What is the Science behind the argument that IPL does not cause fat loss?

I suffer from rosacea and between Feb and April 2014 I had 3 IPL treatments to reduce redness, treat broken capillaries, and reduce pustules. Since then (it's been 7 months since last treatment), I have lost fat/volume from my mid face and temples (areas targeted by the IPL). My question is: if IPL is used to remove hair, how can it possibly not destroy subcutaneous tissue including fat cells? I'm unclear on the science. Also can facial fat grafting be used to restore the lost volume?

Doctor Answers 4

IPL - no go on fat

Dear Curious Inquirer,

Great question. My hunch is that something else caused you to lose fat in the mid-face and temples. Have you been ill or lost weight recently? Sometimes it doesn't take much weight loss to cause the volume loss. Also, I'd recommend carefully comparing to a "before" photo. Frequently, red and brown spots can "camouflage" deeper variations in skin depth/texture. IPL doesn't work for fat because the chromophores that IPL targets (melanin and oxyhemoglobin) aren't abundant in fat. The wavelength doesn't penetrate well to that depth largely either. That's why IPL can cause some hair loss but isn't a great treatment. Fat transfer can work for sunken temples, but most doctors are shifting towards fillers such as Sculptra or Voluma because of a better safety profile. That said, they don't last forever. Hope that helps answer your question!


Encinitas Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review

IPL and Fat Loss

Thank you for your question. IPL treats browns and reds, stimulates collagen and minimizes pores. Unfortunately, volume loss is due to natural aging process. Fillers or facial fat grafting can restore volume loss. I would recommend consulting with a Board Certified Dermatologist for best treatment plan. I hope this helps!

Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD
Bay Area Dermatologist
3.9 out of 5 stars 12 reviews

Fat loss from IPL

IPL is intense pulsed light. IPL doesn't penetrate into fat layers because it just cannot go that deeply into the skin. It is also an old and fairly ineffective way to remove hair. But hair follicles are also largely above the fat layers, so even when IPL was used, it didn't affect fat. If IPL were a good way to treat fat, don't you think we'd all be using it to do just that all over the body? ;)

"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 and volume change

The science behind IPL treatment is such that it is extremely unlikely to cause volume change.  IPL has been in use for more than 15 years and this observation has not been previously made.  Also, knowing the physics of the light and energy produced by IPL as well as understanding how to injure fat, it is very likely that IPL would cause volume changes.

Brian Biesman, MD
Nashville Oculoplastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 41 reviews

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