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IPL: An Expensive Way to Age Your Face at Least 10 Years - New England

I have rosacea, acne and very oily skin, with some...

I have rosacea, acne and very oily skin, with some but not a lot of broken blood vessels, a fair amount of PIH, and several areas of hyperpigmentation that are light brown. I am late 40's but have few lines and have always been complemented on looking a good 10 or so years younger than I am. I decided to do some maintenance, as I was nearing 50, and thought, it would be nice to use less makeup to cover the minor PIH, broken caps, pigmentation, etc. I had one treatment of IPL using a Sciton BBL, 2 passes, one w/ the vascular lesion filter and one w/ the pigment lesion (515 and 560 filters). A plastic surgeon experienced in many cosmetic procedures performed the tx. The machine looked new, there was an inspection sticker dated 2 months earlier on it, and the surgeon's certificate of proficiency in that machine's operation was on the wall. I found the treatment quite painful, like a million hot rubber bands being snapped on my face. I almost couldn't stand it. At the end of the procedure, my face was red and covered in red marks and welts. I had to go back to work, so I waited a few minutes, then applied makeup (I'm really good w/ foundation). and went to work. The dr. said I might have bruising on one area on my upper cheek, on the bony part under the eye, where the vascular tx had been used. The dr. said to use only gentle cleansers, like cetaphil, and no retinA or any acne txs. My face felt warm afterward, but not hot. I did not have any pain afterward.

The next day, I woke up to a very dark red area on that cheek that was large, looked slightly depressed, and did not look like any bruise I had ever seen. I also had a lot of red marks all over my face, and some darkening brownish areas. Over the next 3 days, the red area just got darker and redder, which I did not expect, and the brown areas appeared to be doing the "coffee ground" thing, which I did expect.

Day 3 I sent some selfies to the doc, and was told the red area was because the heat had burst a blood vessel, and I was seeing the pooled blood, not to worry, it should fade, and the doc noticed a brown area in my pics that was bubbling up. Doc said to keep that area moist w/ vaseline at all times, which I did, religiously. I basically did not sleep, thinking the red blob might be permanent, and thinking I would be scarred for life. Applying mu went from a 10 minute task to a 30 minute art project every day.

BY day 5, the red area started to fade in the middle, and I could see in the blob darker areas that looked like tiny dark red depressed lines about a 1/4" long in random patterns. I also started to see tiny depressions and similar red depressed lines in random areas all over my face, pinhole depressions like very large pores, and weird crinkles and depressed areas that looked like squiggly lines. In short, as the swelling faded, the texture of my skin looked worse and worse. Then the bubbled brown spot peeled off and left a pink area that, given my tendency to PIH, ended up turning into another PIH spot, despite constant vaseline and spf50.

As for the broken caps, some that had seemed to disappear immediately seemed to return or grow back within about 14 days, and those that looked redder and more prominent after the tx never faded. So, the red veiny look just got worse. I also started breaking out because all the retinA and acne tx's barely keep my acne under control, and babying my face, using vaseline, etc. caused breakouts that in turn caused new PIH spots, defeating the purpose of the tx.

Then, on day 9, the real kicker: on a warm afternoon, I noticed tiny red dots on my face coming through my makeup in about 4 spots, mostly cheek area. I thought it was an errant dot of lipstick pigment, or maybe tiny spots of red lint. Light red, not dark. I wiped, and it was liquid. It appeared to be blood from a superficial wound, but coming out of my skin from no visible opening or cut that I could see. WTH????? I have gotten this every day since day 9, sometimes one spot, sometimes 4-5 or so. It seems to occur only in the afternoon when my face get warm from sun, hot drinks, etc. I had been prone to flushing, like many rosaceans, and I had disclosed this to the doc before the IPL. This symptom is really freaking me out, because I see no mention of it anywhere on the internet.

