Laser and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) treatments for hair removal are relatively safe, assuming your treatment is performed by a qualified technician and your skin type has been properly evaluated. This article will discuss the main causes of laser ipl burns, treatments, and a few frequently asked questions.
Did You Know?
Not everyone is a good candidate for laser or IPL treatments. Those with sensitive skin or Skin Type III and above (Asian, Latino, Persian, African-American) should avoid laser or IPL treatments. That’s because laser and IPL treatments on darker skin types can result in hyperpigmentation (dark patches or spots) on the skin that can be difficult to treat.
Stories of people harmed, burned, damaged or scarred by cosmetic devices like lasers, IPL, Fraxel, VBeam, radio frequency devices and others are, thankfully, not common, but it does happen from time to time.
Procedures performed with these devices ranges from treatment for acne and rosacea to facial rejuvenation and hair removal. According to Dr. John Wu, Dermatologist, harmful side effects from cosmetic lasers and light devices can range from burns, scars, eye damage, orange peel texture skin, extreme dryness, dents in the skin, ‘stretched’ pores, facial fat loss, facial sagging, and more. The emotional toll can be devastating.
Main Causes of Laser and IPL Burns
Laser ipl burns can occur when the procedures are performed by unlicensed or unqualified technicians. They are caused by improper usage of hair removal machines. The heat from the high-powered laser lights can cause severe burns if the technique is not done correctly. Inexperienced technicians may use the equipment negligently, recklessly, or carelessly during laser treatments. They may choose the wrong laser device or hair removal system for the particular skin type.
Some patients opt for do-it-yourself procedures at home and cause damage from being too aggressive. In addition, they typically lack expertise and knowledge about optimal treatment settings and techniques. Laser treatments and the use of intense pulsed light machines carry an inherent risk of burns and other complications.
Some risk factors like tan skin can result in burns because tan skin absorbs more energy during procedures that use laser and IPL. Exposure to the sun or tanning beds produces an increased level of melanin, which is what the laser and IPL machines destroy. More melanin in the skin during treatment means a higher degree of laser light absorption and the potential for burns. Machine malfunction or imitation lasers and IPL machines can also result in burns.
Burns are categorized in degrees and depends on the thermal trauma or injury. First degree burns like a sunburn are not serious and only affect the outer layer of skin. Second degree burns are a bit more severe and typically appear as blisters. Third degree burns are the worst and goes deep into the dermis, where nerve endings and tissue under the skin can suffer severe damage. Patients may experience a burning sensation during treatment or sometime afterwards like on the drive home. The majority of laser and IPL burns are first degree; third degree burns are unlikely.
What To Do If You Think Your Skin Has Been Damaged or Burned
First, if you suspect that you have been burned, try to determine why kind of burn you have. To do that you need to know about the three layers of skin – the Epidermis, the Dermis and the Subcutaneous layer.
Burns that affect the Epidermis (the top layer of skin) are called first degree burns and look much like a sunburn.
Burns that affect the Dermis (the layer beneath the Epidermis) are called second degree burns. These can be painful and will produce redness, swelling and blisters on the skin. According to the Mayo Clinic, if the second-degree burn is no larger than 3 inches in diameter, treat it as a minor burn. If the burned area is larger or if the burn is on the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or over a major joint, treat it as a major burn and get medical help immediately.
Finally, burns that affect the subcutaneous layer (the deepest, fatty, layer of skin) are called third degree burns. These are the most serious burns that will permanently damage skin tissue and nerve endings. In the event of third degree burns, immediate medical attention is necessary.
Once you have determined that your skin has been damaged, contact your treating physician or technician right aware and let them know what happened. They will want to see you as soon as possible to evaluate the skin and determine a course of action. Your skincare professional will inspect the affected areas and look for:
- Blistering of the skin
- Crusting of the skin
- Well-defined circular or rectangular marks that match up with the device used in the laser or IPL treatment
- Red whelps or an itchy rash
- Swelling or pronounced redness and swelling of the hair follicle
- The appearance of red or purple discoloration on the skin that does not change when pressure it applied
- Pain, discomfort, or soreness
It’s very important to cool the skin during the first few hours after treatment. You can direct the air-conditioning in your car towards the affected area on your way home. Apply a cold washcloth to the area every few minutes after you’ve arrived home. Don’t apply ice directly to the skin or leave cold packs on the area for longer than 10 minutes. Don’t apply any creams or ointments to the skin unless directed to do so. Don’t pop blisters if any appear on your skin.
