An IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) therapy is used to treat sun damage, wrinkles, stretch marks and age spots. IPL is also known as photorejuvenation or photofacial. Treatments are performed at med spas and doctor’s offices and can be used to erase mild sun damage, brown spots, freckles or irregular pigmentation on the face, neck, or even chest.
There are two types of photofacial — intense pulsed light (IPL) photofacials and light emitting diode (LED) photofacials — and each has its benefits and drawbacks. The procedure takes between 30 and 90 minutes depending on the type of photofacial, the treated area, and the practitioner’s experience.
While some redness and swelling may occur, which should subside within 24 hours and the procedure requires little to no downtime. Results are gradual with improvements to the skin beginning to appear in the days and weeks following treatment.
What are the different types of photofacial procedures?
There are a variety of photofacial procedures, but the two most common incorporate intense pulsed light (IPL) and light emitting diode (LED). The names refer to the nature of the light being used in the procedure.
IPL photofacials, also known as Pulsed Light Therapy, involve a handheld device that emits pulses of broad spectrum light through direct contact with the skin. It acts on the deeper layers of skin, making it ideal for treating broken capillaries, sun damage, and other impurities.
While relatively simple, the procedure should always be performed by a medical professional in order to get the very best results, and to minimize any potential risks.
How do IPL photofacials work?
Both IPL and LED photofacials involve light being absorbed into the skin. The more intense nature of the IPL photofacial’s light pulses allows this light to be absorbed more deeply.
IPL photofacial light is soaked up by the hemoglobin (red blood cells) and melanin (pigmentation) in the skin, intentionally damaging these areas. The damaged melanin breaks up and is absorbed by the skin, decreasing its appearance on the skin’s surface. The damaged hemoglobin stimulates blood flow, causing the melanin to be absorbed more efficiently.
What are photofacials used for?
Generally speaking, photofacials are used to treat skin blemishes and pigmentation issues. However, there are several specific conditions that fall under these categories. IPL photofacial treatments can be used to treat the following:
- Broken capillaries (blood vessels)
- Sun damage (sun spots)
- Spider veins
- Fine lines
What is getting an IPL photofacial like?
First, the provider will apply a cool gel to your face and supply you with dark glasses to protect your eyes from the light. Once you’ve been prepped, the person administering your treatment will take a hand-piece with a cold smooth surface and run it along your skin as it pulses light.
How long do photofacials take?
IPL photofacials are performed in a series, with each treatment lasting from approximately 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the amount of skin being treated. Typically, patients receive between three and six treatments spaced roughly one month apart.
How do I prepare for treatment?
For starters, with IPL photofacials you need to be tan-free. Tans can prevent the machine from accurately detecting the specific blemishes that you want addressed, and put you at greater risk of being burned. You also need to avoid aspirin, ibuprofen, anticoagulants, alcohol, and anything else that thins the blood. Additionally, be sure to notify your doctor if you’re taking antibiotics or any supplements.
What parts of my body can I have treated?
Most people get IPL photofacials to treat their face, neck, shoulders, back, and hands. Essentially areas that are frequently exposed in public. However, photofacial treatments can be performed on any part of the body except the eyelids and the area just above them. Photofacials have the potential to be very bad for eyes, so treating areas close to this region is heavily discouraged.
Do IPL photofacials hurt?
For their part, IPL photofacials can be mildly painful depending on the patient. Some patients have likened the brief stinging pain of the pulsating light to a rubber band flicking them in the face. Patients have also reported feeling like they have a mild sunburn in the treated area for several days after treatment, while others do not feel anything at all.
How will my skin look after a treatment?
After a single treatment, your skin may feel smoother and appear to have a more evenly distributed tone. However, results only appear gradually and multiple treatments will be required for them to become truly dramatic.
How long does it take to recover from an IPL photofacial?
There’s no real recovery time to speak of. With IPL photofacials, there may be some mild side effects immediately after the procedure that can take up to a week to diminish. Nevertheless, expect to resume normal activities immediately after treatment, including applying your usual facial creams and makeup.
What are the side effects?
- Redness – This is fairly common. It’s a sign of irritation and generally goes away after a few hours.
- Brown spots – If you underwent the procedure to treat dark spots and are suddenly faced with darker ones, don’t fret. This is normal. The dark spots may last for up to a week but will then fade.
- Crusting – Some of the dark spots you’ve treated will grow hard and begin to flake. This is normal and temporary.
- Bruising – This side effect is fairly uncommon and mild when it does occur.
Remember that it will take several weeks (and several treatments) before you start seeing truly significant results.
Is there any risk of serious complications?
Complications, as opposed to side effects, are not part of the normal healing process. IPL photofacials can be accompanied by complications, but they’re rare and typically the result of a poorly trained individual administering the procedure.
- Blistering – Yes, we’ve already mentioned blistering, but blistering as an actual complication, and not a predictable side effect, can be extensive and painful.
- Burns – This is the most common complication. You may not feel heat while undergoing the procedure, but the light is powerful and can burn your skin when not handled properly.
- Scabbing – Not to be confused with flaking. Flaking occurs when melanin hardens, whereas with scabs it means the epidermis has been damaged, something that shouldn’t happen with IPL photofacials.
- Hyperpigmentation – This is when patches of skin become darker than the surrounding skin. It should not be confused with dark spots getting temporarily darker, which is a normal and temporary side effect.
- Hypopigmentation – This occurs when patches of skin become lighter than the surrounding skin, a complication which tends to be much more common among people with darker skin tones. Those with dark skin tones are not typically considered good candidates for this procedure specifically due to this issue.
- It is again worth noting that, even though the procedure may seem harmless, photofacials are a serious cosmetic procedure. It is important to find a qualified facility and practitioner for your IPL photofacial.
How long do the results last?
This is a tricky question. With so many factors acting on the skin, like sun exposure, age, and genetics, it’s difficult to guarantee any specific amount of time.
Typically, however, the results of an IPL photofacial will be apparent for six months to a year. Dermatologists recommend maintenance treatments every six to 12 months to help prolong results. According to a 2013 study on the anti-aging effects of IPL photofacials, two to three treatments a year are enough to develop and maintain younger looking skin with renewed collagen growth.
What can I do to prolong results?
The answer is simple: Avoid things that damage your skin. That means limiting direct exposure to the sun, wearing sunscreen, and taking optimal care of your skin with moisturizers and face washings.
Of course, keeping up with your scheduled maintenance treatments won’t hurt either.