At a 14 day f/u visit, I told the doctor about all of my symptoms, including the weird red blood dots starting day 9. The doc said there should not be any pinpoint bleeding at day 9 or 14, and could not explain that. I did not have any of the red dots at the time of the appt to show the doc, either- it was an early morning appt,, and every time this has happened, it's been late afternoon. Doc Also said that the IPL could not cause depressions and holes because the energies used do not target the skin structures in that manner and only hit pigment or vascular structures.

Well, I really wish I had done extensive research before having this procedure. I later found medical texts online stating (and showing) that depressed areas, pinhole scars, and "atrophic" scars CAN result from IPL, usually from "insufficient cooling." Then I found a study intended for medical providers where the authors tested a large number of IPL machines, all unnnamed, and found variations as much as +/- 20% from the manufacturers' specifications, in EVERY PARAMETER measured - fluence, pulse rate, temperature, wavelength, etc. And this was after calibration. Well if you have variation that wide, you are going to sometimes get wrong wavelength, "insufficient cooling," etc that can all result in adverse results, even when the operator is good and uses the correct settings. In my mind, machines that cannot remain w/in the correct settings are inherently dangerous.

Then, to top it all off, I found a paper by some reseachers that found an increase in lipid peroxidase levels, which is a marker for ageing/oxidative stress, in IPL treated skin that was 6 TIMES HIGHER than what you'd get w/ UV radiation. Another reseacher wrote a paper proposing that topical antioxidants after IPL tx might help reduce the oxidative stress. If I had know that, I would have been applying antioxidants immediately after the tx!

I really wish someone had told me about the risks of variation in these machines, the risks of atrophy and depression marks, and the need for antioxidant tx immediately after IPL. My skin basically looks at least 10 years older now - it is still oily, yet has this wrinkled, pitted texture, as if I've been using nothing but alcohol and benzoyl peroxide on it for a month straight, and the only thing that helps, and even then only temporarily and not 100%, is a heavy, water-retaining cream like Cerave Cream in a tub, applied very thickly morning and night. Mind you, I have such oily skin, I never used or needed moisturizer before the IPL. My skin looked generally smooth and mostly wrinkle free, with little to no wrinkling. Now my skin has what looks like superficial wrinkling like what you'd get from severe dehydration on top of small pit and line depressions. My PIH is not really improved and in some areas looks worse. My broken caps look worse. The dark red blob on my cheek has faded, but I have a cluster of broken caps there and some shallow pits clustered in that area. Can I cover this all up w/ heavy cream, good primer and mu? Almost, and it's quite a job.

My skin looks like I have big pores (I did have large pores in the nose/cheek area, but now they look much bigger, and I have what looks like large pores in areas I never had them before), and now instead of a very young looking 40's, I look I'd say early-mid 50's.

I also got a bad rosacea flare after the tx, with a few inflamed pustules surrounded by new, tiny red bod vessels. Rosaceans w/ this type of rosacea know what I mean. It seems as if the IPL aggravated the rosacea intead of improved it, and gave the effects of a few years' worth of bad flares in about 20 minutes. As if I'd been a pizza maker working in front of an 800 degree pizza oven for a few years.

I really wish I had checked realself and done more research before having this done. I had some laser hair removal about 10 years ago, and it was a breeze w/ no adverse effects. IPL / BBL is advertised and promoted as gentler than lasers, "no downtime," etc., so I assumed the experience would be similar to or even less risky than the hair removal. Intead, there was a lot of downtime, I see worsening of my skin, and instead of being able to wear less mu, I now must wear more, and my skincare regimen is more complicated and time consuming. When I hear "scars" I never thought of depressions that have no scar-like appearance - just dents and depressions. They look like I was hit in the face with tiny hammers, and instead of popping back out, they more or less stayed. say more or less because someties they look somewhat improved, and sometimes they look very pronounced. It's bizarre. I have started taking a bunch of antioxidant supplements, am using topical antioxidants like Replenix Power of three cream mixed w/ retinA, and am using Cerave cream as well to keep the skin very hydrated. I can only hope that things will improve with time and care, and now, after seeing some photos of people with bad burns from IPL, I realize things could have been much worse, and I am thankful that the pits and depressions are fairly shallow and I have only one small burn mark.

