How do I treat IPL hyperpigmentation and burns?

I don’t know why, but I have horrible IPL hyperpigmentation on my face. Was this my doctor’s fault or would it have happened to me no matter who was administering the treatment? I need to get rid of this ASAP. How can I safely and effectively treat the hyperpigmentation?

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Unfortunately, IPL burns can occur when the treatment is administered by an inexperienced practitioner. If the IPL machine delivers the intense pulsed light at a treatment setting that is too high, the patient will feel a burning sensation and blisters or dark marks may result. This is known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).

This condition is more likely to affect people with acne and darker tones of skin and is triggered by IPL and other aesthetic interventions such as laser hair removal, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels. Fortunately, IPL rarely results in severe burns. Burns are typically first or second degree and should heal without leaving scars. However, in the care of an experienced laser technician or dermatologist, they shouldn’t happen at all.

Hyperpigmentation following IPL treatment has also been linked to melasma. Melasma is a form of hyperpigmentation that can be triggered by UV exposure and hormonal changes. It is more common in women than men. While IPL can improve the appearance of melasma, it may also worsen the appearance of the condition, causing the spots to become darker. This is because melasma can be an epidermal (upper skin) or dermal condition (deeper layer of skin). Most melasma is dermal, so IPL and certain laser treatments such as Fraxel can render it more apparent by bringing the deeper layers of hyperpigmentation closer to the surface of the skin.


It is impossible to determine the cause of your hyperpigmentation and to offer a best course of treatment without actually seeing you in person or in a photograph. I would recommend that you schedule a formal evaluation with a cosmetic dermatologist to determine how to best treat your skin to rid it of brown spots. Ensure you find a dermatologist with board certification, and he or she will be able to advise you about possible treatments that may reduce or eliminate the hyperpigmentation.

Some successful methods of reducing or completely eliminating IPL or laser burns include laser or a combination of laser treatments, chemical peels or skin care creams. Silicone gels can also aid the healing process. Other prescription creams such as hydroquinone, corticosteroid creams or tretinoin may also help fade hyperpigmentation by bleaching the skin at the epidermal level. These creams should only be used, however, when the burns have healed. It is also essential to protect your skin from the sun in its current state as sunburn may darken the affected area. Use sun cream with a broad spectrum SPF.

Hyperpigmentation can also fade on its own. Recovery rates vary and take between three and 24 months for the darkened areas to fade. The recovery time depends on the difference between the hyperpigmented skin and the patient’s natural skin tone: the more significant the difference, the longer it will take for the pigmentation deposits to fade.

Hyperpigmentation is the term used to describe when patches of skin become darker in color than the surrounding skin. The darkening occurs because an excess of melanin, the brown pigment that produces normal skin color, forms deposits in the skin. Some darkening of the skin after IPL is quite normal. But areas where you have sun damage, even those that are not overly apparent, can react quite dramatically following treatment. Lentigines, or sun spots, can become darker and more blotchy for approximately a week before they begin to flake off and heal, revealing a fresh, new layer of skin.

However, if the IPL technician has administered an unusually high level of heat, burn marks or hyperpigmentation blotches can appear on the skin. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation following intense pulsed light (IPL) is caused by excessive application of heat during treatment. This is because IPL is not a laser, but a broad spectrum of wavelengths that cannot be focused into a single concentrated beam. It heats the surrounding tissue around the area to be treated, and can actually stimulate and increase the appearance of darkened pigmentation, particularly among individuals with a tan or darker skin types.

It is hard to determine the cause and severity of your hyperpigmentation without seeing pictures, but many cases of IPL hyperpigmentation are relatively superficial and do not result in long-term discoloration. It is essential, however, that you contact your treatment provider so they are aware you have suffered adverse effects as a result of treatment and can take steps to correct this issue.

There is a range of measures you can take to correct the hyperpigmentation, depending on the degree of your burns. Keep the area moist, apply a hydrocortisone cream, avoid sun exposure and ensure you use a high SPF sunscreen to protect your skin from sun damage. Do not pick any scabs that form. Other combinations of treatments such as microdermabrasion, chemical peels, skin care, e.g., hydroquinone and repeat treatments of IPL at a lower energy level, can all help improve or completely remove the hyperpigmentation. If the hyperpigmentation is deep, then multiple treatments may be needed.

In some cases, laser treatments, like Q-switched YAG lasers, can quickly and effectively treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, however, they tend to be quite expensive. Often, hyperpigmentation improves over time and will fade on its own with gentle skin care and diligent sunscreen use. I would recommend that you find a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon who specializes in facial laser treatments to assess the extent of the hyperpigmentation and develop a treatment plan so you can feel comfortable and confident in your skin again.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can happen after any skin resurfacing or modification treatment.  It may be treated with several modes including anti-inflammatories, bleaching products and laser.  An in person consultation to review the history and nature of the hyperpigmented areas would be the place to start.