In 2007, the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported more than 500,000 photofacial (also spelled “foto facial”) laser surgery procedures performed in the United States. Also called “photorejuvenation,” “rejuvenation laser treatment” and “IPL (Intense Pulse Light) laser treatment,” photofacial laser procedures have become an increasingly popular cosmetic solution for correcting and preventing the signs of aging in the skin. Priced between $150 to $600 per session (in 2009), photofacial treatment is a nonsurgical cosmetic procedure that ultimately aims to yield a more youthful, attractive appearance in the skin.

Photofacial Patients

Photofacial laser treatment once catered to a narrow, upscale market, but demand has broadened its availability to a much wider socioeconommic range of consumers, varying greatly in age and skin condition. Patients use the treatment to smooth and even out the skin’s texture and color. Undesirable skin ailments treated by photofacial procedures are skin discoloration, technically referred to as hyperpigmentation and textural irregularities. Age spots and liver spots, ranging in quantity and darkness, are forms of hyperpigmentation, typically caused by overexposure to UV rays. Melasmas has a similar appearance to sun-damaged skin discoloration, but is caused by pregnancy or menopause. Birthmarks, spider veins, redness caused by Rosacea and broken capillaries are also common reasons for photofacial treatment. Textural problems in the skin include scars, particularly acne scars, as well as fine lines and wrinkles.

How It Works

Photofacial procedures are non-invasive, requiring no incisions through the skin that draw blood. The technology uses a lamp-like device that emits high-intensity lasers filled with plasma energy. The lasers target the precise “problem spots” of the skin, and permeate its outer layers to channel through to the dermis layer, where the undesirable skin cells are targeted. In the case of hyperpigmentation, for example, the skin cells that have an over-accumulation of melanin (causing the dark spots) are “zapped” and destroyed by the lasers; the surrounding healthier cells remain in tact. New cell growth is promoted from the inside out.

Corrective and Preventative Effects

Improved complexion, by way of a more even skin tone and texture, is visible after one session. Used for preventative reasons, the skin should immediately appear more radiant and feel softer. The session time and number of treatments required for corrective treatment, such as for specific skin discoloration ailments, like age spots, depends on the degree of the problem. Broken capillaries and redness can be corrected in one or two sessions. Fine lines and wrinkles definitely require multiple treatments, as the stimulation of collagen and new cell turn-over works from the inside out, and requires more attention (“filling”) in order to ultimately smooth out the outermost skin layer. Results are long-term to permanent.

Painfulness and Post-Treatment Downtime

Patients of photofacial laser treatment experience very little to no pain (use of an anesthetic is extremely uncommon). The most intense potential feeling inflicted by the laser beams is a prickling sensation on the skin, or a brief, tiny pinch as the laser permeates the epidermis. There is no downtime after a photofacial treatment; patients are free to return to their regular daily routine.

Post-Treatment Side Effects

Enthusiasts of photofacial treatment (including patients, as well as medical professionals) favor this alternative over other laser methods because it is designed to be the safest, and have the least possible side effects. The procedure is non-ablative, meaning that the laser beams channel through the epidermis to the undesirable cells of the skin layers beneath, leaving the outer layer undamaged. While photofacial sessions are considered the safest in this field of cosmetic medical technology, patients still experience post-treatment skin sensitivity. The “freshly” exposed healthy skin cells are substantially more sensitive to environmental factors, especially the sun. UV rays are far more harmful to the skin, leaving it highly prone to sun damage; therefore requiring that patients apply high-strength SPF protection on even the rainiest of post-treatment days. Also, photofacial lasers cannot guarantee the absence of post-treatment skin irritation. Although it is rare, patients may still experience side effects of itchiness, redness, and, at worst, a stinging sensation in the skin.