I am going to see how things look after another month or so, and I am considering making an adverse event report to the FDA. I am very concerned about the accuracy and reliability of these machines, and the long-term adverse effects. I think this is something the FDA should examine. I realize some people get great results from IPL. I was not one of them. I would advise extreme caution, especially if you have rosacea that involves very bad reactions to heat, and are prone to flares from heat, sun, etc. I wish I had known more - I would have either skipped the procedure entirely, or insisted that the operator use much more cooling than usual, and only do one pass per tx. But I relied on the expertise of the Dr. , and even such precautions probably would not have prevented adverse effects caused by any variations from machine settings, as that study on machine variation found. This was a reputable office, with patients coming and going and a lot of them getting the IPL tx, and I did not see/hear any dissatisfied patients or anyone looking like they had a bad result.

I can't recommend IPL, and doctors, please be very cautious and educate yourselves more on adverse effects and how to prevent and treat them. Might be a good idea to get some education from sources independent from the IPL machine makers - listen to your patients and examine them closely before and after. I am now thinking that like some other drug and product debacles we've seen, medicine will only acknowledge some adverse IPL effects and possibly unknown contraindications many years from now, after thousands have already been injured. I suspect I may be looking for treatments down the road to correct the effects I am seeing now. I really hope that medicine is able to come up with some solutions.

Correction to the size of the random, red lines in the red blob: should be 1/8" long not 1/4"

Also: still getting random superficial bleeds all over face every day - anywhere from 1-4 light red tiny blood spots per day, usually at least several hours after I wash my face. Rosacea flushing worse now. The slightest heat seems to set it off. Dreading summer.

Warning: Long term Use of Tretinoin Topicals May be a Contraindication for IPL

I got a call from the doc who did the IPL. She'd been talking to other docs about my bleeding complication, and the consensus was that IPL could not cause the bleeding, but that my RetinA use could have thinned my skin and this thinned skin is resulting in the bleeds. I told her that I'd been using RetinA for many, many years and never had any facial bleeding until after the IPL, so did she mean that the combination of longterm RetinA use with the IPL could have caused this complication? She said yes.

I had disclosed longterm RetinA use before the IPL, had stopped the RetinA 14 days before the IPL, the bleeding started 9 days after the IPL, and I did not restart RetinA until 14 days after the procedure, when I was given the go-ahead to resume. So, given this chronology, it does not seem that short term immediate use of the RetinA could cause the bleeding.

The only logical interpretation of this information is that long-term use of RetinA thins the skin to the point where IPL can more easily cause injury to the thinned skin. If that is the case, then I'm not sure how stopping the RetinA now will help, although I'll try it, despite my concern about more acne flares, leading to more PIH, thereby defeating one of the initial purposes of the IPL.

If this is theory is true, then RetinA use may be a CONTRAINDICATION TO IPL, and people should be warned to not undergo IPL tx if they are long-term RetinA users. To my knowledge, there are no current warnings on this. If the skin had not been thinned by RetinA, the IPL would not have had adverse effect (under this theory). Anyone else out there use RetinA for years and have a bad effect from IPL? How about a good effect after years of RetinA use?

IPL CAN cause broken capillaries, contrary to some Doctor Answers on this forum

A member posted a question asking if IPL an cause broken capillaries. S/he was about a week out from an IPL tx. Several doctors posted answers stating no, IPL does not cause broken capillaries, and that after tx, some capillaries will appear darker but then fade over 7-10 days. These are not accurate answers. While I agree one week post tx is too early to tell, I am living proof that IPL can cause or aggravate broken blood vessels. I had IPL tx on 3/31/14, and I now have numerous new and / or larger and darker broken capillaries. I've been told that I may have had a bad result because my skin was thinner than the doctor expected due to long-term retinA use. This is a theory and I don't know if it's accurate ( and if it is accurate then both the makers of tretinoin and IPL machines need to issue patient warnings) , but I absolutely experienced a substantial increase in broken capillaries, some in areas where I had no visible capillaries that bothered me before the IPL. The areas with the most broken capillaries are the areas that were most aggressively treated and that had the most adverse effects (pooled red blood under the skin, swelling, redness, depressions).

