Photofacial Review: What Does IPL Do? And Does It Work?

  • 01 of 04

    IPL Photofacial Review: Session 1

    IPL photofacial review.
    ••• Hero Images / Getty Images

    A Photofacial Review: The Skinny on IPL Photorejuvenation

    Intrigued by the idea of eradicating the chicken pox scars and acne remnants that have contributed to premature lines and textural irregularities on my face, I couldn’t resist taking Montreal-based Spa Évia on their offer to treat these conditions.

    See Also: Montreal's Top 12 Spas

    But, before booking the first treatment, I didn’t realize that many skin conditions, including enlarged pores, broken blood vessels, scarring, skin pitting and fine lines, can all be addressed with one treatment modality.

    It’s called photorejuvenation, also known as a photofacial, and it’s administered via IPL, or intense pulsed light. This treatment is designed to improve a wide range of skin conditions simultaneously, although it addresses only one condition in a single session.

    For example, if you have minor acne pitting, broken capillaries and sun spots. The IPL machine cannot be calibrated to attack all three conditions with the same intensity. While...MORE one IPL procedure may provide some benefit for all three skin conditions, it will treat the chosen target condition with more intensity.  As spa expert Anitra Brown explains, IPL has a "shotgun" effect, offering advantages over the intense "rifle" approach of typically more expensive laser treatments. Ms. Brown says, "If you want to treat age spots and broken capillaries, for instance, that is two different laser treatments, whereas IPL combines it."

    Under the care of Spa Évia esthetician Lysa Desaulniers-Boulay, who detailed all risks associated with IPL photofacials, I underwent my first treatment with a Sheerwave IPL Radiofrequency device.

    Not counting the time it took to review pre- and post-care requirements, the treatment lasted approximately 20 minutes, which in my case covered the entire face except for the eye region, which was shielded from the light with protective goggles.

     

    Photofacial Treatment Begins

    First, Desaulniers-Boulay applies a cooling ultrasound gel to the treatment area to protect the surface of the skin and adjusts the IPL device settings to match client skin color and targeted conditions. She then administers a spot test in a less visible place, typically the jawline, and waits a few minutes to see how the skin reacts. In my case, it’s barely pink, so we’re good to go.

    Having reviewed the IPL photofacial procedure prior to my first appointment, I expected to experience some minimal pain. So much for expectations. The zapping sensation, often described as a rubber band snapping the skin, is not only tolerable, but negligible, less bothersome than the sensation of waxing. Admittedly, some zaps were startling, like a mild electric shock, especially as the handheld piece got closer to the nose and mouth area. But, unlike a laser with it's comparatively small beam, each IPL zap covers an area of 8mm by 40mm (1/3" by 1.6"), which makes for a faster experience. So if fear of pain is keeping you from trying this procedure, put your mind at ease. 

    Post-Treatment Care

    After the treatment, Desaulniers-Boulay applies a moisturizer to soothe the skin, which feels like it’s sunburnt.

    Makeup can be applied immediately thereafter, but Desaulniers-Boulay prefers clients stay away from powder or foundation, if possible, to discourage any potential infection, 

    Coming from someone who can barely go to the pharmacy across the street without some semblance of makeup, I was surprised how unnoticeable the pink tinge on my skin was after undergoing the photofacial. I looked, at worst, as if I had just spent an hour doing cardio at the gym. By the time I got home and examined my face, some of the broken capillaries were already gone.

     

    The First 48 Hours

    Following Desaulniers-Boulay’s orders, I moisturized heavily and refrained from sun exposure, exercise, and bathing for 48 hours. Showering is fine during that period as long as no hot water touches the treatment area. There are also several other IPL photorejuvenation aftercare requirements that must be respected in order to minimize or completely bypass any potential side effects, which I followed and continue to follow to the letter.

    Within the first 24 hours, I experienced an acne breakout. Not surprising as I’m still prone to blemishes in my post-adolescent, adult world. But full-out breakouts? Not so much. Apparently, if I was treating brown spots, sun spots or freckles, I would have noticed them rising to the surface and developing a crust, which eventually sloughs off, which leads me to believe the treatment stimulated any lingering acne to the surface.

    After One Week

    By the end of the initial 48-hour period, I estimated that about one-third of my broken capillaries were gone. And by the end of the first week, the acne breakout subsided, revealing what seemed like a more even skin texture, though nothing outrageous --one friend asked if I had done anything to my skin-- just a nice, smooth, clean feeling to the touch, as if my pores were just a little tighter.

    As for acne scars and chicken pox pockmarks, well, they’re still there. But I didn’t expect them to disappear overnight. Or after one treatment. Or at all. Though hopeful, I don’t anticipate my face returning to its prepubescent glory. While expecting complete scar elimination is going overboard, clients can expect scars to be less noticeable once the full treatment program is completed.

    In other words, Spa Évia as well as the vast majority of spas administering IPL photofacials recommend multiple session to achieve desired results.

     

    *As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.

