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5 Benefits of IPL Treatment for Acne

Acne is a common skin concern for teenagers, with many adults experiencing them even into their forties. It’s no surprise that today, we have such a wide range of treatments available for treating acne and several related concerns, like acne scars and hyperpigmentation. Popular acne treatments include prescription medications, chemical peels, and energy-based therapies like Laser and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL). As every individual’s skin is different, the causes of acne are complex and may require several different treatment methods to eradicate acne. While IPL is known for its hair removal efficacy, it also has multiple benefits especially, for treating acne.

What is Intense Pulsed Light?

Intense Pulsed Light is an energy-based treatment that is non-invasive and has no downtime. Also known as photofacial therapy, IPL emits quick pulses of broad band light energy that treat acne by targeting its main pathophysiological causes. It also targets various other skin issues such as wrinkles, pigmentation, spider veins, and superficial acne scars. 

Unlike lasers, IPL emits a band of light of different wavelengths ranging from 500nm to 1,200nm, while lasers focus and emits only on a single wavelength[1]. Since it emits light at several wavelengths, the pulses become less focused and more scattered as compared to what a laser device can do.  

How Does IPL Help with Treating Acne

The energy-based device releases a broad-spectrum of pulsed light wavelengths, which can penetrate into deeper layers of the skin beneath the acne resulting in the following benefits: 

  1. Eradicate Cutibacterium acnes (C.acnes), formerly called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes)

While C. acnes is a skin bacterium that can help the skin by stopping harmful bacteria getting into the pores, it can also act as an opportunistic pathogen in acne. When the pulses from IPL devices penetrate the skin, the light energy is absorbed by porphyrins, a class of pigments in our body. This triggers a biochemical reaction that eliminates the bacteria within the pores and decreases new acne from forming. 

  1. Regulate Sebum Production

Sebum is a naturally occurring oily substance secreted by the sebaceous glands to hydrate and protect our skin. Overactive sebaceous glands produce excess sebum and contributes to acne. When short pulses of intense light are emitted from the applicator to the skin, the capillaries that feed the sebaceous glands are stuck by flashes of light and decrease. Consequently, the sebaceous glands then produce less sebum. By eliminating sebum as a nutrient source, bacteria cannot reproduce, thus reducing acne-causing bacteria, and therefore fewer comedones are formed.

  1. Hair Removal

When the IPL device targets the pilosebaceous glands, the light energy absorbed by pigments in hair follicles below the skin’s surface turns to heat and destroy the hair follicle, preventing it from growing back again. As there will be fewer hair for bacteria to cling to, it will also significantly reduce breakouts. 

a severe acne and pimple on the face of a person who needs a treatment soon
  1. Reduce Inflammation & Redness

Acne breakouts can sometimes leave red, pink patches on your skin. These spots are commonly known as post-inflammatory erythema (PIE). Picking and popping acne can also trigger more inflammation, and subsequently lead to an increase and dilation of blood vessels. Pulsed light energy is absorbed by the dilated blood vessels, reducing their appearance. In addition, since it penetrates multiple layers of the skin, it can promote collagen synthesis, which helps to heal your skin and lighten mild acne scarring. 

  1. Lighten Acne Marks

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) also refers to post-acne marks on the skin. It occurs when trauma to the skin triggers a natural healing response, which leads to an overproduction of melanin in the skin. The energy created by the intense pulse light is absorbed by the hyperpigmentation and breaks down into smaller particles that your body can now remove. These particles either rise to the epidermis to be flaked off over time or are eliminated through the lymphatic system. Therefore, you may see your acne marks darken before lightening after a photofacial session.

Medical Grade vs Salon/Consumer Grade IPL

With several consumer grade IPL devices available for self-use and beauty salons also offering treatment services, you may be wondering what the differences are between medical grade or consumer grade devices and treatments. In principle, both types of devices work on the same principle.


Medical Grade IPL 

At-home IPL

The power 

A medical-grade IPL machine delivers about 40 J/cm2. 

A handheld IPL device delivers around 6J/cm2 to 20J/cm2. 

Effectiveness of Hair Removal 

Able to target hair follicles more effectively and slow down hair growth. 

Temporary hair removal. 


Done by a licensed medical professional or a trained aesthetician to ensure effectiveness and safety. 

This device is generally safe for consumers to use on their own since its power and energy are typically low. 


Reach deeper into the skin to shatter the pigments spots and stimulate collagen and elastin production. 

Handheld IPL devices may not reach deep into the skin and may only help to lighten superficial pigmentation. 

Number of sessions 

Usually takes about 6-8 sessions depending on individual skin type, concern and severity of the condition. 

Takes about more than 20 sessions to achieve similar results. 

Things to avoid before IPL

Ahead of the procedure, the doctor advises patients to take a few precautions to prevent any undesirable effects (3). These safety practices to be practiced at least two weeks before the session, include avoiding skincare procedures such as waxing, or collagen-boosting injections. Certain medications like aspirin are also to be avoided during this period. The treatment is not recommended for pregnant women. 

What to expect during IPL 

Before commencing treatment, the medical aesthetic doctor or clinic aesthetician sanitises the skin and applies a gel to the treatment zone. This desensitises the skin and allows the device to glide smoothly over the skin surface. The patient’s eyes are covered with protective dark glasses to shield from possible exposure to the IPL light. 

During the session, which usually last between 10 to 20 minutes, the skincare practitioner or the esthetician uses a hand-held device and targets the IPL beam onto the targeted skin zone. The different wavelengths of light penetrate deeper into the skin and bypass the surface; hence it does not damage the epidermis layer of the skin. 

Most people hardly feel the sensation of the light pulses during the treatment while some patients report a slight stinging feeling to the skin. This treatment is usually part of a treatment process or can be combined with other treatments for optimal results. 

How the Recovery Looks Like & Possible Side Effects 

Since intense pulsed light treatment is a non-invasive procedure, there is almost no downtime. Some may experience a little bit of redness, and sensitivity in the treated area similar to having a mild sunburn. This will only last a couple of hours, but there is no discomfort. As a result, patients are able to return to their homes or workplaces immediately after the treatment session. However, patients are advised to avoid exposure to heat sources like excess sun exposure and are advised to apply sunblock to protect the skin.

Over the next few weeks, the benefits of IPL treatment begin to show up gradually. There is a marked improvement in the skin condition as you can see the inflammation from acne is reduced and there are fewer acne breakouts. If you have pigmentation when you undergo IPL, these spots may continue to darken before they fade away.

Other Skin Benefits of IPL 

Aside from treating acne, mild acne scarring, and hair removal, intense pulsed light treatment also helps with other conditions. There are many uses for IPL, including reducing enlarged pores, sun damage resulting from UV exposure, scarring, and hyperpigmentation. IPL can also be used as a treatment option for broken blood vessels, age or liver spots, freckles, spider veins, and rosacea[2]. 

IPL can make a difference 

Today, amid a plethora of options that are available for treating of acne and other skin concerns, intense pulsed light is one modality that remains popular despite making its debut almost two decades ago[3]. While intense pulsed light can be an effective acne treatment, it is important to consult a physician with special interest in lasers, energy-based treatments. Since each individual's condition may differ, and they will be able to advise you accordingly.