My IPL Photofacial Experience
Procedure specific satisfaction rating
I’m 34 years old and one day I looked in the mirror before work seeing my face in an entirely different light (or maybe better light) – there were new brown spots in places I didn’t remember and my skin just looked dull…dare I say, somewhat lifeless. When did this happen? How did this happen?. Even though I was usually able to cover my blotches and dark spots with makeup, I wanted to get back (or try to get back) to the way my face looked when I was younger. After all, who wouldn’t want to do a quick run to the grocery store without having to apply layers of makeup? I don’t know about you, but whenever I did that, I always ran into someone that I hadn’t seen in a while and was thinking “I bet they think I’m a total mess now…or are saying in their heads ‘wow, she really aged’.”
I have some freckles on my face, and like many of you, I probably spent too much time in the sun without sunblock or didn’t re-apply it after I went swimming or was outside for a while, which also caused the dreaded sun spots that appeared out of nowhere. Of course, now I load-up my skin with sunblock every day dreading the effects of both sun damage and the possibility of skin cancer.
Knowing that I wanted (or felt like I needed) to treat myself to a refreshed look, I started researching procedures online. Researching topics like this is so much easier nowadays. You can read up on procedures and see videos on YouTube that take you through the options available and the procedures themselves. A lot of people show their before and after images and can explain how things felt, how much they cost, and why they chose one treatment over another. And, I did come across a lot of different options, from DIY home treatments, to creams sold online, to a variety of in-office procedures done in a dermatologist or plastic surgeon’s office. The in-office procedures that came up most often for treating dark marks were chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and the IPL photofacial treatments. Microdermabrasion has been around for a while and it works to improve the skin through exfoliation and therefore peels off dead cells from the surface layer. Chemical peels have been around even longer and use an acid solution to remove the damaged outer layers of the skin. Depending on the acid solution used, the strengths of chemical peels can range in intensity from a light or superficial to deep, thus ranging in their results, risks, and downtime. Both procedures come with no to limited downtime and require more than one visit to achieve the results you want.
After doing my homework, I decided to visit a couple of board-certified dermatologists to discuss my skin and the most appropriate course of action. Based on the research I did at home, I went to my consultations thinking they would likely talk to me about various creams (like retin-a and hydroquinone), washes, and procedures – and they all did just that, concluding with their recommendations specifically for me.
Both of the dermatologists that I met with recommended photo facials (specifically IPL, which stands for intense pulsed light therapy) over the other treatments. Photorejuvenation, one of the doctors told me, was good for my skin type and to fix the dark marks, as some skin treatments are not good for all skin tones. The other doctor told me that people sometimes confuse IPL treatments with laser treatments like Fraxel, however, IPL uses non-laser, high-intensity wavelength light, not a single light wavelength which is considered a laser. The doctor explained that the light impulses from the handheld device touches the targeted skin cells and the light turns into heat, therefore destroying the cells you want to get rid of. Of course, everybody’s skin is different, so you should make sure you and the doctor you’re working with choose the treatment that is best for your specific concerns and situation. I decided to work with one dermatologist because I felt like she could relate to me better than the other, not for any specific reason I could pinpoint, but it was definitely reassuring that both experienced doctors came to the same conclusions for helping me fix my skin. I was told I would have between 2 and 4 treatments before the spots would be completely gone and the treatments would be done about a month apart. Each time I would have to pay $300 per session, which didn’t surprise me after I had looked into how much I would likely have to spend to get a good result. It was most important to me to find someone who was experienced at doing this procedure, has a lot of before and after photos for me to review, and was willing to offer a patient liaison who has undergone the procedure within their group I could talk to if I wanted their perspective.
I went on a Friday afternoon for my first session, thinking that if there was some awful side effect, I would at least have a few days to hide. Spoiler alert: I did have some red spots from where the IPL was used and the old blotches / spots started to flake off within a week or so, but there was nothing too unsightly and I was able to hide what I wanted to with makeup.
The dermatologist herself did not do the procedure. Rather a technician, who’d been working with the doctor for over ten years worked on me. The technician took a few photos of my skin so that she could have a set of before photos. She first gave me a facial cleansing to wash my skin of any products or oils, then applied a numbing gel on the targeted areas and put an eye mask over my eyes (similar to what you might see used in a tanning salon).
The light pulse, or zapping as I called it, did hurt a bit. You commonly hear about the pain associated with cosmetic procedures such as these as a rubber band snapping on your skin – and that’s exactly what it felt like! The first one made me jump, not so much from the rubber band snapping sensation, but more from the surprise of the zap. However, once the first pulse was over and I knew what to expect, I settled in for what would be about a 30 minute procedure. During the IPL procedure the technician continually asked me how I was doing, if I wanted to continue, etc. and reapplied the numbing gel a couple of times. The technician told me while she was doing the procedure that IPL can also be used on other areas of the body, like your chest (maybe you have dark spots on your chest from when you wore V-neck shirts) – information I filed away for the future should I need more help with other areas of body.
The technician cleaned me up and I went home with little post-treatment instructions other than wearing sunblock constantly and not picking anything that may flake off. From that point over the next week or so I had some very minor swelling in a few areas, but used an ice pack a couple of times – the swelling was only noticeable on day one and was gone. There was some redness on my face for a few hours after the treatment and I was told beforehand that it’s very normal. The dark spots got a little darker which I would have freaked out about if I wasn’t warned beforehand that this too was going to likely happen for about a week before they faded. Then the spots crusted over and began to flake, which took about a week to clear up.
Overall, the procedure was only a few sessions and after the 3rd the pesky brown marks were gone! I don’t know how they snuck up on me so quickly, but I was happy to see them gone and to be done with the process. Now I’m definitely not worried about running into an old high school friend or the mother of an ex-boyfriend at the supermarket without makeup.