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Laser Burns: What to do when you have been burned by an aesthetic laser or IPL.

I have been getting a lot of emails from people all over the world that have received burns from an aesthetic laser or IPL (photofacial) treatments. I should clarify, that these are not people that have been treated by me. The question I am always asked is “what should I do to treat laser burns?” I can’t really give an accurate treatment protocol without seeing someone in person. What I will do, is tell you what I usually recommend to clients I have seen that have been burned. I also want to explain why burns occur.

How to tell if you have been burned?

It’s Hot
It is normal for skin to feel hot during laser and IPL treatments, but you should expect the skin to cool down quickly. Your laser technician can give you an idea how long you should expect the skin to feel hot. For example if you are having a laser hair removal treatment or a photofacial, your skin should cool down almost immediately. It should feel something like a hot rubberband snap, without any lingering pain or heat. If it feels extremely hot and is not cooling down you should alert your technician as they are doing the treatment. This will allow the technician to adjust the treatment settings. The technician can also take immediate action to cool the skin and possibly prevent a burn, or reduce the severity.

If you suspect that you have been burned, be sure to discuss it with your Esthetician or Laser Technician before you leave the office. Make sure you understand what to expect and how to treat your skin at home. Schedule an appointment for a post treatment follow-up, and never hesitate to call the office if you have questions or concerns.

Usually, you will know almost immediately if you have a burn. In some cases however, the skin may not feel that hot until you go home. As soon as you suspect a burn, you should call your and speak to the laser technician.

If you are not satisfied or confidant with the post -treatment care you are receiving from the laser technician, ask to speak to the medical directer. Hopefully, there is a doctor is the office. If you have gone to a med-spa chain, there may be a medical directer for several locations. You should first make every attempt to work with the staff at the clinic where the laser treatment was provided. If you are not satisfied with the level of care, then seek a second opinion. You want to get professional treatment as soon as possible. Information provided here or anywhere on the internet can not replace personal treatment by a skin professional.

I have a burn, now what?

The recommended treatment for burns, will depend on the degree of the burn. In most cases a burn from an aesthetic laser is a first degree burn. Second degree burns can also occur from laser treatments and third degree burns are not likely. If you suspect that you have been burned severely and find the pain intolerable or if the burn covers a large portion of the body, you may want to go to the emergency room. In most cases, it is not necessary to make a trip to the emergency room, however in rare cases you may need some medical attention. Be sure to let the laser technician know as soon as possible. They should be aware so they can review the treatment settings used and asses if there is an issue with the equipment. They should have you return to the clinic as soon as posable, so that they can give you post treatment instructions. You may also be scheduled to see the doctor or a nurse if necessary. It is the patients responsibility to communicate with the provider, return to the clinic for post treatment visits, and follow post treatment instructions.

First-Aid Tips:
Actual first aid treatment will depend on the type of burn.
– Cool the skin as quickly as possible (within the first few hours). This is critical!
– While driving home after the treatment, aim the air conditioner toward the treated area if possible.
– When you get home soak a washcloth in a bowl of ice water, ring out the excess water and apply the cold wash cloth to the treated area. Switch out the cold cloths every couple minuets. When you feel the wash cloth become warm, it is the time to switch it out.
– Do not apply ice directly to the skin, and do not leave cold packs on the skin for an extended period of time. On for ten minuets, off for ten minuets.
– Do not apply an occlusive ointments such as aquaphor or vasaline, unless instructed by your laser technician or doctor, as it can trap in the heat. After the skin has had time to cool, and the skin begins to heal you may then be instructed to use an ointment to protect the skin.
– Do not open or pop blisters. Opening the blisters will make the area more vulnerable to infection
– It may be recommended to loosely wrap the area in gauze
– You can apply a topical hydrocortisone cream and/or antibiotic cream to the burn.
– Watch the skin for sighns of infection

After the burns have healed:
Once the burns have healed, the concern becomes how to treat and prevent scars. The most important thing you can do is protect the area from further injury, this includes avoiding sun exposure. Be sure to use a Physical SPF 35 or higher with Zinc Oxide. You can also prevent and treat hyper pigmentation ( dark skin discoloration) by using a 4% Hydroquinone cream and Tretinoin (Retin-A). Topical Serums that contain Vitamin – C , and products with growth factors (TNS Recovery Complex) can aid in collagen production, improve skin healing and reduce inflammation. If the burn marks are old you may need something like a medium depth chemical peel, to treat the scars.

