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  • Writer's pictureZak Lockhead

The Side effects of IPL

Updated: Apr 1, 2022

Most IPL devices are brilliant. They have advanced technology and are highly effective in what they do. As a result. IPL treatments are extremely safe and virtually pain-free. However, there are a number of potential side-effects that you should definitely know about before starting treatment. To make you aware of these, I have listed the most common side effects and how you can avoid these.

1. Dry skin

A very common (and not so serious) side effect of any IPL treatment. You will notice that following IPL treatment, your skin will probably be very dry. This probably occurs due to rapid temperature changes that occur in the skin that happen when you have IPL treatment (don't worry you can't feel these temperature changes).

Side effects of IPL
Side effects of IPL

Tip to help: Moisturise twice a day

2. Peeling skin

A very rare side effect, and will usually only occur following pigmented lesion treatments (i.e. liver spot removal). This happens because the pigmented lesion is destroyed by IPL treatment and then begins to shed from the skin which can cause peeling.

Peeling skin IPL
Peeling skin IPL

Tips to help: Moisturise twice a day.

3. Red skin on area treated

This is extremely common. The IPL device fires intense pulses of light at the area and generates localised heat within the skin. The increased redness to the area likely just represents an increased blood flow to the area (which is a good thing) and potentially represents increased swelling which is the bodies immune response.

Side effects of IPL
Side effects of IPL

Tip to help: This is normal and might occur. However, good machines should have advanced skin cooling features that may help to reduce redness. If swelling or redness is prolonged, try an ice pack on the treated area.

4. Hypopigmentation and Hyperpigmentation

A side effect that should be taken extremely seriously. The IPL device emits light with each shot. This light is absorbed by particles located in the skin called chromophores. One of these chromophores is melanin. For example, when we perform hair removal, we are targeting the melanin located in the hair follicle. However, melanin is also located in the skin (and is the component of skin that gives it its colour). This is a problem, because without proper care this melanin in the skin can also absorb the IPL device light which can lead to hypopigmentation and hyperpigmentation.

IPL side effects
IPL side effects

Tip to help: The good news is that this side effect can be generally avoided with proper care:

  • Certain skin types cannot be treated with an IPL device. Remember this when buying your machine or going to an IPL technician. If you’re in doubt contact me and I can advise further.

  • Always use the Fitzpatrick scale prior to each treatment session.

  • Avoid UV exposure for 2 weeks before and 2 weeks following the treatment and use high SPF suncream (factor 50+).

5. Skin Infection

A highly unlikely side effect, BUT can occur if the IPL device is not cleaned between clients. I have heard horror stories of IPL technicians spreading the Herpes virus between numerous clients as they simply forgot to clean the IPL device.

IPL and skin infection
IPL and skin infection

Tip to help: Ensure the IPL device head is thoroughly cleaned between clients. If you use an alcohol-based cleaner, make sure this is fully removed before you use the device or you will end up burning your clients! This can also be avoided if you make sure you are not performing IPL treatments on anyone with a skin disease (this can be screened for in your consent form).

6. Paradoxical hair growth

In certain cases, IPL hair removal treatment can also lead to paradoxical hair growth, in which there is an increased amount of hair following treatment! This usually occurs around the area you are treating and happens because the IPL device can stimulate dormant hair follicles to begin growing again. This happens in approximately 0.5% of patients and usually only occurs in middle-aged women of Mediterranean or South Asian origin (skin types 3 and above) who also have an elevated BMI (i.e. are overweight or obese). This is thought to be associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and ovarian hyperandrogenism and is usually hormonally caused.

IPL hair growth
IPL paradoxical hair growth

Tips to help: Postpone IPL treatment for 6 month. Refer the client to their GP as this will have occurred due to a hormonal imbalance.

7. Permanent hair removal

You’re probably thinking ‘Well how is this a side-effect, isn’t this what clients want?’. Well not always. For example, if you are performing acne treatment on a patient, they will still be receiving the wavelength that is used to permanently destroy hair follicles. This can be problematic in men for example, who might want acne treatment on their face.

IPL hair removal
IPL hair removal

Tips to avoid: Make sure the client knows that if they have another treatment with the IPL device (i.e. acne treatment and/or skin rejuvenation) that permanent hair removal can be a side effect.

As aways, thank you for reading! Remember, I offer a free consultation for all your Laser and IPL needs.

Dr Lockhead

0113 418 0464


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