    Continue to 2 of 4 below.
  • 02 of 04

    Photofacial Review: Session 2

    Photofacial review.
    ••• Photo by Flickr user Dr. Braun (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    Photofacial Review: The Skinny on IPL Photorejuvenation

    After waiting a month, I finally got around to my second IPL photofacial courtesy of Spa Évia, which, for those of you who haven't been following my treatment plan, is considered a softer, zero-downtime alternative to lasers.

    IPL, or intense pulsed light, allegedly improves the appearance of red and brown skin discolorations as well as spider veins in addition to stimulating collagen production and refining skin pores and texture.

    See Also: Montreal's Top 12 Spas

    Even though up to six sessions were recommended for my skin conditions, I had already noticed a difference after my first treatment.

    A subtle difference, mind you. Here's a review of my first IPL photofacial, which includes a detailed description of the procedure.

    To reiterate those condition, my main skin issues revolve around an uncomfortable amount of chicken pox scars combined with years of poorly-treated moderate acne leaving me with uneven, ruddy skin, large pores, a few...MORE broken capillaries and premature lines which began their sprouting via the deep, craterous pits left by the chicken pox. I also have fairly minor fine lines.

    Keep in mind that I walked into this treatment plan fully aware that it's going to take more than intense pulsed light to wipe out deep, concave indentations from my forehead, so my expectations vis-à-vis the chicken pox scars need to remain realistic.

    Also note that I took every pre-care and post-care precaution necessary to ensure optimal results.

     

    During the Procedure

    The mild zap I described during my first IPL photofacial? It was even milder the second time around.

     

    Right After the Photofacial

    As mentioned before, the beauty of IPL photofacials is how little downtime is involved. In my case, there's none at all. I simply picked up my day where I left it off after the treatment session, although not wearing foundation or powder makeup as a post-care safeguard made me feel a little naked. And the pink tinge on my skin from the first session a month ago? I wasn't even rosy this time, suggesting my skin adapted well to the intense pulsed light, even though this second treatment was set at a higher intensity than the first.

     

    The First 48 Hours

    As expected after every treatment to optimize results and reduce any potential side effects, I moisturized heavily and refrained from sun exposure, exercise (perspiration could encourage infection) and bathing for 48 hours. Showering is fine during that period as long as no hot water touches the treatment area.

    What differed from the first session? I did not have an acne breakout this time. ON top of that, I've had maybe half as many blemishes as I usually experience since I started the treatment plan a month ago.

     

    After One Week

    My skin feels smoother to the touch than it has in years, reminding me of how soft my cheeks were in my early teens. Visually, it looks smoother too. My pores are definitely shrinking. And the broken capillaries around my nose and on my cheeks continue to fade, except for the ones closest to my eyes, which cannot be treated safely according to the esthetician so they're staying put. Also, pigmented acne scars also appear to be fading. And the chicken pox scars? The really deep ones haven't changed in appearance. However, a shallower one closer to my mouth seems to have lost some depth, appearing less noticeable.

    With this kind of progress, however gradual, I'm looking forward to seeing how my skin reacts to subsequent IPL photorejuvenation sessions. Note that multiple sessions are recommended to achieve desired results.

    Continue to 3 of 4 below.
  • 03 of 04

    Photofacial Review: Session 3

    IPL photofacial review.
    ••• Cultura RM Exclusive / Liam Norris / Getty Images

    Now that I've reached my third IPL photofacial treatment, I can see why IPL, or intense pulsed light, is considered a safe, no downtime alternative to the intensity of lasers. So far, my worst reactions were mild puffiness and a moderate acne breakout that lasted two days.

    Other things to consider? Undergoing a series of photofacials requires patience. And commitment. Post-care measures are significant, non-negotiable, and some pre-care requirements demand lifestyle changes as early as six months prior to one's first photofacial.

    See Also: Montreal's Top 12 Spas

    Which is a good thing when it comes to disciplining those of us who neglect to apply daily sunscreen protection to our faces, an IPL pre- AND post-care requirement that should be a part of one's daily regimen already. Sun damage is the number one cause of premature skin aging, even more so than smoking, which comes in second. So to those of you who've gotten a kick out of teasing me over my vampiric aversion to the sun and...MORE resulting skin tone, let's see who's laughing when we hit 50!

    Though for many, the damage is already be done. According to MedicineNet.com “more than 80% of the signs of skin aging in adults are the result of the tans they had as teens before the age of 18. That's because over time, the sun's ultraviolet light damages the fibers in the skin called elastin. When these fibers breakdown, the skin begins to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to go back into place after stretching.”

    Enter photofacial claims, which include the boosting of collagen and elastin production and ultimately, sun damage reversal.

     

    Photofacial Treatment Begins

    Now that I've reached my third treatment, I'm informed that the light burst intensity is being increased to ensure my skin continues reacting to treatments. This time, the discomfort is greater than during my first and second sessions at Spa Évia. It feels like a small electric shock that intensifies when the zap approaches the mouth and nose area. It's nonetheless tolerable, far less painful than, say, bikini waxing. And the amount of zaps requires for a full face photofacial is between 15 and 20, roughly-speaking, so it's really no big deal.

