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Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatments for Acne and Acne Scarring

Written by Corina Cardenas, LA, Licensed Aesthetician on September 21, 2021 No Comments

IPL for acne

Acne is among the most common skincare concerns for people of all ages. Acne typically begins in adolescence, but for many people acne or the scarring it leaves behind can last well into adulthood. While there are many great acne treatments including prescription medication like Isotretinoin (formerly referred to as Accutane), laser therapy, chemical peels, and dermabrasion, Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL) is a highly effective treatment for both acne and acne scarring.

IPL is non-surgical, nearly painless, and requires no downtime (recovery time). Even better, IPL treatments can address a variety of different acne-related concerns simultaneously. Here’s how IPL photofacials can help you stop future breakouts and minimize the appearance of acne scarring.

About Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Facials

There are two primary types of photofacials, Light-Emitting Diode (LED) and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL). Intense Pulsed Light is the stronger of the two and treats skin with a laser technology that sends quick pulses of scattered light to the treatment area.

This scattered light is what makes IPL a unique form of laser therapy. Traditional laser therapy operates at just a single wavelength, sending a focused laser to a specific area. IPL operates at several wavelengths simultaneously, making it a preferred method for treating a range of skin concerns at once including rosacea, hyperpigmentation, and broken capillaries. Most important for acne sufferers, the scattered light from IPL can simultaneously address acne, redness and scarring.

How IPL Works

IPL’s varying wavelengths of light contact the treatment area where they are converted to heat. This heat not only targets and kills acne-causing bacteria, but triggers an immune response that tells the body to build more collagen, repairing acne scars. Changes take place at the deeper levels of skin, leaving skin’s outermost layer undamaged.

Why IPL is a Great Treatment for Acne

Many cosmetic lasers are finely tuned to a single frequency, making them suitable for treating just one issue at a time. For example, the laser that treats discoloration isn’t the same laser that can treat acne scarring.

Intense Pulsed Light, on the other hand, uses broad-spectrum light which is capable of treating several issues at once. This is ideal for acne treatment, which involves addressing inflammation, redness and discoloration, scarring and skin smoothness.

IPL photofacial wavelengths (also known as filters) each address a specific area of concern:

  • Blue light at 420 nm neutralizes acne-causing bacteria
  • Yellow light at 560 nm calms swollen cysts and lesions
  • Red light at 590 nm decreases oil production

The short, quick pulses of IPL make it a relatively comfortable and painless treatment. Minimal damage to the top layer of skin means no downtime is required. For patients with low tolerance for oral antibiotics, IPL is a safe and effective alternative for acne treatment.

IPL for Acne Scars

IPL Photofacials are also a great choice for minimizing the appearance of nearly all forms of acne scarring. IPL treatments can be used to create a controlled version of the body’s natural scarring response. This effectively triggers a healing response that removes the existing (excess) collagen that gives scars their raised and/or discolored appearance. IPL also provides a means of physical exfoliation that produces new, smooth, and scar-free skin along the treatment area. This effect is very similar to other exfoliating-focused treatments like microdermabrasion or chemical peels. However, IPL causes far less discomfort during treatment and does not require any recovery time that is inherent to those harsher options.

IPL is great for acne scars because it can address multiple issues simultaneously. For example, IPL can address both the discoloration (both hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation) and scar tissue related to pitted acne scars.

What is IPL Treatment Like?

Intense Pulsed Light therapy treatment begins with the application of a cooling gel to protect the top layer of skin in the area being treated. The IPL device is then pressed against the skin as quick pulses of light are emitted. As your provider slowly moves the device across the treatment area, the flashes of light continue. After treatment, a post-treatment skincare product is applied to reduce redness and speed healing.

Does IPL Hurt? 

IPL is a minimally painless treatment; most patients describe the sensation as similar to a quick pin prick. It is less painful than other treatments like chemical peels or microdermabrasion.

How Long Does A Treatment Take?

An IPL photofacial treatment takes anywhere from 15-60 minutes, depending on the size of the area to be treated.

How Many Treatments are Required?

Improvements may be visible after the very first treatment, but best results typically require multiple IPL sessions. A total of 4-6 sessions are recommended, each scheduled two weeks apart.

How Much Downtime is Needed?

Downtime after an IPL photofacial is minimal. You might feel like you have a slight sunburn, a feeling that goes away after 4-6 hours. Some peeling may occur within the first week, a sign that your skin is repairing itself.

Is IPL Treatment for Me?

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy can be a great alternative to other harsher methods of acne treatment like oral antibiotics (like Accutane), dermabrasion, or chemical peels. IPL photofacials are non-invasive, near painless and require no downtime. However, they are powerful enough to address both currently occurring acne breakouts and moderate to severe acne scarring. See your dermatologist to find out if IPL is right for you!


Corina Cardenas, LA

Corina Cardenas is a Licensed Aesthetician and Laser Technician who focuses on ethical and results-driven aesthetics. Corina obtained her aesthetics license from Paul Mitchell the School, and her laser license and advanced acne certification from Texas Laser and Aesthetics. She specializes in Laser Hair Removal, Extractions, Hydrafacial MD, Microneedling, Dermaplaning, Thermage, Chemical Peels, Acne Facials, CoolTone, and CoolSculpting.


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