Why Can IPL Burns Happen?

Why is it that IPL can cause burns to the skin? Isn't there a maximum setting that is tolerable for skin? It's pretty incredible that IPL settings can be configured high enough to cause serious burns.. It seems like the device wasn't designed with the skin in mind. Have the max settings ever been used successfully on someone? Does it depend on the individual? Can IPL really be set to dangerous levels? Does the same apply to Fraxel?

Doctor Answers 6

IPL Reactions

Thank you for your question. All lasers have the possibility of producing side effects, even burns and scarring when treated in the wrong candidates and in the wrong hands. IPL is a laser/light treatment that is generally very safe and works well with light skin types and on specific settings. Every treatment must be individualized to the patient, their skin type, their condition, etc.  I would recommend being treated under the supervision of a Board Certified Dermatologist or Plastic Surgeon for safest and best treatment option. I hope this helps.

Bay Area Dermatologist
3.9 out of 5 stars 12 reviews


IPL laser can be a great device to use for pigmentation when used appropriately.  Make sure you see a provider that uses the laser on a regular basis.  They will determine what laser settings to use based on your skin type.  

Sam Naficy, MD, FACS
Seattle Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.7 out of 5 stars 221 reviews

IPL or FotoFacial burns to the skin, safety in application

I always tell my patients, all lasers can be dangerous.  However, they are only as dangerous as the provider performing the treatment.  In other words, aesthetic lasers are designed to treat various skin types safely, from light to dark (depending on the technology), fragile skin to thick skin, 18 to 80 years of age...  so there are many settings available - from conservative to aggressive.  The provider must have an indepth awareness (thru proper training and experience) of what can be accomplished, taking all of these factors into consideration.  It is far better to treat multiple times than to push the envelope and leave someone with scars or marks for life.  Do your research - ask for referrals.  Ask your doctor or clinician to help set your expectations.  Are you a good candidate for the treatment?  Is there pre-care and post care set up to prevent adverse effects?  Don't have a treatment from a facility simply because the treatment is "cheap".  These are extremely sophisticated technologies that employ an educated and  knowledgeable approach to treatment.

Mario J. Imola, MD, DDS
Denver Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 117 reviews

Devices Can Be Used Inappropriately

IPL treatments and devices are extremely safe when used appropriately.  Any device including a tongue depressor has some risk associated with its use.  Informed consent and patient education are important parts of a doctor patient relationship.  IPL can cause a burn if the settings are too high for a particular skin type, if there is an abundance of a target chromophore,   if the shots are "stacked", if the crystal chiller is not cool enough, or if there is arking from the edge. While most of these issue can be minimized, there is some small risk.  Fortunately even if you experience a burn, the vast majority of patients heal well without any scarring or long term effects.

Robert F. Centeno, MD, FACS
Columbus Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 77 reviews

Why IPL burns happen

IPL burns can happen for a variety of reasons, including the skin type of the individual, and most importantly if the person has a tan (high risk of burn). Also, ofcourse, the skills of the operator of any laser or light based device are critical, so ensure your treatments are performed at a medically-supervised office or clinic. Buyer beware (e.g. we regularly see burns from hair salons performing lasers), you get what you pay for out there.

Benjamin Barankin, MD, FRCPC
Toronto Dermatologic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 53 reviews

Why do IPL burns happen

IPL can burn, yes, but there's much more to it. There are many things you have to think about. First, there are different skin types, five if you're using the Fitzpatrick rating scale, and the machines have to be able to work on all of these skin types. So while a person with skin type 1, may be able to handle settings X, a person with skin type 5, would have an insane, serious, permanent burn from that level. Second, training is key. My office has performed 150,000 treatments. We try to be conservatively aggressive. We try to give you the maximum results (which you are paying for and people want to see!), with the highest settings we can do without harming any of your skin. This is an art, and it requires a vast amount of training and skill. Not everyone is good at it, and people absolutely overtreat because they are trying to maximize your results in a minimum amount of time. I refuse to treat this way. I'd rather do a treatment at no charge in the end than overtreat at treatment 2 and have a patient burned. Third, there are specifics that have to be done during a treatment, and done correctly. Most often, there is an ultrasound gel applied to the skin to keep the IPL head from actually touching directly, it's called floating the IPL head. If you have too much gel, or not enough gel, that's not good either, and that can result in burns. This again, comes with skill and practice. Fourth, there are literally thousands of IPL machines on the market. Some are much more advanced than others. This requires more specifics for each patient's settings, but it gives better results. There can be different pulse lengths (the amount of time the energy takes to get into the skin - long vs. short pulse), different light and energy settings to drive the IPL in, and other factors. If you don't know what you're doing, yes, the settings are overwhelming and then dangerous. Fifth, the best machines cost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. They are designed to give the technicians options for treatment, but they should never be used by inexperienced people, or set the same for everyone. IPL can absolutely be dangerous - in the wrong hands! All light and laser treatments can be done incorrectly, so yes, while different because the idea is different, Fraxel can have just as many issues.

F. Victor Rueckl, MD
Las Vegas Dermatologist
4.6 out of 5 stars 17 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.