     

    Right After the Photofacial

    Even though this session was especially “zappy” and administered at a higher intensity, I looked fresh as a daisy with no lingering redness as I left the spa. Some people do react more than me and end up with a pink or reddish glow to their skin. Read up on the risk factors associated with IPL Photofacials.

     

    The First 48 Hours

    Still no skin redness to declare, but a friend who dropped by did remark that my face looked puffy, which lasted about two, maybe three days. And I had an acne breakout, though not as significant as the one that occurred after the first IPL treatment.

     

    After One Week

    I got a compliment! But it wasn't from a friend who noticed a difference. It came from a stranger who, without any knowledge of my treatment plan, simply remarked that I have a lot going for me, including “good skin.” Me. Good skin. I haven't has "good skin" since Grade 5! And this, even with my chicken pox craters still visible. It appears as though the slow, gradual nature of IPL treatments is starting to really make a difference to my face's overall tone and texture, resulting in the kind of smooth complexion people think you've had your entire life. 

    Continue to 4 of 4 below.
  • 04 of 04

    Photofacial Review: Session 4

    IPL photofacial reviews.
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     Now that I'm halfway through a series of IPL photofacial treatments administered by Montreal's Spa Évia, I know you're wondering, “so, is it doing something?”

    Oh, it's doing something alright.

    Touted to resolve, or more accurately, reduce the appearance of a variety of skin problems associated with aging, excess sun exposure and acne --here's a list of skin conditions addressed by IP -- IPL photofacials propose a gentle, no downtime treatment approach to turning back the clock, this, without the plastic surgery look.

    See Also: Montreal's Top 12 Spas

    My main issue was the ravages that years of moderate acne had on my skin in terms of scarring, enlarged pores and overall blotchiness. I also contracted chicken pox as an adolescent and it was left untreated just long enough to arguably lead to a higher than average amount of permanent pock marks on my face. Other problems I had hoped to address include a minor amount of fine lines and broken capillaries easily spotted on my alabaster skin.

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    Photofacial Treatment Begins

    I made sure to remove my contact lenses and any obstructive jewelry prior to treatment. As explained by Spa Évia esthetician Lysa Desaulniers-Boulay, since my skin responded so well to the first treatment, she's been increasing the intensity of the IPL, or intense pulsed light, with every subsequent treatment. It's a normal procedure, she said, since skin adapts to the lower settings fairly quickly. That I happen to be the ideal candidate for IPL photofacials may have something to do with it too: I'm a Snow White dead ringer (IPL works best on pale skin), I haven't used Vitamin A acids on my face in months and I avoid the sun in general.

    Here's a breakdown of the risks associated with IPL photofacials as well as an exhaustive list of contraindications.

    So has the increase in intensity left me with a red face or worse, burns? Not. At. All. But I did notice a stronger snapping sensation than usual that caught me by surprise. I've found the alleged pain associated with photorejuvenation to be next to non-existent in previous treatments but this time around did shock me. Mind you, it's still completely tolerable, nothing compared to the agony of, say, a Brazilian wax.

     

    Post-Treatment Care

    The usual moisturizer and sunscreen is applied before leaving the office. As recommended, I resisted makeup application outside of a bit of mascara. Of course, I feel like the Elephant Man without my foundation, yet a friend I ran into lingering on a coffee shop terrace on the way home didn't notice anything different about me. I told him I had my face zapped. He had no idea what I was talking about.

     

    The First 48 Hours 

    Out came the zits, to be expected since my skin has reacted that way after every treatment. But that was the only extent of this photofacial's side effects. No redness, no blistering, nada. Just a short-lived breakout.

     

    After One Week

    In many ways, the IPL photofacial treatments are working: my skin continues to smoothen, my pores are getting smaller, and my skin tone is evening out.

    Main disappointments surround the fact that the nose can't be treated since it's not possible to level the intense pulse light sapphire against the skin in that area of the face. So my enlarged pores are still visible there. Also, my broken capillaries are, apart from the ones obliterated during the first treatment, still visible. Lysa explained that the reason for this is that although one IPL machine can treat several skin conditions, it doesn't address all conditions simultaneously during one treatment.

    Different sapphire attachments target different concerns, and since we've been focusing on reducing the appearance of acne and chicken pox scars, broken capillaries have taken a back seat, although some improvement, however subtle, is noted, especially near the nostrils. Even if we're homing in on scars, there's always the possibility of overlap, translating into overall improvement across skin conditions.

    But did four treatment get rid of chicken pox scars? No. IPL is great in many respects, but it's no miracle worker. Whether the full six treatments would have made the difference I was looking for remains a mystery. After the fourth treatment, the spa owner cancelled my two remaining treatments for unknown reasons.

     

    IPL Photofacial FAQs: