In April 2021, the FDA finally approved the use of IPL for managing dry eye. A month later, Israeli medical device company Lumenis unveiled OptiLight, an IPL machine designed specifically for use around the eyes. It’s now the go-to IPL device among eye doctors because of its eye-specific light filter and specialized hand pieces. 

What else can you expect in an IPL session for dry eye treatment? 

Although you may have seen eye doctors zapping their patients’ closed eyelids, the FDA only approved IPL use below the lower eyelids down to the apples of the cheeks. However, the blood vessels in your face flow upward from your cheeks to your lid margins like a river, Dr. Rose says, so if you treat the cheeks with IPL, your eyes reap the same rewards. 

Regardless of where your eye doctor is focusing their IPL machine on your face, your eyeballs will be protected with heat-resistant coverings, like adhesive eye patches or metal shields, which span the surface of the eye just underneath the lid like a steel contact lens. 

Next, a cooling conductive gel is applied all over the face, and the eye doctor begins the treatment. They’ll gauge and adjust what wavelengths you require based on where they are targeting, as well as your skin type and tone. The skin around the eyes is much more thin and delicate than the skin on the rest of your face, so the same energy can’t be used for the whole face, Dr. Tsai says. For example, a 560 nm filter is generally slotted in for face-focused IPL treatments, while a 590 nm is normally used for the eye area. “The shorter the wavelength, the higher the intensity of the energy,” she explains. 

For the last step of the treatment, your meibomian glands will be carefully squeezed with special flat forceps to expel the melted-down oil, Dr. Rose says. Luckily, your eyes will be numbed with drops first, so it’s painless. However, it’s arguably the most jarring part of the procedure and truly requires the expertise of a skilled eye doctor.

The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes. You can expect to experience little to no downtime with minimal side effects, Dr. Tsai says. The only major aftercare advice your eye doctor may suggest is to stay out of the sun before and after each IPL session and wear sunscreen because the treatment increases photosensitivity, Dr. Rose adds. 

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Typically, a series of four IPL sessions need to be done for lasting results. They’ll be scheduled two to four weeks apart. Then, you’ll only need one maintenance treatment a year, Dr. Rose says. Each session rings up at about $400 per session. Unfortunately, IPL dry eye therapy is not covered under insurance as the treatment is considered elective and cosmetic.

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