Once you discover or suspect a laser or IPL burn, you should seek treatment immediately. Schedule a visit with the technician who performed your procedure or a qualified physician to check the affected area and determine a treatment plan. If you feel a burning sensation during treatment and suspect you’ve been burned, discuss this with your technician before you leave the facility. You want to begin the healing process as soon as possible to avoid long-term damage to your skin. In addition, certain activities may need to be stopped or limited until resolution of the condition. Some lifestyle changes may also be necessary.
It’s crucial to avoid prolonged sun exposure and discontinue any activity that may cause friction upon the affected area. Avoid hot baths or showers. Patients who work in certain settings like clinical or industrial environments may need to consider workplace contamination depending on the severity of the injury. If you experience a burning sensation after a procedure, you should contact your laser professional right away, especially if the sensation becomes more intense or pronounced. Serious burns should be treated immediately to avoid infection and scar tissue. Pigmentation changes may occur but are usually temporary. If the burn is severe, covers a large area of your body, or is very painful, seek emergency care at a local clinic or hospital.
Treating Laser and IPL Burns
As with any laser or IPL treatment, complications can occur. Redness and swelling of the hair follicle is to be expected and is considered “normal” after most laser hair removal treatments and IPL treatments. This redness should be expected to last about 12 – 24 hours. If your skin appears to be more than a little irritated, use the criteria outlined above to determine whether you have a first, second or third degree burn. In the case of first or second degree burns, follow these basic guidelines as soon as possible:
- Cool the burn. Reduce swelling and remove the heat from the burn. Hold the burned area under cool (not cold) running water for 10 or 15 minutes until the pain subsides, or apply a cold compress to the affected area. Do not put ice on the burned skin.
- Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage. Avoid using cotton balls or material with lint (you don’t want that in the wound). If possible wrap the gauze loosely to avoid putting pressure on burned skin. Covering the burn keeps air off it, reduces pain and protects blistered skin.
- Discontinue swimming, baths, or any activity that results in constant friction upon the affected area.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
Minor burns usually heal without further treatment. There may be pigment changes to the affected area. Keep an eye out for infections, worsening pain, redness, swelling or any oozing. If infection develops, seek medical help. Avoid further damage to the skin by protecting the affected area from UV rays – use sunscreen on the area for at least a year.
Frequently Asked Questions About Laser IPL Burns
1. How do I know if I have a laser or IPL burn?
Burns from these procedures usually have crusting of the skin, well-defined reddish marks, or blisters. You may experience moderate to severe pain with no improvement.
2. How do you treat laser and IPL burns?
Laser burns require immediate attention to prevent further complication like infection or scar tissue. Cooling the affected area is required until the burning sensation subsides. A follow-up visit the next day will show the full extent of damage. These types of burns are treated with topical medications like hydrocortisone creams and sunscreen. It’s important to avoid prolonged sun exposure and any irritants to the area such as hot baths or workplace contamination. Second and third degree burns need more aggressive treatment like antibiotic medications.
3. Will laser and IPL burns leave a scar?
While there is a chance of scarring after laser burns, most burn cases heal well and any change in skin color is usually temporary and can be treated with skin lighteners or UVB rays from sun exposure.
4. Is it normal to feel a burning sensation during treatment?
The laser treatment will make your skin feel hot, but it should cool down fairly quickly. If you feel uncomfortably hot or any burning sensation during the procedure, communicate this information with your technician immediately. An adjustment to the machine’s settings may be necessary or a complete stoppage of the treatment to minimize damage.
5. Is swelling and blisters normal after a laser and IPL burn?
Definitely not. This is as sign of a second degree burn and should be treated immediately to avoid infection or scarring. Do not apply any topical medications to the affected area. Seek medical attention from your laser professional or local physician.
6. How long does a laser and IPL burn take to heal?
Healing times can vary, but most cases heal within a few weeks. Avoid sun exposure as much as possible and follow medical instructions for aftercare. In addition, closely monitor the area for any signs of infection.
7. How should I treat hyperpigmentation from laser and IPL burns?
You can treat skin discoloration with a hydroquinone cream and Retin-A. Topical creams that contain TNS Recovery Complex and Vitamin C can improve healing and help with collagen production.