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Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Photofacials

Massachusetts Dermatology Associates offers its patients on the North Shore MA IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) Photofacials with the Palomar ICON MaxG IPL.    This light-based device is effective in reducing red and brown discoloration on the face and thereby accomplishes photorejuvenation.  The redness reduction is also desirable for patients looking for an effective rosacea treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions (Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Photofacials)

Who should consider IPL treatment with the Palomar Icon Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)?

Those with a desire for a minimally invasive procedure to improve the following conditions:

  • Sun damage treatment  (e.g. pigment changes, mild textural irregularity)
  • Brown spot treatment  (e.g. freckle treatment, hyperpigmentation treatment)
  • Red spot treatment (e.g. facial veins treatment, ruddy skin treatment, rosacea treatment, angioma treatment)

Is MassDerm’s IPL different than IPLs I may find in other offices?

Yes.  MassDerm uses the latest technology from Cynosure called the Palomar ICON MaxG™.  This new technology is such a dramatic improvement over older systems that many call it “OPL” (Optimized Pulsed Light) rather than “IPL” (Intense Pulsed Light).  Highlights of this new patented technology include Smooth Pulse™ which allows for significantly higher energy output of the device. Compared to other leading IPL brands, the Palomar ICON OPL/IPL is the most powerful unit that is commercially available.  It also has Advanced Contact Cooling™, which keeps the temperature of the tip of the device at 5 degrees Celsius for enhanced comfort and safety during your IPL treatment.  The patented Skintel Melanin Reader used before the treatment measures the amount of pigment in the skin in order to optimize treatment safety and efficacy.

What visible results can I expect from IPL treatment?

  • Improvement in skin color/tone resulting from sun damage, brown spots (freckles, lentigines), and redness (facial veins, ruddy skin, and rosacea)
  • NOTE: The IPL does not “erase” the above conditions but often results in significant improvement.

Who should not get IPL treatment?

Those with a desire for a single treatment session that completely corrects their concern may be disappointed with the gradual improvement achieved with a series of (often 4-6) IPL treatments. Additionally, patients who have had significant sun exposure or have used self-tanning products less than 4 weeks before their scheduled treatment or who plan for significant sun exposure in the two weeks after treatment should reschedule.  Patients who are pregnant and those who have been treated with Accutane (isotretinoin) within the past 6 months should not undergo IPL treatment.

How does the IPL work?

  • The Palomar Icon Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) device is the newest generation of intense pulsed light devices.  During your IPL treatment, selected wavelengths of light are delivered to the skin, targeting both hemoglobin (blood vessels) and melanin (hyperpigmentation).
  • Since the outer layer of skin (stratum corneum) is left intact, the treatment does NOT create open wounds and there is little to no downtime.

What areas can I have treated?

In most cases, for photorejuvenation and rosacea treatment, the IPL treatment is applied to the face.   However, IPL treatment can be applied to most areas of the body including the face, chest, arms, and hands.

What are the side effects?

There is little to no downtime. While most patients tolerate IPL treatment very well, there is often mild discomfort.  You can expect some redness, warmth, swelling, or tightness in the treated area, which usually fades within a few hours of treatment but in rare cases can last several days.  Light peeling/flaking can occur in some patients 2-3 days post-treatment (DO NOT PICK/RUB/SCRATCH).   When treating pigmentation (brown/age spots) it can take 7-10 days for the darkened areas (resembling “coffee grounds”) to self-exfoliate  (DO NOT PICK).    Blistering or acne flares after treatment is rare but can occur.   There is also a risk of (usually temporary, but rarely permanent) darkening or lightening of skin or hair loss in treated areas, particularly in patients who do not adhere to strict sun protection.  Although scarring and infection is a possibility with any medical treatment, the chance of such an occurrence happening with the IPL very low.   Eye protection is necessary to prevent eye injury.  Make-up can be used to mask discoloration caused by the procedure.  Most patients who have this procedure to their face for photorejuvenation or rosacea treatment are ready to go back to work the same day or next day.

