Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)

Photofacial Treatment
Quick Summary
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)
Procedure Length
30-45 Minutes
Hyperpigmentation, rosacea, vascular lesions, birth marks, etc.
Improve color and texture of skin
Recovery Time
Resume daily activities immediately. Any side effects usually resolve in 2-10 days.
Side Effects
Redness, swelling, blistering, etc.
Final Appearance
4-6 weeks (It typically takes a series of treatments over the course of a few months to get the best results)
Duration of Results
With proper skin care and sun protection, IPL results can last for years.
Average Cost
$350-$450 per session

What are IPL treatments?

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), also known as a photofacial, is a treatment that can correct a variety of benign skin conditions. IPL treatments use high-intensity pulses of light to penetrate the skin, heat the sub-surface layers and reduce the appearance of certain skin conditions.

Skin conditions treated

IPL therapy can treat a variety of skin conditions, including the following:

  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Acne
  • Unwanted hair in all body areas (works best on dark hair)
  • Pigmented lesions
  • Unwanted tattoos
  • Vascular lesions
  • Port-wine stains
  • Rosacea
  • Freckles
  • Birth marks

Are you a candidate ?

IPL treatments are most effective on white, untanned skin. Ideal candidates are those with blotchy, sun-damaged or discolored skin.

You may not be a good candidates if you are:

  • Pregnant or breast feeding
  • Sensitive to light
  • Use a retinoid cream
  • Taking photosensitizing medications
  • Taking oral acne medications
  • Patients who often experience keloid scarring

Those with diabetes, hemophilia, or have a heart pacemaker should be treated with care when using IPL.  On darker skin types, there is a risk of skin pigment changes after the treatment.

To determine if you are a good candidate, discuss your specific situation with a qualified provider.

How to prepare for treatment

Up to 2 weeks before your IPL procedure you should avoid sun exposure, waxing, topical treatments that have vitamin A, and drugs that increase bleeding such as aspirin. Avoid using creams or makeup on the day of the procedure.

The IPL procedure

IPL uses light flashes to cause damage to the target area (i.e., age spots, freckles, etc.). You will be given dark glasses to wear during the procedure to protect your eyes from the light. The procedure usually takes 20-30 minutes. IPL usually causes minimal discomfort during the procedure, sometimes described as a stinging feeling.

Risks and side effects

Most side effects of IPL treatments are minor and treatable, such as:

  • Pain during treatment: This is common but can be reduced by contact cooling or a topical anesthetic.
  • Swelling: This can last for a few days.
  • Redness
  • Blistering
  • Crusting: Avoid scratching blisters or crusting to prevent scarring.
  • Hyperpigmentation: This can be prevented by adjusting the wavelength for the patient’s skin type

Recovery time

Recovery from IPL is minimal. Most people can resume their daily activities immediately. Side effects like bruising or redness usually go away quickly, with most resolving in 2 to 10 days. A few important things to remember after the procedure:

  • Don’t use hot water on your skin until it heals.
  • Wear sunscreen for a few weeks after the procedure and avoid sun exposure when you can.
  • Retinoids should also be avoided following IPL.
  • Don’t swim in pools with chlorine.
  • Avoid other things that could irritate the skin like chemicals, heat, and perfumes.

Of course, be sure to follow through on any other recommendations from your doctor, like taking any prescription medications.

When will you see results?

Patients typically won’t see results immediately after treatment. It may take 4-6 weeks to see the final results of a session. It usually takes a series of treatments over the course of a few months to get best results.

How long will your results last?

With proper skin care and sun protection, IPL results can last for years.

Cost of IPL

The cost of IPL will depend upon the severity of the condition and size of the area treated. The average cost of IPL treatments is $406 for one session.

Keep in mind that multiples sessions are often required to achieve desired results; usually 3 to 6 sessions are needed. Hair removal can require more treatments. Additionally, other costs may be involved such as a surgical facility fee, prescribed medications, or anesthetic fees.

Most insurance companies do not cover IPL treatments because it is considered a cosmetic procedure. To get an accurate estimate of the cost to treat your skin condition, contact a qualified doctor in your area.

IPL vs. laser resurfacing

IPL and laser resurfacing treatment are often confused with each other, but these treatments are not the same. IPL uses intense light from multiple wavelengths, while laser treatments use only one wavelength. Because the light used in IPL is less focused, the procedure is less invasive and causes less damage.

Alternatives to IPL treatment

IPL is not the only procedure used to treat unwanted skin conditions. Alternatives to IPL include lasers, chemical peels, and microdermabrasion.

  • Lasers: Lasers use a single wavelength of light to treat pigmentation, wrinkles, and unwanted hair. The average cost of treatment is $1,963.  While laser treatment is more expensive than IPL, it can achieve results in fewer sessions. It is also more appropriate for dark skin than IPL.
  • Fraxel: Fraxel laser treatment is less invasive than traditional laser treatments as it uses a non-ablative laser. It is an effective way to treat a variety of conditions caused by aging and sun damage and it is appropriate for a wide range of skin types. The average cost for Fraxel treatment is $1201. 3 to 6 treatments are usually needed.
  • Chemical peels: Chemical peels rejuvenate skin by applying an exfoliating agent to the skin which layers of the epidermis or dermis and leads to skin rejuvenation. Peels are classified based on how deeply they exfoliation the skin (superficial – deep). The average cost of a chemical peel is $644.
  • Microdermabrasion: Microdermabrasion can treat a range of skin conditions including hyperpigmentation, acne, and scars. It is a safe procedure that uses a hand-piece to blow abrasive substances, like aluminum oxide crystals, onto the face and then vacuum them off. The average cost of this procedure is $136.

Whether you use IPL, or an alternative treatment will depend on your specific situation, including the skin condition you are seeking to treat and your medical history. It is important to speak with your doctor to determine the most appropriate treatment(s) for you, as all treatments have different requirements for candidacy, side effects and recovery times.

Ready to take the next step?

To see if you are a good candidate for IPL, find a doctor near you and setup a consultation.