Tears are the body’s natural way of keeping the eyes moist and lubricated. When issues occur with tear balance, it can lead to dry eye.

Several therapies can help treat dry eye symptoms, including medical interventions and home remedies. A relative newcomer to the treatment field is intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy.

Here’s what you need to know about IPL therapy.

IPL uses gentle pulses of light to treat the underlying causes of dry eye. It’s a painless procedure done in an optometrist’s office.

IPL targets the skin around the eyes, reducing inflammation and any bacterial growth in the area around your eyes. The light helps break the buildup of oil or other debris blocking the meibomian glands that produce oil for tears.

What IPL treats

IPL treatments help to treat meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD).

MGD is a common cause of dry eye that can become a chronic, cyclical condition. Inflammation is a root cause of MGD, and its presence causes the eyes to create compromised tear film, which leads to more inflammation.

Several treatments for MGD exist, but none, including IPL treatment, are completely curative. This means that you’ll need repeated treatments with IPL to continue symptom improvement.


The cost of IPL will vary greatly by location and your doctor’s expertise. You should keep in mind that this is an out-of-pocket treatment.

Insurance and Medicare don’t currently cover the cost of IPL, though your doctor’s office may offer payment plans to help.

When MGD is the cause of dry eyes, evidence suggests that IPL treatments work well for short durations.

Still, when compared to other treatments, such as eyelid scrubs, artificial tears, or warm compresses, IPLs effect on dry eye has shown longer-lasting relief.

In a 2021 study of over 100 participants, researchers found that IPL therapy provided effective treatment for MGD, an underlying cause of dry eyes. It was found to clinically improve symptoms and eye function.

IPL therapy is performed as an outpatient procedure in an optometrist’s office. They use a handheld device with a filter to perform the procedure.

Here’s what you can expect during your procedure, though some things may vary by location:

  • Before starting the treatment, the doctor or tech will place protective goggles or glasses over the eyes.
  • With the eye protection in place, they’ll rub a cooling gel over the area where they’ll apply the IPL.
  • Your doctor will then place the IPL device over the eyelids and use the light to melt the buildup that’s blocking the oil glands.
  • Once your meibomian glands have opened, your doctor may attempt to express a small amount of oil to stimulate the natural production of oil in the eyes.

You should talk with your doctor about any specific questions regarding how they perform the procedure.

You may find that your symptoms improve shortly after your first or second visit. Often doctors recommend four treatments with IPL done once a month for best results.

In severe cases, your doctor may recommend additional treatments.

Though results may be better for you compared to other treatments, they’ll likely be temporary. You’ll probably need to return for treatments within 9 months, though this timeframe may vary.

Immediately following the procedure, you can return to your regular activities.

You should plan to use other treatment methods, such as artificial tears, between sessions of IPL. Your doctor can provide greater detail on what they recommend for your specific case.

IPL therapy uses a bright light that can, without adequate protection, harm the eyes. An older study from 2011 that looked at IPL’s use on skin noted that technicians should take care to protect a person’s eyes during a cosmetic procedure.

When performing IPL therapy on your eyes, your doctor should provide eye protection to prevent the lights from causing damage to your vision.

IPL therapy is a newer treatment for dry eye. The procedure treats the underlying cause of dry eye by opening up the glands that help keep the eyes lubricated.

The outpatient procedure is generally safe. It provides better relief than other treatments but will require additional sessions for it to be fully effective.