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The photo facial: Details on this cosmetic procedure

Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon Glenn Vallecillos, M.D., F.A.C.S. believes that aesthetic medicine is more than a branch of plastic surgery; it is the ultimate marriage of anatomic form and function with psychological satiety. He has been ...

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Known as a “photo facial,” this special laser-like skin treatment can rid ruddy cheeks, shrink pores and get you camera ready just in time for holiday photo ops.

Woman getting photo facial

Ah, the holidays. Beginning with Halloween, continuing through Thanksgiving and lasting through New Year's Eve, these three months provide more photo ops than any other time of year. Unfortunately, for many people, it’s also when skin looks its worst. Leftover sun damage from the summer months can leave skin looking red, mottled and dull — and leave you camera shy.

Also known as “IPL,” or intense pulsed light, a photo facial can even out skin tone, shrink pores and treat rosacea. Though by no means new, the treatment is receiving renewed interest for being fast and practically painless.

Here’s an overview of the photo facial, from start to finish, with hints to help you get a fresh complexion just in time for 2013.

Step one: Am I a candidate for IPL?

IPL is not for everyone. Skin color, health history and tendency to scar are important factors that will affect your eligibility, and a consultation with a board certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist is a great place to start.

IPL can be used to improve the appearance of many skin conditions, but it’s not a catchall. Here’s what a photo facial can and cannot do.

Can treat:

  • Chronic facial redness
  • Dilated blood vessels
  • Liver spots
  • Brown skin discoloration
  • Sun damage

Won’t improve:

  • Deep wrinkles or folds
  • Sagging skin
  • Melasma

Step two: How do I prepare for a photo facial?

If you’re approved for the treatment, make sure to stay out of the sun. Melanin is a natural photoprotectant and helps prevent DNA damage to your skin cells by absorbing light energy, but that helpful property interferes with the effectiveness of the treatment.

For best results, avoid sun exposure for at least two weeks before your photo facial and wear a high SPF sunscreen after.

For most people, IPL therapy is performed with a series of three to five treatments, about a month apart each. Results can be seen as early as your second treatment and skin improves on a continual basis for weeks afterwards, giving you a better complexion by New Year's Eve and on into 2013.

Step 3: What happens at the appointment?

One of the advantages of the photo facial is that it usually only takes around 30 minutes for a complete treatment. A topical numbing cream may be applied to the areas you are having treated, followed up with a cooling gel. The IPL is then applied to the skin, and the light acts on the tissue. The body’s natural healing process removes the affected tissue over the next few weeks, allowing the skin to rejuvenate itself for a healthier, more youthful appearance.

Most patients have no downtime, and makeup can be applied immediately after to cover any residual redness.

When you’re in the throes of holiday retail madness, it might be hard to justify spending money on yourself. Luckily, photo facials are usually considerably less expensive than their laser therapy counterparts. Treatments by a board certified plastic surgeon usually start at around $350 per session.

More cosmetic procedures

Lunch hour "facelift"
Ultherapy: A surgery-free facelift
The pros and cons of non-invasive procedures

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