Can an IPL Photo Facial ELIMINATE sun spots?
September 1, 2014 9:57 AM   Subscribe

My wife hates her sun spots and wants an IPL Photo Facial. I've decided I am OK with her dishing out big bucks for the treatment, but I don't want her to go through several treatments that don't work. We are flying to NYC in a couple of weeks and she wants to go to Tribeca Med Spa.

She is fair skin and is starting to develop sun spots. Some are easily covered by make-up and a few others are starting to stand out. She tans/burns quite easily and wears sun block for protection. Here are my questions:

1) Has anyone been to Tribeca with positive experiences from IPL Photo Facial?
2) Are there other med spas in NYC you recommend more?
3) Do you agree that in general a pricier spa will increase the odds of better results?
4) Any advice on what she needs to do before or after the treatment for better results?
posted by JPowers to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't had this done, but I have had laser hair removal done on my face and neck. And I figured that if I was going to let someone discharge a burning pulse of light on my most visible and vulnerable areas, I really wanted to have an actual dermatologist involved. Someone with a reputation on the line. I'm not trusting my face to a random spa employee for treatments that could do signifgant damage. I'm very glad I didn't, and I got optimal results.

The website of the derm office that I used, which also does IPL facials, also suggests that it will take more than one treatment to take care of this. So you might want to go somewhere local to you. Also better if there's any trouble afterwards.

Going to a dermatology practice was actually no more expensive than any of the local "medi spa" places where I am.

Here is their info page about IPL photofacials with before and after advice: Olympic Dermatology
posted by monopas at 12:35 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't answer most of your questions but I've had IPL for surfaced capillaries and I don't think it's going to do what your wife wants -- or at least, one treatment will not. IPL is pretty mild and she would need a course of treatments --at least, let's say six, over a period of several months-- to get visible results.

Cosmetic dermatology is a field that's full of bullshit and false claims, and it can be very hard to find a competent provider. The usual heuristics, like degrees or expense or quality of marketing materials, don't apply in this space: you're just as likely to get ineffective or even damaging treatment from a high-end dermatologist as you are from a hole-in-the-wall staffed by people with no credentials. (Ask me how I know: I have mild rosacea and sebborrheic dermatitis, and it took me fifteen years, a ton of research, and a dozen providers to finally get it resolved.)

Two pieces of advice: first, Google IPL and Paula Begoun for background reading. Paula Begoun (the so-called cosmetics cop) is the only really informed consumer advocate in this space. She offers clearly-written unbiased information that's rooted in science, not hype. Second, look on Amazon for Skin Laboratory's acid peels, and read the reviews. These are the same peels that cost hundreds of dollars at a medical spa, and you can do them yourself at home, easily and safely, and with a cost-per-use of about two dollars. I've been using them for years and over time they've seriously improved the condition of my skin, including sloughing off dead sun-damaged cells. Your wife may find that methodical at-home treatment will give her the best results, as well as costing significantly less than a medspa.

Good luck.
posted by Susan PG at 1:18 PM on September 1, 2014 [10 favorites]

Blah, I just read the Tribeca Med Spa reviews on Yelp and FWIW I would never go there. Looks like there's an emphasis on facials, peels, Obagi, plus they participate in lots of Groupon type things, and people say they upsell. All indicators of bullshit IME.

I sympathise with your wife trying to navigate through all the available options: it isn't easy, and the industry is fundamentally pretty deceptive and exploitative (as well as built on shame and sexism, blah). But you should tell her that if she wants results, this is probably not how to get them.
posted by Susan PG at 1:31 PM on September 1, 2014

Have her read this article about sun spots. She could start with a topical (and proven effective) treatment of Vitamin C (specifically, an ingredient called hydroquinone).

Topical hydroquinone is a key step in reducing or eliminating skin discolorations. In fact, topical application of hydroquinone is considered by many dermatologists and extensive research to be a safe and effective treatment for skin discolorations. Topical hydroquinone in 2% concentrations from cosmetic companies and 4% concentrations available from a physician or by prescription should definitely be a consideration.

This is a product she could buy (will be effective after 4-8 weeks application)

Here is a cheaper "DIY" version she could make at home (I make it and it's easy)

I would start with hydroquinone before going the laser route.

FWIW #3 is TOTALLY WRONG - you need to research the ingredients / methods the spa is using to make sure they are based in dermatological science, and that will make the difference between a relaxing time at the spa and real results. There is so much mumbo-jumbo out there with respect to treatments.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:58 PM on September 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

I cannot speak to that specific spa, but I had IPL Photo Facials done to remove sun spots and rosacea redness on the west coast.

The treatment office where I had it done was associated with my dermatologist and the person performing all treatments was a nurse practitioner. I made sure she had been practicing for many years, was well-credentialed, and had a number of good reviews. Each treatment was $200 (I was offered a discount for multiple visits) and took 45 minutes. I was told to not get any tan whatsoever for several weeks beforehand. This is very important, as the light is attracted to the skin's pigment and you don't want to add pigment.

I left the treatment looking as if I had a severe sunburn, and it hurt, but faded to a mild pink (and not hurty) within an hour. They sent me out with ice packs. I was mildly swollen for several days.

The sun spots crusted over slightly and flaked off within several days after treatment -- it took 3 total treatments, one month apart, to remove all of them. I am really happy with the results.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 4:36 PM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fwiw, here's what my dermatologist recommended when I asked about sun spots.

1. Wait until winter (November at the latest) for laser.

2. In the meantime, use prescription hydroquine twice a day, followed by vitamin C serum in the morning and prescription retinol (or azalex for sensitive skin) at night.

3. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen.

I saw her in June, so it's been 2 months on the topical treatments. Definitely seeing an improvement, to the extent that I may not do the laser after all when I go back for my checkup in December.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:20 AM on September 2, 2014

I had some brown spots treated this way by my derm. I would always opt for a dermatologist for something like this, over a medspa. Always. I had two treatments and my brown spots are much lighter but not gone. I think four treatments would probably get them gone -- worth the $ if they're really bothering your wife. But there's no reason not to do this where you live. Everything's more expensive in NYC! Why not just find a good dermatologist where you live?

Whatever she does, she needs to be diligent with sunscreen or they will come back.
posted by swheatie at 7:06 AM on September 2, 2014

I've had a series of IPLs done and they aren't nearly as powerful as lasers and I saw negligible results and the results were largely temporary. Even at the highest levels, there was not much pain and I also didn't require a recovery period. I'm now considering v-beam laser as it's a lot more powerful and effective although it does have a longer, more visible recovery time.

For age spots, I'd go to the doctor and get prescription strength hydroquinone and use that along with religious use of sunscreen every day no matter what. Even one exposure of the age spotted skin without sunscreen can undo months of fading treatments.

If she does want to try IPL or even laser, try scouting Groupon or other similar discount sites. You can buy treatments for much less through them and you can even directly contact clinics with a Groupon/discount offer and ask if they'd honor the same price if you paid them directly (many will jump at the chance since Groupon takes about 40% of the discounted price as their fee).
posted by quince at 1:49 PM on September 2, 2014

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