IPL: Trade Sunlight for Pulse Light

Referred by some as a Photofacial, IPL, short for Intense Pulsed Light, is a treatment that uses broad-spectrum light to address and reverse signs of discoloration. IPL treats overall sun damage and brown spots, as well as improves the appearance of rosacea, and telangiectasias (broken/dilated blood vessels near the skin’s surface).  

What Are IPL lasers?

While IPL treatments are widely recognized as a type of laser, it really is a high-intensity light, not a laser. The difference? Lasers emit a single wavelength of coherent light energy whereas IPL devices emit multiple wavelengths of high-intensity light, ranging from 500 to 1,300 nm. Because of the range of wavelengths, IPL has multiple possible targets (blood vessels, pigment) and can be used to treat multiple issues.

The coolest part of IPL is that it penetrates the dermis (aka the second layer of skin) without harming the epidermis. Because of this, visible adverse side effects are less likely to occur. 

The Benefits of an IPL Treatment

  • Improves the appearance of dark spots

  • Reduces the appearance of rosacea

  • Lessens the appearance of broken capillaries

  • Evens skin tone

IPL is able to treat various skin issues using the same device by applying different cut-off filters. This versatility makes IPL such an appealing treatment because you are on your way to an even complexion in about 30 minutes with minimal downtime. 

How to Prepare for an IPL Laser Treatment

Since IPL treatments target pigment, we advise against prolonged sun exposure, allowing the skin to tan, for two weeks prior to your treatment. Please avoid applying self-tanner prior to treatment. Additionally, stop all retinoid use for at least 3 days prior to treatment.

What to Expect

IPL appointments typically take between 20 to 45 minutes (photos, consent, skin prep, etc.) The actual IPL procedure usually takes 10 to 15 minutes. More than one treatment may be needed to achieve desired results. Treatments are spaced four to six weeks apart.

Side Effects:

The most common side effects are swelling and short-term redness (24 to 48 hours following treatment).

Many will also see a darkening of the targeted pigment that will form coffee ground looking patches on the skin’s surface. This will come off in about  5 to 10 days. BUT be sure not to pick at them. 

Do note* IPL is not recommended for patients with darker skin tones. This is because the laser targets pigment. When the energy from the laser targets the melanin in the skin, deeper-toned patients are at risk for developing hyperpigmentation. 


Your skin will be sensitive post treatment. We recommend using a gentle cleanser with cool water for 5 to 7 days post treatment (we like Biologiques’ Lait U).  Avoid products containing benzoyl peroxide, Retin-A, Retinol, or glycolic acid for about 5 to 7 days post treatment. Avoid prolonged sun exposure for 2 weeks post treatment. 

If any blood vessels are treated, for best results, we ask patients to avoid working out for 48 hours post treatment. Lastly, keep your skin moisturized and load up on SPF. Some great options post treatment: Creme Verte Espoir, Masque Creme Vernix, Dermo-RL, and EltaMD Clear for SPF. 

Our thoughts

IPL is hands-down terrific. It is a “go to” treatment for our team here at Complexion. If you have noticed dark spots accumulate over the years and/or feel like your skin is blotchy and red with noticeable superficial blood vessels, then IPL is a perfect treatment for you! 

If you are just starting your skin care journey or wondering whether a laser treatment, such as IPL, is your best treatment choice, feel free to schedule a cosmetic consult with one of our providers to answer all your questions.

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