It is common knowledge that excessive heat can cause broken capillaries. It is also stated in numerous medical texts on IPL that excessive heat from various causes during the IPL can cause adverse effects. There are also calculations on heat, fluence, thermal relaxation time of the blood vessel being treated - it is not hard to conclude from all this that if any settings or machine outputs are not a correct match for the size and location of the bood vessel being treated, you could easily get broken/ burst/enlarged vessels.

I just had an appt w/ a derm and upo reviewing my situation and photos she commented that knowing what can go wrong had kept her from getting her own blood vessels zapped- her thought being, is what I have worse than a possible bad outcome? She emphasized that she was not against cosmetic procedures, she just was very aware that what you can end up with can, in too many instances for her comfort, be worse than what you had to begin with, and to think twice if what you have to begin with is not all that bad.

Settings used in my tx

I got my medical records, and found the following:

Fitzpatrick Type II
58 shots
515 filter, no adapter, 14 j, pw20, cool 20
560 flter w/ snap on adapter, 18j, cool 25

No pulse width was noted for the 560 filter. I am wondering also if I am really a Fitzpatrick II. I went online and took the American Skin Cancer society's test and came out as just over the line into Fitzpatrick Type III. I don't know if that makes a difference. Also, while I look pretty light (light eyes), I have some family members who have brown eyes, dark brown hair, and look like they could pass for American Indian. Don't know if that makes a difference.

IPL: 5 months out, still bad, still fastest, most expensive way and least fun way to ruin your skin

*Pigment: Slight improvement, but only from the months of 4% HQ, RetinA, hats, spf50 ALL THE TIME after IPL. The second I get any sun, bam, back to worse than before the IPL.
*Broken blood vessels: Darker, redder, more of them.
*Texture: The pitting and depressions I got from the IPL have not improved. They are still there, and look like hell. They are not going away, and I'm beginning to doubt they ever will. Very depressing. I did not have these pits and holes before IPL.
*Rosacea: The massive rosacea flare, complete w/ pustules and spider veins, that I got right after the IPL has mostly simmered down, but the spider veins from the pustules are still there, as are the spider veins in some of the depressions where the skin appears to be most injured.
*PIH: numerous new PIH spots from the major breakout I experienced after IPL.
*Bleeding from the pores after IPL: This truly bizarre symptom has JUST (5 months after IPL) started to die down. For the first time since the IPL in March 2014, in late August 2014 I actually had one full week w/ no random bleeding from the pores. Yay! I hope this continues!

Overall, an experience I would not wish on my worst enemy. My skin looks like I had much worse acne than I had as a teenager, and it looks like I laid on the beach and drank for years. It would've been one thing if to get this skin I'd laid on a beach in the South of France and drank wine for a few years. It would've been fun. Instead I paid $400 to lay in a chair for a few minutes and get the sensation of being whacked in the face repeatedly by a tiny cattle prod. Actually seeing the pattern of tiny dark red marks on my face after - more like a thousand tiny red-hot adzes. I felt like years of sunscreen, retinA, and taking care my face went down the drain. I've filed an adverse event report w/ the FDA, which I encourage everyone who's had a bad experience w/ either a medical device or a drug do, because one thing I've found out: when you have a great experience w/ cosmetic procedure, it's all roses. With a bad experience, you're on your own. And there is apparently a dearth of knowledge out there on how to manage or treat complications. We should all do our best to add to the fund of knowledge. We are, after all, guinea pigs, since there is no REAL PREMARKET TESTING going on for most devices (in this case, Sciton BBL Profile), and the FDA's after-market adverse event report is the ONLY MEANS of identifying and tracking problems. So please, file an FDA report if you have a bad outcome! The FDA DOES NOT READ REALSELF.

