Like a lot of other people, I only started really worrying about sun damage around when I turned 30. Needless to say, as a fair-complexioned girl, I’ve suffered through my fair share of sunburns—many so bad, I blistered. Did I regret it? Yes, completely. Could I do anything about it? Well, only kind of.
In addition to becoming infinitely better about remembering to wear sunscreen everyday, I also tried a IPL treatment (which stands for Intense Pulsed Light) that helps reverse the signs of sun damage on a cosmetic level. Some of the freckles around my shoulders and chest had gotten darker and splotchier as a result of my time spent frying in the sun, and I was super self-conscious about it. Here’s a photo of me right around my 30th birthday—you can see why I rarely wore V-neck tops or dresses.
So about three months after my thirtieth birthday, I tried a form of IPL, called LimeLight, at my usual spot for facials, Kate Somerville in West Hollywood. IPL is just as the name states: An intense, visible, broad-spectrum light that heats and destroys brown spots, melasma, broken capillaries, and sun spots. It was first approved by the FDA in the mid-nineties and has been growing in popularity ever since. According to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, IPL grew in popularity by over 30 percent between 2014 and 2015 in the United States.
LimeLight is a more targeted form of IPL that uses a green light to focus specifically on skin tone and color. It isn’t proprietary to Kate Somerville, so you can find it at a variety of places. (FYI, IPL is not to be confused with lasers. While lasers also use intense light and heat to treat unwanted skin issues, they're comprised of a single wavelength of light instead of a broad spectrum. Translation: They're more targeted, which is why they're used for focused treatments like hair removal.)
You need about five to six sessions to see real results from LimeLight (and IPL in general), and each one costs anywhere from $125 to $350, depending on the area. It’s expensive, to be sure, but it helps that you don’t have to pay for everything at once. I spaced my appointments four weeks apart and went a total of three times (even though I probably could have used more sessions). After you get the treatment done, your spots get much darker and basically scab over, and then peel off within a week of the treatment. Here’s what my chest looked like immediately following my first appointment.
And here’s what my chest looked a couple of months after I’d healed from my last treatment. Because I’ve been pretty good about applying sunscreen to that area every day, it still looks the same.
As you can see, the treatment didn’t erase all of my freckles and spots at all. It just made them a whole lot lighter. In fact, if anything, the difference is more noticeable in person. Personally, I’m okay with that. The dark pigmentation is what I was most self-conscious about, and it fixed that problem right up.
Thinking about getting an IPL treatment done? I’ll leave you with a few things to consider before going under the light yourself.
The recovery process is doable.
"You can expect about one week of downtime," says Laura Glen, R.N. at the Kate Somerville clinic. "Your skin will appear to have dark coffee ground-looking spots and your face may look muddled or dirty." I can attest this is true but it's nothing a little foundation and concealer couldn't cover.
Which makes it easier than an intensive peel or Fraxel.
If you've been thinking of a peel to deal with spots and signs of aging on your face, this could be a more affordable and low-maintenance alternative. "You will get better results from a peel," Glen says. "But a lot of people are turned off by the downtime. With peels your whole face is fluffing off, whereas with LimeLight you can easily cover up what's happening with makeup."
It’s mildly uncomfortable.
The actual treatment feels like a rubber band is snapping against your skin, and the treated area burns a little bit immediately after the session. That said, I thought it was less painful than a bikini wax.
You need to be on the fair side.
"Fairer skin types tend to respond best because you can be more aggressive with the treatment," says Glen. Darker skin types need to be very careful with light therapy as it can cause hyperpigmentation and scarring. Very dark skin cannot be treated at all.
Do you have a spare $1,000 lying around? If not, is working IPL into your budget something that’s really important to you? It ended up being important to me, but I fretted over the cost of doing it for awhile before I made my first appointment. On the low end, expect to pay about $625 in total; on the high end, it can cost up to $2,100.
You need to go to a reputable place.
The side effects of an IPL treatment are minimal, but if the light isn’t administered properly, or you go too often, you can seriously hurt yourself. Don’t go to a clinic that’s running too-good-to-be-true deals and, if you don’t already know of a reputable spot in your area, consult American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery to find a board-certified surgeon or registered nurse you can trust.
Megan Gustashaw is a writer in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @mgustashaw.
Originally Appeared on Glamour