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Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Vs. Laser Resurfacing For Acne Scars

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Vs. Laser Resurfacing For Acne Scars

It is estimated that around 90% of those aged under 24 will experience acne in their lives. Although considered to be a teenage problem, acne often lingers well into adulthood, with around 1 in 5 adults suffering from the condition. Those who are fortunate to have successfully cleared their acne are still often left with acne scars, which can be distressing and difficult to conceal.

How Acne Scars Form

Acne scars form due to the healing action of the body. Our immune system reacts by producing new fibers to replace damaged tissue, which results in a physical scar. Some scars will fade over time, but there are various treatment options that can be used to speed up the process. Laser resurfacing and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) can both provide successful results in treating acne scars and improving the overall skin tone. These two treatments are often mistaken for each other, but they are actually two very different procedures.

intense pulsed lightIntense Pulsed Light (IPL)

IPL is a method of projecting intense light through the skin, at a wavelength designed to kill acne bacteria. This method also aims to shrink overactive sebaceous glands that are responsible for producing excess oil. The bacteria combines with excess oil and dead skin cells to form the papules and pustules associated with acne. This method is a non-surgical procedure that can be carried out in specialist salons by trained professionals.

How It Works

As Intense Pulsed Light is an intensive treatment, results can be seen much sooner compared to using prescription medication. Being specifically designed to treat acne, the treatment is precise and effective. A major advantage of IPL is the minimal downtime following a treatment – it does not cause excessive redness or damage to the skin, so clients can even book a treatment during their lunch hour and return to work afterwards. As the treatment uses intense light, it does not involve removing the outer layer of the skin. This makes it less painful – and indeed less expensive – than laser resurfacing. Usually 4-6 treatments are required over an eight week period, after which time the client should see a significant improvement in the appearance of their acne scars. It also helps to increase collagen production within the skin, which helps to soften, smooth and even out the skin tone.

The Cons

The main downside to IPL is that it is not suitable for all types of acne scars. A potential side effect of the treatment is the semi-permanent removal of facial hair, which can be undesirable for male clients who have scarring around the jaw line. The treatment is not completely painless, and some clients find they can experience a level of pain, depending on the setting used. It does not provide instant success and patience is required before a significant difference will be seen. The client will need at least three treatments to notice an improvement. As it is less intensive than a laser treatment, it does not, therefore, produce as dramatic a result. The long-term side effects of this treatment method are, as yet, unknown as the technology is relatively new in the field of skin care. Further research is required to assess the possible long-term effects of using Intense Pulsed Light to treat acne scars.

laser penatrating dermis diagramLaser Resurfacing

Unlike IPL, laser resurfacing treatment uses a carbon dioxide laser on the surface of the skin. This aims to vaporize damaged skin cells, which in turn improves the skin tone and texture. Scarred cells are removed, revealing fresh, new, healthy skin that appears smoother and firmer. The laser also encourages the production of collagen, essential for healthy-looking skin, as well as regenerating the growth of healthy skin cells. The overall appearance of the skin can be significantly improved.

How It Works

Laser resurfacing is suited to treating acne scars due to the precise nature of its operation, which allows a specific area and depth to be worked on. Only the scar tissue is removed, leaving healthy surrounding skin intact and without trauma. The benefits extend beyond simply removing the scars, as the resulting new layer of skin appears firmer, healthier and more youthful.

The Cons

The disadvantage of laser resurfacing is that it involves significantly more downtime than an IPL treatment. Recovery will take up to 10 days, requiring time off work. The skin will appear red and swollen during this time, and the client may experience an uncomfortable sunburn sensation as the skin heals. Even once this initial recovery period is over, some redness may remain for months afterwards. Laser resurfacing is not recommended for darker skin tones, or those with active acne. Compared to IPL, laser skin resurfacing is more expensive – however, more Intense Pulsed Light treatments are usually required, so this is worth considering when budget-planning.

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About Taylor Haning

My name is Taylor Haning, and thanks for reading my article. I struggled with acne until my late twenties and once my acne was under control and my complexion cleared, I noticed I was left with unsightly scarring. After trying one product after another and spending hundreds of dollars in the process, I finally found a treatment that was effective, safe, and fit within my budget. I regularly blog on to share the knowledge and experience I've gathered in my journey.

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