The doctor who performed the IPL, who was otherwise very nice and did a GREAT job w/ a dysport injection, did not seem to know why the IPL went so bad with me, and did not offer any treatments to fix the problems (probably because, ack! there aren't any!). I had to spend $$ to go see another derm for a consultation, and was told, more or less, we don't know what to do, don't do anything for at least a few months, let your skin heal, let's re-evaluate in the fall. all we can do for you is help you get back on your retinA and give you some 4% HQ. So I also may need more procedures down the road. I asked the dr. who did the IPL for a refund, and was told I'd need to sign a release to get my $$ back. So, the end result is, if you get a bad result, you probably won't even get a refund unless you sign some ridiculous release, and you will spend $$ out of pocket trying to fix, or maybe just treating, the bad result, and you may not even be able to fix it. I suspect my skin was fried down under, like meat in a microwave, and there's no way to fix it. If you buy a new roof, usually you get some kind of guarantee w/ it. Not so w/ cosmetic procedures, and there's the rub. I'm thinking I'd rather not do any more procedures unless I find a doc who offers some kind of minimal guarantee or refund if the result is bad. If doctors can't do that, then I'm probably better off keeping my money in my pocket. Or spending it on something that has some guarantee or refundability, like a new car, a new pair of eyeglasses, a new pair of shoes! If I buy a pair of shoes and they give me blisters, a reputable store will refund my $ without asking me to sign a release. Not so it seems with cosmetic procedures. Buyer beware. And please, notify the FDA of any problems you have!
Dr. Agata Brys

The Dr. was very personable and approachable and responded VERY promptly to emails and calls after the procedure. She also removed a skin tag on my neck at the time of the IPL procedure at no charge. The Dr. did not avoid addressing my concerns, and seems to be scheduling appropriate follow-up visits (14 days post and another one after another month, and more after that). She also did not brush off my concerns and communications, and spent time discussing the situation w/ me. I also like some of her ideas, and she seems to actually take the time to think about different txs and how they may work on different skin types. In short, she actually seemed very interested in her field, unlike some doctors who seem to be more interested in their next golf game. However she could not explain the holes, depressions and pinpoint bleeding long after the tx, and indicated that she could not provide a refund of the $400 without me signing a release. Nor did the Dr. offer any treatments or Rx's w/o charge to address any of the problems. The Dr. did provide a full size product of Oxygenetix foundation for post-procedure skin. Although I still am not sure what went wrong w/ the IPL, the Dr. did do an excellent job with the Dysport injection and the skin tag removal. The bad outcome w/ the IPL could be due to a defective or malfunctioning device or some unpublicized or unknown contraindication, but I never got full information on the settings (no pulse width or delay noted in my records w/ the 560 filter). I would've felt better about the whole thing if either a refund was given w/o presenting a release, or if some other tx was comp'd. Or if I knew the doc had contacted the manufacturer and requested a review of the case, and there was a full investigation that was fully disclosed to me. The feeling of having to pay for a very distressing experience and not really knowing what went wrong is not a good one. Luckily I did not end up w/ the extensive burns that I've now seen on some people on the net, and except for the worsened texture, I can cover up my problems w/ more makeup. However, in my mind, paying $400 for pits, holes, depressions, more broken blood vessels, a need for more makeup, and pigment that seems even more sensitive to the sun, is not, in my mind, a good outcome by any stretch of the imagination.

