Intrigued by the idea of eradicating the over-half a dozen chicken pox scars whose strategic web-like positioning have led to premature lines and textural irregularities on my face, not to mention acne-induced perma-reminders marking my once-upon-a-time, prepubescent dewy complexion, I couldn’t resist taking Montreal-based Spa Évia on their potentially life-changing offer to allow me the chance to treat these conditions.
Broken capillaries, better known as spider veins, delightfully visible courtesy of my geisha-esque alabaster skin tone, spring to mind.
But what I didn’t realize prior to booking the first treatment – a momentous event* preceded by copious amounts of jumping action followed by “oh my god, pinch me! oh my god! pinch me again!” -- was that all of these skin conditions, from the enlarged pores, broken blood vessels, scarring and skin pitting to even fine lines, can be simultaneously addressed by one treatment modality.
It’s called photorejuvenation, also known as a photofacial. And it’s administered via IPL, or intense pulsed light, a treatment claiming the ability to improve a wide range of skin conditions. At the same time. Although it should be clarified that one condition is homed in on during a single session. Let's say you have minor acne pitting, broken capillaries and sun spots. The IPL machine cannot be calibrated to attack all three conditions at the exact same time with the exact same intensity. However, one IPL procedure will overlap its benefits onto other skin conditions albeit less intensely as it does the specific target condition, as described by About.com's spa expert Anitra Brown. Brown says IPL has a "shotgun" effect, offering advantages over the intense "rifle" approach of typically more expensive laser treatments: "if you want to treat age spots and broken capillaries, for instance, that is two different laser treatments, whereas IPL combines it."
Under the care of Spa Évia esthetician Lysa Desaulniers-Boulay –- warm, considerate and hypervigilant, Lysa clearly laid out all risks associated with IPL photofacials, ensuring I had properly prepared my skin for photorejuvenation and that I understood what is expected from me in terms of aftercare -- I underwent my first treatment, administered with a Sheerwave IPL Radiofrequency device.
Minus the time it took to go over pre- and post-care requirements, the actual treatment lasted at most 20 minutes, which in my case covered the entire face except for the eye region, which needs to be shielded from the light with protective goggles.
Photofacial Treatment Begins
First, Lysa applies a cooling ultrasound gel to the treatment area, protecting the surface of the skin, adjusting the IPL device settings to match client skin color and targeted conditions. Lysa then administers a spot test in a not-so visible place, typically the jawline, and then waits a couple of minutes to see how the skin reacts. In my case, it’s barely pink, so we’re good to go.
Having read up on the IPL photofacial procedure prior to my first appointment, I assumed at least some pain was to be gained. So much for expectations. The zapping sensation, often described as a rubber band snapping the skin, is not only tolerable, but negligible, less bothersome than the sensation of waxing, although some zaps were startling, like a mild electric shock, especially as the handheld piece got closer to the nose and mouth area. But, contrary to a laser, which is a lengthier treatment by virtue of the comparatively small beam, each IPL zap covers an area of 8mm by 40mm (1/3" by 1.6"), which makes for a faster experience. All in all, avoiding this treatment over a fear of excessive pain would be a shame, even silly, at least based on my experience.
After the treatment, Lysa applies a moisturizer to soothe the skin, which feels like it’s been sunburnt, albeit mildly.
Makeup can be applied immediately thereafter, but Lysa prefers clients stay away from powder or foundation if possible to discourage any potential infection, however minor the possibility. Coming from someone who can barely go to the pharmacy across the street without some semblance of makeup, I was surprised how unnoticeable the pink tinge on my skin was from undergoing the photofacial. I looked, at worst, as if I had just spent an hour doing cardio at the gym. By the time I got home and had a chance to examine my face, I noticed that a couple of broken capillaries were already gone.
The First 48 Hours
Following Lysa’s orders, I moisturized heavily and refrained from sun exposure, exercise and bathing for 48 hours. Showering is fine during that period as long as no hot water touches the treatment area. There are also several other IPL photorejuvenation aftercare requirements that must be respected in order to minimize or completely bypass any potential side effects, which I followed and continue to follow to the letter.
Within the first 24 hours, I experienced an acne breakout. Not surprising as I’m still prone to blemishes in my post-adolescent, adult world. But full-out breakouts? Not so much. Apparently, if I was treating brown spots, sun spots or freckles, I would have noticed them rising to the surface and developing a crust, which eventually sloughs off, which leads me to believe the treatment stimulated any lingering acne to the surface.
After One Week
By the end of the initial 48-hour period, I estimated that about one-third of my broken capillaries were gone. And by the end of the first week, the acne breakout subsided, revealing what seemed like a more even skin texture, though nothing outrageous – one friend asked if I had done anything to my skin -- just a nice, smooth, clean feeling to the touch, as if my pores were just a little tighter.
As for acne scars and chicken pox pockmarks, well, they’re still there. But I didn’t expect them to disappear overnight. Or after one treatment. Or at all. Though hopeful, I don’t anticipate my face returning to its prepubescent glory. While expecting complete scar elimination is going overboard, clients can expect scars to be less noticeable once the full treatment program is completed.
In other words, Spa Évia as well as the vast majority of spas administering IPL photofacials recommend multiple session to achieve desired results.
- Photofacial Review: Second Treatment
- Photofacial Review: Third Treatment
- Photofacial Review: Fourth Treatment
*In line with About.com's and the New York Times Company's full disclosure policy, readers should be aware that Evelyn Reid is being provided with complimentary IPL photofacial for review purposes, a common but generally undisclosed procedure in the lifestyle publishing industry. Also note that the latter gratuity has not influenced this review. Also note that staff, for obvious invitational reasons, are aware of Evelyn Reid’s identity, which may or may not have had an impact on the service aspect of the treatment. For more information on full disclosure at About.com, please consult our ethics policy.
*Think I'm being superficial? You would be jumping for joy too if you had my scars and shared the circumstances of how they got there and what they represent. These marks, mostly acquired by my 14th birthday courtesy of being forcibly and deliberately sent to school with a visible, fever-laden infectious illness requiring, at my age, prescription pain medication and rest to prevent complications and permanent scarring -- “you don’t have enough pox on you to stay home,” was the reason I was quoted on Day 1 of their appearance by a caregiver fully aware of what I had contracted -- these pits, which irrevocably changed my face, are a constant visual reminder that not too long ago, I didn’t matter. I didn’t matter enough to be loved. To be treated with dignity. And that incident was just one of many, but the others are not etched on my skin. However naive this may seem, I’d like to believe it easier to rise above these moments when they’re out of sight. I’d like to believe that if these scars fade, so will the memories.
IPL Photofacial FAQs
- What do IPL photofacials claim to Do?
- What is an IPL photofacial exactly?
- Is IPL the same thing as a laser?
- What are the risk factors with IPL photofacials?
- Who is authorized to administer IPL photofacial treatments?
- Do IPL photofacials hurt?
- How many treatments are required?
- How much does it cost?
- What do I need to do before undergoing a photofacial treatment?
- What do I need to do after undergoing a photofacial treatment?
- Is there any downtime after undergoing an IPL treatment?