Is IPL safe to use on ethnic or darker skin?

It seems IPL is not safe for ethnic/darker skin, unless your skin is on the really fair side, but even then you have to be very careful - right? IPL can burn even Caucasian skin. In any event I would not do any laser treatment to the skin more than once every 6 weeks based on my research, more is not always better. Also I would never do two laser procedures in the same day/back to back.

Doctor Answers 6

IPL is less safe in treatment of individuals with the darker the skin.

IPL is difficult on darker skin types. As a general rule, the darker the skin color, the less safe it would be. That's because unlike laser, IPL emits a broad spectrum of light, meaning multiple wavelengths. Shorter wavelengths tend to target melanin in the skin, which is obviously more abundant in a darker skin type. Instead of IPL, I'd be more likely to recommend laser just because it tends to be safer since you are only getting treated with a single wavelength of light, instead of multiple. Laser is easier to predict and control.

San Francisco Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews


Ethnic or darker skin, even suntanned skin, is more challenging to treat. Performing test spots (small areas of skin on which the laser is tested) to determine how your skin will react to the laser is a good way to ensure safety and efficacy with your light based treatment.

Melda A. Isaac, MD
Washington DC Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 reviews

Safety of IPL on ethnic or darker skin types

This depends on what you are looking to treat with IPL. 

We currently use the Palomar Icon MaxR Intense Pulse Light(IPL) hand piece on ethnic/darker skin types when treating for hair removal. Pre-treating and post treating with a lightening agent such as 4% hydroquinone helps reduce the risk of post inflammatory hyperpigmentation(darkening of the skin).  Ethnic/darker skin types may require more treatments based upon the settings required to safely treat, but it can be done and with excellent results. 

However, if IPL is being used for photofacial treatments to address conditions such as sun damage, vascular lesions, or acne, patients of Fitzpatrick 1-3  are the best candidates. The most effective treatments are spaced 3-4 weeks apart. And yes, IPL can burn any skin type based on the settings used, experience of the practitioner or sun exposure prior to treatment. 


Larry C. Leverett, MD, FACS
Phoenix Plastic Surgeon
4.7 out of 5 stars 18 reviews

Safety of IPL

Hi Ali.  IPL can be safe or unsafe for most skin types.  The key is how the practitioner is using it and what skin condition is being treated.  The IPL has a broad spectrum of light and uses "cutoff filters" to restrict certain types of light.  While these cutoff filters generally make the device safer, they also lower the power.  So, when the user increases the power to treat more resistant lesions (sun damage, veins or wrinkles), the risk goes up.  

At our practice, we do not currently offer IPL because we have lasers that can accomplish our patient's goals more quickly, easily, safely and permanently with lasers rather than IPL.  

Examples of the conditions we treat and the outcomes can be found at the link below.  

Harold J. Kaplan, MD
Los Angeles Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.4 out of 5 stars 7 reviews

IPL to darker skin

For IPL it is always necessary to visit an experienced office, with well-trained staff, a physician overseeing your care, and a good machine. With darker skin tones this is even more important. Any skin type can be burned by IPL.

"This answer has been solicited without seeing this patient and cannot be held as true medical advice, but only opinion. Seek in-person treatment with a trained medical professional for appropriate care."

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

IPL is more risky on ethnic or darker skin types.

Because darker skin types absorbed more for light energy, treatment with IPL is more risky with a smaller window of both safety and efficacy. Adverse effects including blistering are much more common in darker or ethnic skin types. An experienced IPL doctor will know what filters and settings to use to safely treat ethnic or darker skin.  If you are going to have IPL treatment, be certain that you're seeing an experienced physician who has treated many patients with darker skin types for both pigmentation and vascular lesions.

Mark Taylor, MD
Salt Lake City Dermatologic Surgeon
4.2 out of 5 stars 18 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.