1 out of 5 stars Overall rating
5 out of 5 stars Doctor's bedside manner
5 out of 5 stars Answered my questions
5 out of 5 stars After care follow-up
5 out of 5 stars Time spent with me
5 out of 5 stars Phone or email responsiveness
5 out of 5 stars Staff professionalism & courtesy
4 out of 5 stars Payment process
4 out of 5 stars Wait times
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Comments (7)

This sounds very similar to what happened to me...however, I was NOT nor EVER using Retin-A before my IPL treatment. I suspect my skin was fried at a very deep level as well. 1 month post-procedure I have what look like train tracks on my forehead due to the spotty and uneven treatment. I too would get little pin prick-like bleeders from virtually nothing. Wherever my sunglasses or hat would rub, the skin just sheered right off. I applied Aquaphor and healing agents only to break-out in acne from the heavy topicals. I also have an orange peel texture to my skin and feel my pores are just gaping open...which I never had before. People would comment how 'pore-less' my skin used to be. I'm only 30 and did an IPL to erase sun damage and acne scars. I'm so frustrated and depressed. I paid $400+ for someone to RUIN my skin. Now they want me back for another IPL treatment to essentially burn the areas they missed the first time to 'even my skin tone.' Never again! I truly hope time will heal the damage the IPL did to my skin so I'm still holding out hope. If anyone knows how to rid my skin of this orange peel, old, huge-pored, wrinkly texture...I'm ALL ears!
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ambermore: Have you made a report to the FDA? If not, PLEASE DO. If nobody reports the adverse effects, no one is going to pay attention to this or work on developing ways to avoid it or treat it. PLEASE make a report to the FDA. You can do it online or you can mail in a report if you want to send pictures. I mailed mine in because I wanted to submit pictures. However, the FDA apparently lost my mailed-in report, and when I called to check on the status of my report, an FDA person gave me an email address to email my report. Emailing it was actually better because that was they can look at the photos digitally rather than poor paper copies. If you'd like the FDA person's email address ( and I have the mailing name and address of the head of the FDA's Division of Regulatory Misconduct as well) let me know. I will try to post that info here but not sure if this website allows me to post email addresses but I will try. I hear you about the textural changes - it really is the most distressing effect, because you can't cover pits and lines w/ makeup! I've heard of one person who had good results improving the bad IPL texture w/ a very long course (I think a year) of very low dose accutane, but that person was very young and was male. Males have thicker skin, and being young may make the skin heal better.
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I have not filed a report with the FDA yet, but after all of the info and research I've been doing about how dangerous IPL is, I am going to. I took tons of pictures from 1 hour after treatment and each 24 hours thereafter. It's nightmarish to look back on those photos. It's been just under 2 months and I still have stark white rectangles all over my forehead. I am olive skinned Italian decent with lots of freckles/sun damage AND I had a tan from playing outdoor sports...but even still the esthetician assured me I was a good candidate and their "skin identifier" would match the IPL with the correct settings to my skin tone. Clearly IPL wasn't for me. They mentioned nothing about having a tan (it was mid-summer!!!) and the darker your skin the more it retains the light and heat. I feel so stupid for not researching this procedure first and I beat myself up everyday that I did this to my face...that's harder to overcome than the physical damage itself. Luckily I've gotten very good with foundation and bronzer application. I've also found some good primer to fill in the enlarged pores and semi-smooth out the orange peel texture (Dr. Brandt's Pores No More Pore Refiner). After I refused additional IPL or chemical treatments (which the office keeps trying to push on me after THEY messed up), I caved to the 4% Hydroquinone and Tretinoin .025% they suggested. I haven't used them yet because I don;t think my skin is quite ready for anything else to shock it, but does anyone know if that will help even out my skin tone and/or with the rough, wrinkly texture?
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what state are u from-I am going to have a dermotogist do mine as I believe they know more about the skin -as far as procedures go to make the skin healthier than plastic surgeons.
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who was the doctor
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I am not comfortable providing the surgeon's name yet. This surgeon had previously given me a shot of dysport in the "11's" area that was PERFECT (good result, no adverse effects at all, conservative but effective tx) and I was VERY happy w/ that tx. In fact, I should do a review of that. I will say that I got this IPL tx in Dartmouth, MA and the machine was a Sciton Profile BBL.
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Thank you for posting your detailed and honest review.
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