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Photofacial: Understand the Benefits of IPL


Photofacial is one of the most popular treatments for skin rejuvenation and with good reason. Photofacial can treat a variety of skin conditions including skin discolorations and redness, but with all the different light devices and treatment names being used there is a lot of confusion about this versatile treatment.

What can be treated with IPL.

Photofacial uses Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), which is well absorbed by chromophores that have color such as melanin and hemoglobin (think red and brown). It works best for brown spots and vascular skin conditions. IPL treatments can help stimulate collagen production, can kill acne causing bacteria and some IPL devices can also be used for hair removal.
The most common conditions treated with IPL include:
- Rosacea
– Broken capillaries
– Flushing/ Facial redness
– Sun damage/Age spots
– Melasma
– Freckles
– Brown Spots

What is in a name?

Photofacial is a photo rejuvenation treatment that uses Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) technology. Photofacial is known by many different names with a variety of spellings including: PhotoFacial, Fotofacial, FotoFacial RF, Photo-Rejuvenation, Photoderm, BBL or simply IPL. These are essentially all the same thing, however some names may be trademarked, associated with a specific device or a developed treatment protocol. Dr. Patrick Bitter, Sr. developed the procedure PotoFacialSM in 1988 and Dr. Bitter Jr., is the developer of the FotoFacial™ and PhotoFacial™. BBL is Sciton’s trademarked name for their IPL machine, which is said to be the most powerful IPL device. You do not need to be overly concerned with the name being used to describe an IPL treatment, instead focus more on the device being used and the experience of the technician performing the treatment.

Learn More [Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) 101: Shining Light On Aesthetic Skin Treatments]

What device should be used for a Photofacial?

Photofacial is a treatment and the devices used is Intense Pulsed Light (IPL). Some people will use an LED device and call it a Photofacial, however this is not a true Photofacial. LED devices are commonly use in spas, they have lower energy and do not produce intense light.

Due to the increasing popularity of Laser and IPL treatments and the growing industry there has been an explosion of new devices on the market. Many of the new devices are less effective. As Laser Technicians we look for a device that gives us more precise control. IPL treatment settings do not work by simply turning a dial up or down. We control things such as the pulses, pulse duration, the amount of joules used and cut off filters. Devices that use a larger selection of cut-off filters are more effective because they allow for treatment of vascular and pigment lesions at different depths. In the authors opinion the best IPL devises are Scitons BBL and the Lumenis One/M22.

How many treatments are needed?

The first treatment will generally provide significant correction, however for best results a series of treatments are recommended. The exact number of treatments will vary depending on the condition being treated, the desired patient results, how the skin responds and how compliant you are with pre and post skin care. A very generic protocol would be a series of 5 treatments scheduled 3 weeks apart, however it is better to work on a plan that is designed specifically for your skin and your lifestyle.

What to expect after a Photofacial (IPL/ BBL).

There generally isn’t any down time with Photofacial, however if you have a lot of sun damage you may not look great for a week or two. Immediately after your treatment your skin will be a little pink and slightly warm. It is normal for it to feel like a mild sunburn, windburn or razor burn, but if you experience an excessive or lingering heat you should communicate this to your technician.

If you have brown spots they will darken up and gradually flake off over the next two weeks. Freckles tend to look darker, skin with a lot of discoloration may look “peppered” before it flakes off. If you have treated non-facial skin such as neck, chest, hands or arms it may take three weeks and some spots may take even longer. You may be able to speed up the process with a microdermabrasion 7-10 days after your treatment. Swelling and redness may also occur, you can apply cold packs to help with swelling and some people find an over the counter antihistamine helpful.

It may feel hot. If the skin does not cool down quickly after treatment it is very important that you go home and apply cold cloths until it is no longer hot. Take a large, clean bowl fill it with ice, add water and put clean washcloth in the bowl. Ring out excess water and apply cold cloth to treated area. When the cloth is no longer cold, trade it out for a cold one. Continue to do this until the area is no longer hot (this could take hours).

How can I improve the results of my Photofacial treatment?

The most important thing you can do is follow all pre and post care instructions, this includes not tanning, avoiding heat immediately post treatment and using the recommended topical skin care. If you are treating skin discolorations you will most likely need a skin care regimen that includes tretinoin and 4% hydroquinone. If you are treating rosacea you will need a topical vitamin-C. Everyone will need an approved sun protection with Zinc Oxide, the SPF should be over 30.

IPL treatments can be combined with other technologies for enhanced results. I will often use a vascular laser in my treatments for treating broken blood vessels or add Radiofrequency (RF) for skin tightening. Other possabilities include blue light for acne, laser resurfacing and laser hair removal. A microdermabrasion may be done prior to treatment to cause vaso diolation which can enhance results of an IPL treatment for those with facial reddness.

If you really want to increase your results you may want to do a PhotoDynamic Therapy (PDT) treatment. PhotoDynamic Therapy uses Levulan (aminolevulinic acid) also known as ALA to photosensitize the skin prior to a photofacial Adding Levulan results in a higher level of correction of freckles, sunspots, skin discolorations, broken blood vessels and redness. You will also have the added benefit of an aggressive acne treatment and treating Actinic keratosis (AK’s).

Read more about PhotoDynamic Therapy (PDT)

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3:48 pm - Posted by Kristy

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    Photofacial: Understand the Benefits of IPL

  4. Ashley Turns says:

    Because my sister is a surfer, she has suffered from a lot of sun damage to her face and has decided to seek out a treatment for it. So thanks for telling us that you see a lot of improvement after one treatment of IPL photorejuvenation and should only need a few more sessions after that. I’ll make sure to tell my sister that IPL photorejuvenation could be a great choice since she will only need to attend a few sessions of treatment before she sees major signs of improvement.