The Obagi Nu-derm system is your best bet for treating scars or hyperpigmentation from burns, it incorporates the use of prescription strength Hydroquinone and Tretinoin. This is a prescription strength skin care line, available at many dermatology and plastic surgery offices. The treatment protocol is patient specific and a skin care professional will determine the best way for you to use these products. If you have had a recent burn it may be suggested that you skip the use of some products such as the Exfoderm. I usually recommend using a 1/2 gram of the Clear AM and PM, and mixing a 1/2 gram of the Blender with a 1/2 gram of Tretinoin. The strength of Tretinoin and frequency is something that needs to be determined after a personal consultation. Non-facial areas such as the neck, chest, hands and arms are treated differently than facial areas, this is another reason you need to be seen for a follow-up.


Skin Medica’s TNS Recovery Complex has a potent growth factor blend that strengthens the skin’s natural ability to regenerate itself. Although this product is not specifically indicated in treating burns, in my experience it seems to aid in healing. I was in a car accident and the air bag left me with several abrasions and burns. The areas that I treated with TNS seemed to heal much quicker. I use this product any time I am trying to improve skin healing, and it never disappoints.

The top ingredient in TNS Recovery Complex is Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media (TNS®) → A physiologically balanced, naturally secreted and stabilized combination of multiple human growth factors, cytokines and natural proteins responsible for the production of collagen and other extracellular matrix proteins.


Obagi-C Rx contains a patented combination of 4% hydroquinone and 10% Vitamin C. It reaches the dermal layers of skin to address discolorations and has powerful antioxidant therapy. The vitamin-C will also help reduce inflammation.


Is Clinical Pro Heal is a vitamin serum with a 15% Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin A. It also has 0.5% kojic acid that evens skin pigmentation. It has soothing and healing properties and reduces inflammation. Pro Heal is recommended for treating sunburns, rosacea and insect bites.


Is Clinical Hydro-Cool Serum contains Hyaluronic Acid ,Vitamin B5, Kojic Acid and Menthol. It is a hydrating serum that calms cools and soothes irritated skin. You can use this product alone or add it to another product.

Why you may have got burned

There are several variables that can lead to laser and IPL burns. One of the most common reasons, is that the skin is tan at the time of treatment. It’s important to understand that IPL and all lasers are absorbed by a specific chromophor. In many cases the targeted chromophor is color. We want the energy to be absorbed by the color in hemoglobin to target blood vessels and the color in melanin when targeting unwanted hair or skin discolorations such as freckles. When your skin is tan at the time of treatment, the energy is not just absorbed by the intended target, it is also absorbed by the surrounding tissue as well. Tan or dark skin will hold on to more heat, resulting in a burn. This is also a concern for skin of color. People with darker skin tones need to be careful to go to a skin professional that understands how to treat their skin type. This is not to say that if you have dark skin you are not a candidate for laser, however there are some lasers that are more appropriate for dark skin. It may also be recommended to precondition skin in advance.

Machine Malfunction
I don’t find machine malfunction to be a common reason that laser burns occur, however it does happen. In my opinion some of the most severe burns are a result of a problem with the equipment. I believe that this can be hard to prove, because the laser manufactures are not likely to admit any fault.

Technician Error
In some cases the technician performing the treatment may be at fault. Technician error is a growing cause of laser burns, simply because the industry is growing. There are a large volume of new laser technicians entering the industry. Some of these new technicians will be knowledgable and talented, unfortunately a greater number will not. A “good” laser technician needs to have a good understanding of laser technology and skin. This comes with experience and continued education. Not all lasers work exactly the same, so a laser technician needs training for each laser they work with. The more experiance a technician has with lasers in general as well as a specific laser will reduce the posability that thier clients will be burned. In addition to understanding the technology being used, the technician should understand how skin will react and determine if someone is a good candidate for treatment. They should also determine if someone needs to precondition their skin before treatment and what is a good post treatment protocol. Keep in mind that even the best laser technician can encounter an unexpected complication, and burns are an inherit risk of laser and IPL treatments.

I can not stress enough the importance of going to a qualified, experianced laser technician with a good repution.

You Play A Role
Nobody wants to hear that they have some responsibility, but in many cases it is the ugly truth. I don’t think anyone deserves to have a burn or complication and I am sincerely sorry when it happens. However, everyone should except the role they play in their treatment. For example, you should not be tan when you have a laser treatment. It is the patients responsibility to inform the laser technician if they have had ANY sun exposure or even spray tan to the treated area. Patients are also expected to inform the laser technician of any medication or skin care products they are using. You also need to communicate with the laser technician during and after the treatment, and let them know what you are feeling. Be sure to follow all pre and post treatment instructions, such as avoiding heat and sun exposure. If you don’t follow the pre and post treatment instructions, you run the risk of a complication.You play an active part in your own treatment, and that begins with choosing a qualified and experienced laser technician. If you chose to go to a specific med-spa based on price or location, you should understand the risk involved.

Burns and other complications are an inherit risk of aesthetic and laser treatments, you should understand and except all risks before you consent to treatment. You should also understand that additional products or treatment may be needed at an additional cost to you. It is important that you communicate with your laser technician and return to the clinic for follow-up visits.

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www.bestofbothworldsaz.com

4:18 pm - Posted by Kristy

32 Responses to “Laser Burns: What to do when you have been burned by an aesthetic laser or IPL.”

  1. Abrar says:

    good day>
    I was burned 3monthes ago. I treated the burn well but it left a mark.
    The burned area is darker than the surrounding. what can I do to make it disappear?

    • Kristy says:

      I am sorry you were burned. The dark marks left after a burn are called Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH). You should find a reputable skin clinic that offers the Obagi Nu-derm system. I can’t give more specific recommendations with out seeing you. There are also chemical peels that can speed up the correction process, but I usually suggest a peel in combination with something like Obagi Nu-derm. I like the perfect peel for (PIH)

    • Kristy says:

      How did you treat the area? What did your treating laser tech suggest?

  2. Tracy says:

    I had a photofacial ipl yesterday. My face and neck look exactly like the picture on top that is posted. What do you recommend. It’s not burning any more. I used the blender for a few hours today. And then I got scared and washed it off until I ask someone. But I need these places gone. I can’t keep hiding in the house. They are all over my neck and face just like the picture above buy many more In the shape of a rectangle. I look like a monster. This brown needs to be removed as soon as possible. What is the fastest products to use to fade or loose the brown rectangles all over face and neck?

    • Kristy says:

      Tracy, I hope you retuned to see your laser technician. Try to not panic, these types of marks are almost always corrected if treated. I usually like to use the TNS Recovery Complex, also a topical Vitamin-C serum. If the skin is not oozing or raw, then you may be able to start hydroquinone & tretinoin. It is important that you avoid sun exposure and heat. With that said I can not give you any real advice with out seeing you in person, so please follow up with your laser technician for proper care.

  3. Bec says:

    I have recently had a treatment on my Brazilian area and have realised (a day later) that I know have dark spotting around my inner thighs and above the pubic region.
    Can you recommended some where in Sydney as to get the proper treatment (products above)

    • Kristy says:

      I do not know anyplace in Sydney, sorry. You will most likely need to go to a dermatology office. Have you tried any of the thing recomended in this post?

  4. Bec says:

    I have recently had a treatment on my Brazilian area and have realised. (the day after) burn marks ony inner thigh and above the Pubic region.
    Can you recommend what product would best heal this. They have turned into darkish spots and I am hoping I can remove at least most of the markings.
    I have been doing this for almost a year now and this is the first time it has happened.
    Please help

  5. Heena says:

    Hi,
    Your website is very helpful.
    I have been burnt over 3 months ago and when I was burnt all I did was put an ice pack on myself for a few hours non stop, as advised from the technician. I was told in 3 months, I would be better but 3 months on I’m still not even half way recovered, my skin is still a different colour, some colour has come back but seems to have just stopped. I still have dis coloured marks and starting to have red small spots growing on the scars. Please can you give me any advice?
    Any advice is greatly appreciated.
    Heena.

    • Kristy says:

      sorry that you were burned. Have you tried any of the topical treatments we recommend ?

    • Kristy says:

      I would consult with someone that does IPL or vascular laser treatment, they would need to asses you in person, but you may benefit from an IPL treatment. If your spots are dark, that is an easy fix, if they are white that is harder. You should ask your practitioner about blending with a topical tretinoin to even the distribution of melanocytes to the keratinocytes (they will know what that means). What have you done with topical creams so far?

