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When I was a teenager I used to love tanning in the raw, natural sun. I even wore baby oil to make sure I got the darkest tan possible. In college I used the tanning bed for a few months before I would compete in pageants. Using tan enhancing lotion, of course (cringe). When I look back at baby-me, I want to cringe with embarrassment. Because of all that sun exposure, I am left with a bunch of sun damage and sunspots on my face and body. After a lot of research on creams and IPL treatment (Intense pulsed light), I decided that the IPL treatment for sunspots would be a reasonable course of action against my facial hyperpigmentation.
Below I will share some ILP laser before and after shots as well as my personal opinion on whether it is worth it for facial hyperpigmentation.
In addition to the sun damage, I also have spots of melasma, due to taking birth control. Melasma can be caused by hormonal changes due to pregnancy or hormone treatments like birth control. I’ve been on birth control since I was about 20, but I only really started to notice the brown spots on my forehead and upper lip within the last two years or so.
(side note) I take birth control not only for its intended purpose, but also for PCOS. Birth control can help balance the excessive testosterone hormones that are produced by the cysts in the ovaries. Because of PCOS, I had thick, black hairs that started sprouting from my upper lip and chin when I was in my mid-20s. When I say “thick” and “black,” it was literally like touching a man’s stubble on my chin. They were so thick and pointy I’d have to pluck and shave sometimes twice a day so people wouldn’t notice them. I ended up getting laser hair removal on them (in addition to my underarms and bikini line) and get touch up treatments once a year since new ones crop up every now and again.
All this to say, I was familiar with how laser treatments worked and felt. As my research into the IPL treatment photofacial continued, I became curious if this method could help my sunspots and melasma in the same way it helped my excess hair growth.
Before we go deeper into this article, I want to disclose that I am not a doctor or medical professional. This is an account of my personal research and experience with IPL treatment. If you need a medical opinion, please check in with your dermatologist or local laser center. And always wear sunscreen! Don’t be sun-obsessed me.
Here are a few products I am using to help maintain smooth skin and stay on top of my facial hyper-pigmentation until my next IPL treatment:
(these are affiliate links which means I might make a small commission if you purchase something I recommend.)
This is a before and after photo after my first IPL treatment. I am not wearing makeup in either photo and you can see how much the brown spots have faded in just three weeks.
According to Wikipedia (the source of all “Google-MDs”) , IPL treatment is “a technology used by cosmetic and medical practitioners to perform various skin treatments for aesthetic and therapeutic purposes, including hair removal, photorejuvenation (e.g. the treatment of skin pigmentation, sun damage, and thread veins) as well as to alleviate dermatologic diseases…The technology uses a high-powered, hand-held, computer-controlled flashgun to deliver an intense, visible, broad-spectrum pulse of light, generally in the visible spectral range of 400 to 1200 nm. The resulting light has a spectral range that targets specific structures and chromophores (e.g. melanin in hair, or oxyhemoglobin in blood vessels) that are heated to destruction and reabsorbed by the body.”
Turn to Google, of course! Search for terms like medical spa, dermatologist, find IPL treatment near me, or IPL and the name of your city, like “IPL Boston” or “IPL Tampa.”
Then, scour reviews like a mother. You want to get in deep with the reviews on Google and Yelp because this is where you’ll find if the IPL treatments worked for other patients, the bedside manner of the practitioner (sometimes a doctor or nurse or sometimes a medical aesthetician). Figure out whether you want to be seen by a doctor/dermatologist, or if you’re ok with a licensed aesthetician.
When I got my first treatment done, we were in Tampa for a cruise, so I Googled places that had excellent reviews in that local area and that could see me on a Saturday. The place I ended up going was Premiere Center for Cosmetic Surgery which had excellent online reviews and ultra-responsive staff.
Businesses should be able to give you more information on the phone or set up a short consultation meeting. If they don’t, ditch them. You’re paying for a service and you want to be in the caring hands of a person who will answer any questions you have.
After you’ve chosen your IPL treatment center, you’ll fill out some paperwork and waivers before going into the treatment room.
Once you’re in the treatment room your provider will ask you some questions about your skin, facial hyperpigmentation, and your goals. She will examine your face to check out the discolorations and explain the treatment.
Next, she will apply a thin layer of clear gel to your face and cover your eyes with tiny sunglasses to protect them from the bright laser.
Does IPL hurt? Yes. Like a mother. Especially on the facial hyperpigmentation dicolorations and sensitive areas like the upper lip.
But you’re there for the pain. Heck, you PAID for the pain.
The machine targets the facial pigmentation, sunspots, and dark areas like freckles. When it hits one of those areas, BAM. It does not really hurt at all on the lighter areas. But they will go over your full face regardless because IPL treatments have other benefits like helping with enlarged pores and increasing collagen.
Some people say the zap feels like a rubber band snapping on your skin. Yeah, if a rubber band gave off a white red light, heated up, and smacked you like it was coming from an annoying little brother.
My eyes watered so much during my IPL treatment that I had tears running down my face and into my ears (since I was laying down). I also got really sweaty from the whole procedure. I guess my flight or fight response was in high gear after getting 100 rubber band snaps to the face.
After the IPL photofacial, the practitioner will wipe away the clear gel from your tear stained and sweaty face and she will apply a calming lotion.
My face was a smidge red, but really, it wasn’t bad looking at all. I felt ok going out in public right away without any makeup on. Some people online have said they brought foundation with them and applied it right away, but I don’t really care what strangers think of me for the most part, so I just emerged into the world with my freshly zapped face and a hat.
The facial hyperpigmentation brown patches got darker right away, and continued to darken for a few days (see photo below). I used gentle face products for several days, including SPF lotion whenever I left the house. I did not experience any IPL laser side effects otherwise.
Freckles on my cheeks got really dark, almost like they were burnt or blackened. After about 5-6 days, the brown stuff started to slough off. Two or three weeks after the treatment, my skin looked very clear and smooth, and the dark patches were visibly lighter (see photo above).
I started using exfoliating peel pads about a week after the laser treatment to give my skin time to settle down. Also, I didn’t want a chemical burn.
They say it can take 3-4 IPL laser treatments for the full results to be realized. And you’re supposed to get the treatments about 3-5 weeks apart. Since I was in Tampa for my first treatment, I need to find somewhere in Boston for the follow up sessions.
IPL facial one week after the first IPL treatment: you can see how my freckles and facial hyperpigmentation are browning and flaking off.
Overall, I am really happy with how my first IPL treatment turned out and want to continue with a few more treatments. My skin is a lot softer and smoother even with just one IPL laser treatment.
I will definitely keep an eye on how my skin facial hyperpigmentation progresses, especially as summer approaches. I am curious if the brown spots will re-emerge with sun exposure. But I am going to be a lot more careful about using sunscreen, that’s for sure.
If you have any questions about IPL, please leave me a message below and I will respond. I think this is really helping even out my skin, so I am excited to hear from anyone else who has had it or who is thinking about getting it!
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