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SKIN DEEP: What to know about IPL photofacials

Sun worshippers are not great candidates for IPL photofacials.
Sun worshippers are not great candidates for IPL photofacials. - 123RF Stock Photo

Laser technology has changed the face of science and medicine since the 1960s. As with any significant technological discovery, there are always inventive people who find ways to improve life on multiple levels.

The beauty industry took that technology and used it to help people achieve positive skin results through treatments using lasers, including intense pulsed light therapy (IPL), which uses high-energy light waves to treat a variety of skin concerns.

IPL photofacials are a common treatment used in spas and medical spas to improve a number of skin concerns, including skin tone, pigmentation from sun damage, acne, rosacea, pronounced capillaries and they often have a setting for semi-permanent hair removal.

So, what exactly is an IPL photofacial? Pulses of light are flashed on the skin, which feel like a rubber band snap. These non-invasive waves of energy break up pigmentation, encourage the production of collagen in the lower layers of the skin and help reduce redness by constricting blood vessels. Although most people find the feeling tolerable, there can be some discomfort during what is typically a 30-minute treatment.

There is very little downtime with an IPL photofacial, depending on your skin type and the depth of the wavelengths used. Some people feel as though they have a mild sunburn, but you can resume your normal life immediately after, making it more user-friendly than deeper laser treatments that are more ablative to the skin. However, if you are having treatments done, it is essential that you wear sunscreen diligently during and after any IPL treatments, as the skin is highly susceptible to UV damage and pigmentation.

The best candidates for IPL are those looking for treatment for sun damage and pigmentation. IPL is an effective way of targeting dark spots and breaking them up, revealing healthy skin underneath. During the week after your IPL treatment, you may see the dark spots get even darker and then shed off the skin. But it’s not a one-time treatment. The best results come from a series of five or six treatments spaced three to four weeks apart. During the treatments, you will notice an improvement in skin tone as well, the softening of fine lines and a plumper look to your skin. It’s also a great treatment for anti-aging purposes.

Surprisingly, rosacea can be treated with IPL, even though the skin can feel hot and red immediately after. The light helps constrict capillaries directly under the skin, which are often the cause of the redness. It is also effective for some people to treat acne as well, although it must be done in conjunction with a consistent topical treatment to control bacteria outbreaks in between treatments.

There are some people who are not great candidates for IPL. People with dark skin who are prone to hyperpigmentation (dark spots from trauma to the skin) may want to consult with a dermatologist first or at least have a patch test done to ensure they won’t have an adverse reaction. Sun worshippers are also not great candidates, as the skin can become even more sensitive to UV rays and incur even more pigmentation after IPL treatment. If you are going to have IPL done and then continue to tan, the pigmentation could come back even more pronounced.

Costs vary from spa to spa, but usually a discounted rate is given to those prepared to buy a series of photofacials. The cost can be anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 for a series. If you are looking to make a drastic change in your skin without going under the knife or needle, this may be the best option.

Denise Surette is a journalist, master esthetician and part-time instructor at the Hair Design Centre’s school of esthetics. She lives in Lawrencetown with her family and two cats.

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