  6. Crystal says:

    Hello,
    I would really appreciate advice. I received a second degree burn on my nose after being treated for nose veins. This has been a truly horrific and emotional time. I had a blister and then a big red oozing wound on my face. It was so red for about three months. My practicioner started giving me ipl treatments on the hyperpigmentation, but it is still dark and red. I have been using a retinol cream and vitamin c serum. Can you make any other suggestions for me. I have also been exfoliating with a facial brush when I cleanse.

    • Kristy says:

      I am sorry for your experience, sometimes this can happen when treating veins. I would continue to follow -up with your practitioner. I would recommend you ask them to prescribe you Retin-A (tretinoin) and a 4% hydroquinone cream such as obagi clear. I think the vitamin C- serum is a good choice and an SPF 30 or higher with Zinc oxide 7% or higher. Be patient, it will improve with proper care and time. If you do not see correction after 6 weeks of treatment with creams, you may also want to consider a light-medium depth chemical peel ( Perfect Peel with booster or Standard Blue Peel) You may also need additional IPL treatments for redness, but I would start topical creams first. . Please follow up and let us know how things are progressing.

    • Kristy says:

      I am sorry that happened to you. I know from a technician point of view it is easy to cause a burn treating veins, they can blister easy. Honestly, it sounds like your practitioner is doing the appropriate treatments, I would also do IPL and topical vitamin -C. I find that prescription strength Retin-A (tretinoin) is better than retinol. Try to get a lot of vitamin -C and other antioxidants via diet too.

      I would also tell you to use a Physical SPF with Zinc, chemical sunscreens can be irritating, plus the zinc oxide will help block out some of the heat which can cause vessels to dilate. A 4% hydroquinone cream will help correct and prevent hyper pigmentation. I am also a big fan of Skin Medica’s TNS Recovery complex for wound healing, especially burns, its expensive but you can use it to spot treat the area, it is worth it. It may sound counter productive, but the products can also cause redness (temporary), inflammation is an important part of the skins wound healing process.

      Please, let us know how things progress.

  7. bonny says:

    I had took laser treatment for reducing pigment in both my cheek but it become darker than before.Its been 4weeks since i’ve done it and once only

    • Kristy says:

      hyperpigmentation can be a risk of any skin treatment that causes inflammation, laser treatments are more likely to do this over chemical peels and topical applications, especially if you are prone to pigment (as it sounds like you are). It does not necessarily mean that your treatment was done poorly, however laser is not my first choice for treating hyper pigmentation. I generally recommend treating topicaly with retina-A, hydroquinone first, then if needed chemical peels. The exceptions would be freckls and sun spots respond well to IPL (photo facial) and more resistant “age spots” may need to be treated with Photodynamic therapy (PDT) or laser resurfacing. At any rate with all options come with risk and daily use of topical products or needed to reduce risk. The good news is that the pigment can be corrected and the laser treatment increased collagen, so something good did come from it. I would suggest you ask your provider to put you on something like Obagi Nu-durm or ZO with tretinoin to correct the pigment on your cheek. Good luck! let us know how it goes.

  8. moh says:

    I have been burnt over 3 weeks ago against genital warts (as the doctot said) he told it will never leave scars on penalbut now it left hell scars, there is any treatment. i have read in internet about some creams like contractubex or bebanthen, is that useful ?

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  15. Jee says:

    Hello
    In my case I have some freckle on my face which not a cute one so I decide to do laser treatment, but I can’t remember laser’s name. This laser goes deep into the skin( face ) and it will heal within 7 day.
    Because freckle on my face is quite deep I took it four time ( every two weeks) and after that, the area on my face that I have laser treatment become dark inside the skin, I ask the doctor and he said don’t worry it will be better and I continue to go to talk with him every two weeks and he always say the same thing
    I just only have to wait, time past about 6 months my face seen to be better but it’s still worse than before I have this treatment. It’s like bad dream to me, and now I still concern that my face will be good as it used to be or not
    I really want to know that the darkness which occure from laser will disappear itself or not, or what I can do to treat my face or any treatment can help me

    :( Since I take freckle laser treatment I don’t want to go any where or meet people because I’m too shy to face people

    Could you pleas suggest me????
    Thanks so much for your kindly

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