruised. After receiving treatment, you can return to your normal activities.

Are there any precautions after IPL therapy?

After IPL therapy, it is strongly recommended that one keep away from the sun to avoid sun burn. Healing can be facilitated by wearing support hose. The pain is minimal and one may take any over the counter pain medications. After treatment, there is no down time. You can resume all of your normal activities immediately afterward.

How often can one undertake IPL therapy for spider veins?

It is generally recommended that the treatments be spaced four to six weeks apart. If new veins appear, additional treatments are required for optimum results.

What Are the Side Effects?

You may experience some:

  • bruising
  • redness
  • swelling
  • blisters

Most of these side effects will resolve over the next few days. One can apply ice packs to minimize the pain and swelling.

When can I go back to work after IPL therapy?

Patients are encouraged to resume all normal activities immediately. Most patients are satisfied by the results in a very short time.

How long does it take for the results to become evident?

The results of IPL treatment for spider veins are not immediate. After the therapy, the vessels underneath the skin will gradually change from a dark blue to light red color, then eventually disappearing in two to six weeks.

Most patients report a high degree of satisfaction with the procedure and relief at no longer having to hide unsightly veins. The treated areas are noticeably clearer and in most cases the skin continues to improve with each successive treatment.

The majority of spider and reticular veins will disappear within three to six weeks, and in some cases e en longer.

Depending on the severity of your spider veins or skin imperfection, you may require several treatments. This Therapy will not prevent new spider and reticular veins from forming.

What are potential complications of IPL therapy?

The risks associated with IPL vein therapy are minimal. Your eyes will be shielded during the treatments. Most facilities use state-of-the-art cooling systems, thus the treatments are low risk and relatively pain-free. However dark pigmentation and scarring are rare and permanent complications.

How many treatments will I need?

Depending on the size and number of veins, two to six treatments will be needed. The treatments are usually done 4-6 weeks apart. Those with a tendency towards vascular problems will most likely require additional treatments.

What are advantages of IPL treatment over Sclerotherapy?

  • allows for treatment of large skin areas
  • there are no needles
  • is a faster procedure
  • does not use any toxic chemical
  • has less down time
  • has minimal pain and complications
  • requires no dressings after procedure
  • results are longer lasting
  • aesthetic appearance is more rewarding
  • it has much fewer side effects
  • It is less traumatic to the surrounding skin compared to sclerotherapy
  • It takes a much shorter time to complete laser treatment
  • It is less painful than sclerotherapy
  • Recovery is immediate
  • IPL therapy can even be used on the face and other parts of the body

What are disadvantages of IPL treatment over Sclerotherapy?

  • IPL treatment is slightly more expensive than sclerotherapy
  • IPL treatment does not produce good results in dark skinned individuals

How can I prevent spider and reticular veins?

  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting undergarments and clothing that constricts the waist, groin or legs
  • Avoid crossing your legs while seated
  • Avoid sitting or standing in one position for a long time
  • Exercise regularly to increase circulation
  • Lose weight if you are overweight

Is the IPL treatment for spider veins and reticular veins curative?

There is no cure for spider and reticular veins. Although treatment does not prevent the development of new spider veins, the removal of existing veins can dramatically improve the appearance of the affected area, providing a more youthful, healthy look and an even color pattern to the skin. Spider veins are recurrent and thus, more treatments will be required in the future.

What other conditions does IPL treat?

In addition to the leg spider veins, the IPL can provide non-invasive skin treatments for the face. IPL provides dramatic results for a variety of other conditions which include:

  • age spots
  • sun-induced freckles
  • scars from Rosacea
  • birthmarks
  • unsightly veins
  • Acne scarring

Is IPL therapy covered by medical insurance?

No, spider and reticular veins are only of cosmetic concern and not covered by medical insurance or Medicare. The average cost for IPL treatment may vary from $200 - $400 per session.


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