IPL vs chemical peel - which is better for sun damage?

I have what I would consider moderate sun damage on my face. I’m constantly working outdoors for work, and although I wear lots of sunscreen nowadays, I can’t say that I was always the best at remembering (or caring) to apply it. Which is better to help correct sun damage, IPL or a Chemical Peel?


F, 27, Rhode Island

Tags:woman age 18-24 sun spots laser sunscreen sun damage

Skin tone and the severity of damage from the sun will determine whether an IPL laser or a chemical peel is best for you. You may also find, after consulting with a few dermatologists or plastic surgeons, that both procedures in combination with each other will give you the best results. Excessive exposure to the sun and sunburn typically cause sunspots and can do damage to other areas besides the face (neck, shoulders, etc.). IPL treatments stimulate collagen, make the skin smoother, and fade brown spots and redness. Depending on your situation, superficial peels are different and may work better than an IPL, helping with overall tone and consistency. There are some at-home peels available, but I recommend you see a professional.

When you visit with dermatologist it may also be a good idea to schedule a full-body exam. They will be able to see areas of your body that you can't with a self-exam or looking in a mirror. Early detection of potential skin problems is always best.

You already know that you should wear sun protection (hat and suntan lotion with a high SPF), so we'll move past that for now. The answer to your question whether an IPL (intense pulsed light) or chemical peel is better really depends on the amount and type of sun damage you have. In general, different treatments will treat different skin conditions. Your best bet is to visit with a few board-certified dermatologists or plastic surgeons to determine the best course of action. Some will tell you that both chemical peels or IPL work well to brighten the skin. However, you may get better results on brown/dark spots via an IPL. If your skin is more blotchy in texture and tone and rougher as a result of sun damage, you may want to look into a chemical peel. Some doctors will recommend that instead of a peel vs IPL, you do multiple treatments of both procedures.

It's difficult for me to determine what would give you the best results without seeing a photos or conducting a physical exam. However, it's great you’re addressing these issues now, before you get older, as the severity of youthful sun-damaged skin takes longer to address in your later years. It’s also best that you are looking to do these procedures in the winter months, when the weather and shortness of daylight limit your sun exposure. (Ask your doctor how long the treatments should be spaced out for best results -- 3 to 4 weeks is the norm). Once you’re satisfied with the results of the procedure(s), you'll need to be consistent with your skin care and load up on the sunscreen when you go outside.

In my practice, we are using Forever Young BBL (a type of IPL) more and more over chemical peels for sun damage - because it has less downtime.  Both work for sun damage but have different strong suits.

IPL works best on the sun spots and with the Forever Young protocol - it has been been shown in studies at stanford to improve aging of the skins texture and color.

Chemical peels can be different strengths - the mild peels help acne and texture with minimal downtime but have limited help on sunspots.  The medium and deeper peels have much more results but at a cost of much more downtime.

Darker skin patients, acne patients, patients with melasma or post-inflammatory pigmentation are better for peels.  Lighter skin patients with sun damage that want less downtime are better for IPL.

So overall, both peels and IPL would be good - choose the treatment that matches your desired results and downtime. 

Ken Oleszek, MD

La Fontaine Aesthetics

Denver, Colorado 

Chemical peels are generally more effective but also a little more downtime.