Ask An Aesthetician: IPL Photofacial vs Chemical Peel – Which One Is Worth The Money?

ipl photofacial vs chemical peel

Each week we explore your questions in Ask An Aesthetician with Seti Mayet; former instructor at the International Dermal Institute and founder of skin care practice, Enliven Your Skin, in Los Angeles, CA. Check out last week’s question – Are at home microneedling devices safe and effective? – and if you have any, send us your questions via social media or email! 

Hi Seti, I have sun damage spots which are my main skincare concern. I’m considering doing an IPL photofacial vs chemical peel. Doing IPL (intense pulsed light) laser requires multiple treatments and therefore will cost more, so I’m leaning towards doing a chemical peel vs IPL which I will only do once. But I want to know – which one do you think is more effective at getting rid of sun damage spots (and worth the money)?

Seti: First, I should inform you that you will not receive an end-result from either therapy in one treatment. Pigmentation requires a round of treatments in order to achieve measurable results and the number of treatments recommended depends on the degree of discoloration you have so a consultation is must.
Second, depending on the sensitivity of your skin, you may not be able to tolerate an aggressive chemical peel. In this case, IPL (intense pulse laser) might be the better alternative. Further, the complexion of your skin is also a key factor in determining which therapy to choose.
If your complexion is in the Fitzpatrick scale of 1-3 (see chart below); I believe IPL will get you where you want to go in shorter amount of time which could ultimately save you money. The strength and type of chemical peel used to treat the skin is also determined by your complexion. However, less aggressive peels can also get the job done though more treatments are usually required. So again, you’ll need to take these factors into consideration.
Fitzpatrick Scale
  • Type I  always burns, never tans (pale white; blond or red hair; blue eyes; freckles).
  • Type II  usually burns, tans minimally (white; fair; blond or red hair; blue, green, or hazel eyes)
  • Type III  sometimes mild burn, tans uniformly (cream white; fair with any hair or eye color)

IPL uses a range of wavelengths of light to target brown (and, to a lesser degree, red) discoloration. This discoloration occurs over time and after many years of sun exposure. Filters are used to cut off wavelengths of light that could be harmful (in darker skinned patients, filters decrease the risk of damaging the normal pigment in the skin). So, if you have medium to dark skin, you must consider the risks.

 Jordana S. Gilman, MD , a dermatologist surgeon says she recommends IPL for fairer skinned patients who have brown discoloration, age spots, and freckles. The use of retinoid creams to help even skin tone and pigmentation is also utilized and in some cases creams containing hydroquinone and kojic acid, to decrease the activity of the pigment cells and fade brown spots.
IPL is best for fair complexions. The light targets the pigmented spots. Immediately after treatment the area is red and swollen, almost like a burn. Over the next few days the redness fades but the brown gets darker- it can get very very dark. Then the brown peels off.
At about 2 weeks after treatment the peeling should be complete. There may be small untreated patches of skin that are still visible among the lighter, more even skin that was treated. That is why most patients need multiple treatments.
When seeking a practitioner, always do your due diligence and make sure the practice has a great reputation and has successfully treated clients who have a similar skin type and/or condition as yours.

Written by aesthetician Seti Mayet; former instructor at the International Dermal Institute and founder of skin care practice, Enliven Your Skin, in Los Angeles, CA. Photographed by: Wing Ta.