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IPL: The Photofacial

It's IPL season!!! Because you can't be out in the sun a few weeks before or after your treatment, we rarely do Photofacials during the summer months. But spooky season is here, and with that means less time in the sun and more time for laser skin treatments! So what exactly is an IPL Photofacial, how does it work, and what can it treat?

What is IPL?

IPL stands for Intense Pulse Light, aka Photofacial. It it used as a way to improve the color and texture of skin without surgery or other invasive procedures. It can undo visible damage caused by exposure to the sun (called photoaging). IPL can also help you if you have brown or red red spots or patchy skin caused by some health condition or hormone volatility. This amazing laser skin treatment can be used for laser hair removal and help improve the appearance of:

  • Acne

  • Birthmarks

  • Stretch marks

  • Liver or age spots

  • Broken blood vessels

  • Brown spots, also called liver or age spots

  • Dark spots from hormonal changes

  • Discolored skin

  • Fine wrinkles

  • Freckles

  • Redness from rosacea

  • Scars

  • Spider veins

How Does an IPL Treatment Work?

IPL is a non-invasive, non-ablative laser that uses light energy to target certain colors in your skin, ie. the red and/or brown spots. (Non-ablative vs Ablative: ablative lasers removes the top layer of the skin, while non-ablative works by heating up the under layers of the skin (without harming the surface).) The light energy from the laser is converted into heat energy, which causes damage to the darker parts of the skin, triggering collagen and new cell production.

IPL Systems are different to other lasers in that they deliver multiple wavelengths in each pulsed light, compared to just one wavelength in other lases. This allows IPL to treat a wide range of skin conditions at the same time.

What Does the IPL Procedure Involve?

Your Board-Certified PA or Dermatologist should go over the do's and don'ts prior to treatment in your consultation a few weeks before your first IPL. During the procedure, your PA will give you cool shades to protect your eyes and apply a cooling gel on top of the skin. The handheld IPL device will be placed directly on your skin and deliver light pulses. Many people describe the feeling of this like a rubber band slapping against your skin. The session will last 20-30 minutes, and with no down time you're able to continue your regular activities (make sure to follow the post treatment instructions). Here is a list of pre and post treatment instructions we give our patients in our complimentary consultation:

Before your treatment:

  • Do not wear makeup on the day of treatment

  • No sun-tanning or self-tanners 4 weeks prior to treatment

    • Includes spray tans, tanning lotions, tanning beds, sun exposure, etc.

  • Some medications or supplements may increase the risk bruising. Consult with your physician.

  • Avoid treatments that may irritate the skin for 1-2 weeks prior to treatment (waxing, depilatories, etc.)

  • Notify clinic with any changes to your health history or medications since your last appointment

  • History of herpes or cold sores may require an anti-viral prescription prior to treatment

After your treatment:

  • Avoid sun exposure and use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen to prevent further sun damage

  • Bruising, redness and swelling are common and resolve with time

  • For Pigmented Lesions:

    • Treated pigment will turn darker (brown to black) within 24-48 hours

    • Do not pick at treated areas

    • Treated pigment will exfoliate off the face in approximately 1 week

    • Treated pigment will exfoliate off the body in approximately 2-3 weeks

  • Avoid heat – hot tubs, saunas, etc. for 1-2 days

  • Avoid skin irritants (examples below) a few days post-treatment

    • Products containing tretinoin, retinol, benzoyl peroxide, glycolic/salicylic acids, astringents, etc.

  • Notify clinic of any concerns (blistering, excessive redness/swelling, etc.)

  • Consult with clinic about when to resume skin care regime.

  • For Vascular Lesions:

    • A “bug bite look” is common and usually resolves in 1-2 days

  • Leg vein treatments only:

    • Compression stockings (20-30 mm/hg) are optional

    • Hemosiderin staining (brown staining) may occur after a treatment and usually resolves with time (can take 1-2 years) but, on a rare occasion, it may be permanent

      • Strict avoidance of sun exposure may decrease risk of permanent hemosiderin staining. Large leg veins may take many months to resolve and should not be re-treated before then. Avoid high impact activity 3-5 days

***It is vital to your skin to follow these instructions very carefully.

Who is a Candidate for IPL?

Because an IPL system targets the reds and browns in the skin, light colored skin only is suitable. If you have darker skin, the IPL system can't tell what skin is healthy and what is damaged. Using IPL on darker skin can damage all of the area treated, resulting in burns.

***An alternative to IPL for individuals with darker skin is Laser Genesis. For laser hair removal, we recommend using our Nd: YAG laser, which is safe on all skin types.

Concluding Thoughts

IPL is an amazing procedure that can rid you of most of your dark spots, scars, acne, stretch marks, noticeable veins, uneven tone and texture, and rejuvenate your skin. We recommend receiving 4-6 treatments scheduled 4 weeks apart to get the best results. If you're ready for IPL season, shoot us a text, give us a call, or book your complimentary consultation by clicking the button below!


Before and After Photos

These photos are from Cutera, the creator of the IPL laser system we use at The Lotus.


What Is Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatment? (2019, June 12). WebMD. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from

Intense pulsed light therapy (IPL, flashlamp) | DermNet. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2022, from


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