Photofacial Side Effects

I got my first Photofacial today and it feels like a really bad sunburn, and also I noticed a lot of dark brown small to medium spots all over. Is that normal? I am worried!

Doctor Answers 12

Dark spots normal after Photofacial

What you are describing sounds like a normal result. High energy (fluence) laser or light based treatments can cause the redness you describe and the dark spots. The redness is related to the trauma from the heat of the laser. The dark spots are pigment in the skin that was there before the treatment but not visible until after.

When a laser or IPL is used for sun damage, the freckles and sun spots below the skin's surface absorb most of the the light energy. These spots heat up to the point where the cells containing the pigment die. The spots then rise to the surface of the skin (through normal cell reproduction) and then flake off, leaving the skin more clear.

Los Angeles Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 6 reviews

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Yes, it's normal. These often represent sunspots or pigment that will be flaking off soon.

Thank you for your question.

A photofacial is good for dark spots (lentigos) and facial vessels / rosacea / redness of photodamage. After a photofacial, it is normal to appear sunburned for 2-4 days. As the IPL targets pigment, previous light brown or dark brown lentigo and photodamage spots will appear darker brown and start to scab and flake. This is normal as well and is actually a very good sign that you received a very good photofacial that will help you look younger, brighter, cleaner, and more even after this flaking off is finished.

Don't be worried; in fact, be happy! Let us know how you like your results!

Don Mehrabi, MD
Beverly Hills Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review

What to expect after a photofacial

The photofacial targets pigment in your skin- this is what causes freckles and age spots.  After the treatment, the pigment darkens, then flakes off over the next 1-2 weeks.  The flaking is more noticeable on the hands and arms, and less noticeable over the face.

It is common to have a sensation similar to a sunburn for 1-2 hours afterward.  Aloe or icepacks can help soothe this sensation.

Jennifer Greer, MD
Cleveland Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 reviews

Photofacial side effects

That is very normal. It will feel like a sunburn for about 2 hours and then stop. The brown spots may continue to darken for the next 24 hours. They will then flake off over the next 4-7 days.

Jeffrey W. Hall, MD
Austin Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 15 reviews

No worries - Normal Result

The heat you are feeling is normal and expected after having an IPL/Photofacial treatment. Applying a cool compress is a great way to help resolve the sunburn-like sensation you are experiencing.  Based on what you have described, you are most likely, "microcrusting." This is the result of pigmentation rising to the surface.  When treating sun damage (sun spots,age spots, mottling, freckling) this is the desired result.  Do not fret. Those coffee grounds will slough off in about 10 days.  In the meantime, be kind to your skin. A gentle cleanser,light moisturizer and SPF 30+ is all you need. DO NOT attempt to exfoliate away the brown spots. They will fall off on their own revealing a more even toned complexion. 

After photofacial, you can expect some initial skin redness and darkening of your brown spots

Photofacials (and BBL or IPL) are a very effective treatment for brown spots, red spots, acne, and skin discolorations. Using highly specialized filtered light, photofacials target specific skin lesions, while minimizing trauma to the surrounding skin. Some generalized redness, like a sunburn, may be present for a few days after treatment. After a photofacial, pigmented spots will initially become darker, and will then flake off around 2 weeks after the treatment. 

Dara Liotta, MD
New York Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 14 reviews

Normal recovery after photofacial

You are describing a pretty normal recovery after a photofacial treatment.  The dark spots are a good sign because it means your treatment was effective.  The dark pigment absorbs the light energy and is destroyed.  As they come up to the surface you will notice them flake off - and you'll be left with a more even complexion.  Don't use anything abrasive, limit your sun exposure, and wear SPF 30 or greater when you are in the sun.  

Donald B. Yoo, MD
Beverly Hills Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 21 reviews

Photofacial results

This sounds like a normal result from a photofacial.  Depending on how much sun damage that you have, you will experience your brown spots becoming darker, like coffee grounds.  Over the next few to several days, these darker spots will flake off.  It is important to not pick at these.  It is also very important to wear a good sunscreen. 

Sam Naficy, MD
Seattle Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 154 reviews

Brown Spots after IPL

After you have IPL, it is totally normal to have what appears to be additional, darker brown spots on the surface of your skin.  These brown spots will look like "coffee grounds" and will typically shed/flake within 3-7 days of your treatment.  Do not pick these spots!  This is generally the sign of a good, results driven treatment.  The sunburn feeling should go away within several hours-  however you can use cold compresses or hydrocortisone cream to help alleviate the feeling of heat.

Dr. Grant Stevens


Grant Stevens, MD
Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 76 reviews

Redness, slight swelling, and brown spots after IPL

Redness, slight swelling, and darkening of brown spots can all occur after IPL.  Cooling the skin with cooled gel or air can help with patient comfort during the procedure and also protect the skin following the procedure.  Redness usually lasts 0-2 days, swelling 1-3 days, and dark spots flake off typically in 1 week.

Melanie D. Palm, MD
San Diego Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 15 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.