How many IPL treatment sessions will I need, and how long will the effects last?

For photorejuvenation and rosacea treatment, on average 4-6 IPL treatments are needed to achieve desired effects, spaced at 3-4 week intervals.   Visible improvement usually becomes apparent after 1-2 sessions.  The results are often long-lasting but the duration depends in large part on sun protection practices.   You may require maintenance IPL treatments (1-2 times per year) to continue enjoying the results.

Is treatment with the IPL ever combined with other treatments?

Very often IPL treatment is combined with the Lux 1540 (fractional laser) to offer synergistic treatment that results in maximal color and textural improvements (see scientific paper for rationale). Ask your dermatology provider about this combination.

How shall I prepare for my IPL treatment?

If you have a history of cold sores (oral herpes), you may be prescribed an antiviral medication to start taking the day before your IPL treatment. Avoid the use of topical retinoids (e.g. tretinion) for 1 week prior.  Do not get any significant sun exposure in the 4 weeks before your treatment session.  Shave any hair present in the area to be treated. Men should shave the beard area twice in succession in order to ensure as close a shave as possible.  Be aware that there is a possibility of incidental hair loss when treating pigmented lesions in hair-bearing areas.   On the day of IPL treatment, please try to arrive with clean skin (the treatment area free of any makeup or lotions).   Wear comfortable clothes to your appointment.

What is the IPL procedure like?

You will sit reclined on a chair and the IPL operator will apply light pulses over your skin in a series of passes. A cool gel will be applied to the area to be treated.  You will feel a “snapping sensation.”  Please let us know if you are feeling pain instead of tolerable discomfort.  You will be given goggles to wear during treatment (even with the goggle you might see/feel flashes of bright lights, which is normal).  The treatment usually lasts approximately 20-30 min per body area treated.

What can I expect and what shall I do after the IPL procedure?

  • Immediately after your IPL treatment a cold pack is placed over the treatment area to help reduce any redness and swelling followed by application of a moisturizing sunscreen. During the first 24 hours after treatment, your skin will experience a wide range of changes.  This will vary from feeling mildly sunburned, sensitive, warm, swollen or even tight.  In some people the skin may also appear pink or red.  Avoid hot tubs, whirlpools, saunas and excessive sweating for 24-48 hours or until the redness has subsided.  Some “puffiness” around the treated area may linger on for a few days.  Cool washcloths are helpful at home to reduce post-procedure discomfort.   A deeply moisturizing product will also be helpful during this time period.  Since the skin surface is left intact and undamaged there will be no oozing or open areas.   You may shower the day of your treatment.  Do not scrub or exfoliate skin and gently pat your skin dry.  Do not use skin exfoliants, retinols, tretinoin, alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA’s), or bleaching creams during the first 2 weeks after treatment.    Make-up can be applied to cover any noticeable skin changes. We strongly suggest that you remain completely out of the sun for the first 48 hours.
  • For IPL treatments targeting pigmented lesions (sunspots, freckles, and age spots) the brown spots will gradually darken over the next 24 to 48 hours. These dark lesions will start to flake away leaving you with clearer skin. For vascular conditions (capillaries, red spots, rosacea) swelling and inflammation will be present and bruise-like symptoms may also appear which are expected to resolve within 3 to 4 days. It is important to not pick, scratch or remove scabs to avoid unwanted side effects.
  • During the first two weeks after IPL treatment (and in between treatments) it is very important to minimize sun exposure and avoid tanning creams. If you choose to be outside, use sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and broad spectrum UVA protection.   Sun exposure in this period of time may cause longstanding (sometimes permanent) hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation.  Even after finishing your IPL treatments, we recommend that you continue to use SPF 30 or higher on a daily basis as part of your regular ongoing skincare routine.

Is the IPL a laser treatment? What is more effective, laser or IPL?

