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IPL Photofacial vs Chemical Peel – Which One Is Worth The Money?

Updated: Mar 20, 2021

Hi Seti, I have sun damage spots which are my main skincare concern. I’m considering doing an IPL photo-facial vs chemical peel. Doing IPL (intense pulsed light) laser requires multiple treatments and therefore will cost more, so I’m leaning towards doing a chemical peel vs IPL which I will only do once. But I want to know – which one do you think is more effective at getting rid of sun damage spots (and worth the money)?

Seti: First, It is unlikely that you will achieve a desired end-result in one treatment from either therapy. Pigmentation requires a round of treatments in order to achieve measurable results and the number of treatments recommended depends on the degree of discoloration and condition of your skin so a consultation is must.

Second, depending on the sensitivity of your skin, you may not be able to tolerate an aggressive chemical peel. In this case, IPL (intense pulse laser) might be the better alternative. Further, the complexion of your skin is also a key factor in determining which therapy to choose.

If your complexion is in the Fitzpatrick scale of 1-3 (see chart below); I believe IPL will get you where you want to go in shorter amount of time which will ultimately save you money. The strength and type of chemical peel used to treat the skin is also determined by your complexion. Further, less aggressive peels are a great alternative because they are less invasive though more treatments are usually required. So again, you’ll need to take these factors into consideration.

Fitzpatrick Scale

  • Type I always burns, never tans (pale white; blond or red hair; blue eyes; freckles).

  • Type II usually burns, tans minimally (white; fair; blond or red hair; blue, green, or hazel eyes)

  • Type III sometimes mild burn, tans uniformly (cream white; fair with any hair or eye color)

IPL uses a range of wavelengths of light to target brown (and, to a lesser degree, red) discoloration. This discoloration occurs over time and after many years of sun exposure. Filters are used to cut off wavelengths of light that could be harmful (in darker skinned patients, filters decrease the risk of damaging the normal pigment in the skin). So, if you have medium to dark skin, you must consider the risks.

Jordana S. Gilman, MD , a dermatologist surgeon says she recommends IPL for fairer skinned patients who have brown discoloration, age spots, and freckles. The use of retinoid creams to help even skin tone and pigmentation is also utilized and in some cases creams containing hydroquinone and kojic acid, to decrease the activity of the pigment cells and fade brown spots.

IPL is best for fair complexions. The light targets the pigmented spots. Immediately after treatment the area is red and swollen, almost like a burn. Over the next few days the redness fades but the brown gets darker- it can get very very dark. Then the brown peels off.

At about 2 weeks after treatment the peeling should be complete. There may be small untreated patches of skin that are still visible among the lighter, more even skin that was treated. That is why most patients need multiple treatments.

When seeking a practitioner always practice due diligence and make sure the practice has a great reputation and has successfully treated clients who have a similar skin type and/or condition as yours.

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