Age spots; they're the two dreaded words no beauty junkie ever wants to hear. After all, you never hear anyone say, “Wow, those are some amazing liver spots! How can I get me some of those?!” 🙂 Unfortunately, the appearance of blotchy brown spots on skin is a dead giveaway of sun damage and premature aging. If you're plagued with a case of splotchy skin and your research on photofacials led you here, you're probably wondering, “What is IPL treatment — and does it actually work?”.
Well, wonder no more! I've had IPL treatments regularly for at least 10 years, so I'm happy to explain the procedure in-depth and answer any questions you may have.
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What is IPL Treatment?
IPL (intense pulsed light) is a broad-spectrum light that works to treat brown spots, aka: “age spots” or “liver spots”. It also works on broken blood vessels, acne, rosacea, and unwanted hair. I've found it most effective for reducing dark spots and broken capillaries; a single treatment often removes a significant amount of damage!
IPL is safe, non-invasive, and FDA approved.
Who is a Good Candidate for IPL?
Always check with a licensed dermatologist to see if you're a good candidate. The treatment works best on fair-skinned individuals. The more melanin skin contains, the greater the chance of hyper-pigmentation or scarring from an IPL treatment. Here is a good rule of thumb:
- Skin that burns easily in the sun = good candidate for IPL
- Darker skin or skin that tans easily = not [as] ideal for IPL
IPL is a great option if you're fairly young and have begun to develop bothersome brown spots or mild wrinkling that isn't yet severe enough to warrant a more intense resurfacing treatment.
What Happens During Treatment?
The first step is to thoroughly clean the area receiving treatment, so don't bother wearing makeup to your appointment. The technician should also provide goggles to protect your eyes from the light. Next, the technician will apply a thick layer of a clear cooling gel to the area being treated, then will gently touch a handheld device to the skin's surface while flashes of light pulse brightly. The entire procedure takes well under 20 minutes.
Does it Hurt?
It's mildly uncomfortable. It feels a bit like a weak rubber band popping against the skin. I personally tend to jump more from the unexpected flash of the bright light than I do from any type of discomfort.
Oddly enough, my only small complaint is that I “sense” (for lack of a better description) the flashes of light in one or two of my teeth and it's slightly annoying. I'm fairly certain it's because those particular teeth still have the old metal-style fillings for cavities, instead of the more modern resin filling material.
As far as cosmetic procedures are concerned, I find IPL relatively painless. You can chat with the technician while they're working or just lie back and relax.
What's the Downtime?
I wouldn't say there's much real “downtime” from IPL, because most people can function normally after a treatment. It's nothing like a chemical peel where skin sloughs off and you need to hide indoors for a few days.
With IPL, any brown spots that were on your face prior to the treatment will darken significantly in the days following treatment and will eventually flake off. Some impurities may also rise to the surface, so you may develop a few breakouts.
You can wear makeup immediately after the treatment and cover any dark spots with concealer, so it's easy to go about business as usual.
Post Treatment Care
- Hand-wash treated areas with a gentle cleanser for best results (no harsh scrubbies or washcloths).
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30+ daily after treatment.
- Avoid direct sunlight in the days and weeks following treatment, and reapply sunscreen every 4-6 hours if you do go outdoors.
- Do not pick at or scratch skin for several days after an IPL treatment to allow time for it to heal.
- Avoid retinoids, retinals, and any skincare products that contain fragrance in the days directly following an IPL treatment.
Number of Treatments?
Most people require 3 to 6 treatments scheduled approximately 4 to 6 weeks apart. Some people notice a dramatic difference after the first treatment and then milder results after follow-up treatments, which is completely normal.
Ideally, 3 to 4 treatments work best to sufficiently remove the majority of visible damage, so it's not a waste of money to purchase a package deal! Consider having the treatment on your face, neck, chest, and the back side of your hands, since those are the areas where sun damage most frequently occurs.
How Much do IPL Treatments Cost?
The cost varies heavily depending on where you live and whether or not you visit a dermatologist or an aesthetician. Expect to pay roughly $100 – $300 for a single treatment or $500 – $1500 for a package of multiple treatments.
To save money, read my advice 7 Creative Ways to Make Plastic Surgery More Affordable on more.com. I always sign up for emails from my favorite dermatologists and med spas so I'll be notified of specials, then I'll purchase a package deal when the price is right.
- EltaMD UV Facial Broad-Spectrum SPF 30+ Sunscreen | Sunscreen is the single-most important product to have on-hand after an IPL treatment! Your aesthetician will send you home with copious amounts of SPF, but you'll need to apply it generously before you head outside in the days following treatment. EltaMD is a long-time favorite of mine and one that comes highly recommended by dermatologists.
- CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser | A gentle cleanser is a necessity to avoid irritating skin, and CeraVe is known for being mild, but effective. It comes highly recommended by dermatologists and is a cult-classic amongst beauty insiders.
- Benefit Boi-ing Concealer | Since treated areas may darken and appear “littered with coffee grounds” for a few days post-treatment, it's wise to be prepared with a good concealer — and there's none better than Boi-ing. This YouTube video shows its heavy-duty coverage power.
- Mario Badescu RoseWater Facial Spray | On the off chance that you have any irritation from your treatment, it's refreshing to keep a bottle of healing rosewater in the fridge and use it to spritz your face.
Is IPL Worth It? Plus a Few Final Tips
For me, the answer is a resounding YES…IPL is absolutely worth it. I like to schedule a couple treatments during the winter months to rid my skin of any damage from a summer spent outdoors, and I also opt for one follow-up treatment in late spring. The follow-up is so I'll have fresh skin during the summer season when I don't like to wear much makeup.
To achieve long-lasting results after an IPL treatment, it's always best to avoid direct sunlight during the harshest hours of the day (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.) and to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30+ every single day. Other key points: eat healthy, take your vitamins, cut out refined carbs, and get plenty of sleep.
Please let me know below if you have any questions or want to share your experience with IPL treatments!