IPL and lasers have many similarities.   They both use pulsed light to target specific components of the skin in order to achieve a desired results.   The principal difference is that while lasers emit only one wavelength of light in each pulse, IPLs emit several wavelenghts (a spectrum) of light in every pulse.   For IPL, the wavelengths of light emitted are determined by filters which exclude certain wavelengths and allow other wavelengths to pass through onto a patient’s skin.

Lasers and IPL each have strengths and weaknesses and the choice of device depends on the treatment goal.

1) Skin discoloration:   We prefer the IPL device to competing laser devices for correcting brown spots and red spots for several reasons:

  • The IPL (with MaxG handpiece) treats BOTH brown and red discoloration at the same time.   There is no need for separate treatments, as there would be for a laser.
  • For treatment of red discoloration (rosacea, broken blood vessels, etc.) there is data showing that our Palomar ICON IPL (with MaxG handpiece) is at least equivalent to the most reputable laser on the market with less bruising.  The IPL may also be less painful for patients than laser.  See document describing these studies.
  • For treating the brown spots of photoaging, we find the results of the IPL to be equivalent if not better than competing lasers and treatment sessions tend to be shorter and more comfortable.
  • Cost.  IPL treatment is almost always going to be more affordable than laser treatment since lasers are more costly to maintain.

2) Skin textural irregularity

  • While IPL treatment can lead to subtle skin textural improvement, a fractional non-ablative laser such as our Palomar Lux 1540 is the device of choice for improvement of fine lines, scars (including acne scars), and stretch marks.

3) Hair removal

  • There are certain IPL handpieces that are optimized for hair removal.  Some of these devices are quite effective, but we typically recommend laser hair removal over IPL hair removal.


– We see many patients with facial discoloration. Most of the time this is either due to brown spots, lentigines, or red spots, telangiectasias that have grown over time as a result of sun exposure. There are also many patients with rosacea, who have persistent facial redness. Usually the problem is that these discolorations make patients feel less attractive and, in the case of sun damage, may make them feel older. This is such a common concern that we wanted to have a solution at Massachusetts Dermatology Associates that was state of the art. After extensively researching the available devices, we decided to invest in the Palomar Icon because Palomar IPL has been respect as a top quality machine for many years, and the Icon, which came out recently, incorporates the newest IPL technology, including the ability to provide a very high level of power to get dramatic results. So, how does this system work? Rather than a laser, which emits only one wavelength of light, the Palomar Icon IPL has special filters which allow the device to emit several wavelengths that are optimized to help remove brown pigmentation by targeting melanin, and it removes red discoloration by destroying superficial capillaries. This is accomplished in a few sessions, usually ranging from two to six sessions spaced approximately four weeks apart. So, what would you expect to experience after the treatment is complete? Rarely, patients may have a few days of facial redness and slight flaking or swelling. But, many patients experience little or no downtime, and can even do this treatment at lunch time and get back to work in the afternoon. Why would patients do this treatment with a dermatologist, rather than at a spa? Two words: safety and efficacy. At Massachusetts Dermatology Associates, a dermatologist wilL make sure the device settings are safe and maximally effective. Additionally, certain types of brown spots won’t respond to this type of laser treatment, and a dermatologist can help patients understand these limitations. The first most common question we get about this treatment is, what does it cost? Unlike many lasers which have expensive disposable parts, we’re able to offer the IPL at a lower cost than many other laser treatments. The second most common question from patients is what they should do before and after the treatment. The most important thing is that they should have practiced strict sun protection for four weeks before and after the treatment. Sun protection is the best thing that patients can do to prevent the unlikely event of hyperpigmentation, or darkening of the skin, or hypopigmentation, which is lightening of the skin. Sun protection all year round can also help to lock in your gains from this or any laser treatment. So, if you’re looking for a safe treatment for light-induced aging or facial redness, the Palomar Icon IPL system at Massachusetts Dermatology Associates may give you what you’re looking for.

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