When I was pregnant with le fils thirteen years ago, I developed a large brown spot (melasma) on my right cheek as a result of hormonal changes. For a few years, I didn't pay much attention to it, or dabbed on a bit of concealer to try to minimize its appearance. But the color became more splotchy and uneven over time and concealer didn't really do the job, so I started trying various topical products that promised to lighten it, even a couple prescribed by my dermatologist. Nothing had any effect.
I'd begun hearing about IPL laser treatments* a couple of years ago, and began seriously researching earlier this year. I learned that IPL is often quite effective in treating brown or red discolorations, and asked my dermatologist if it might help with my brown spot. She said that while she couldn't promise it would work, IPL is one of the few treatments that has been effective in fading hormonal melasma. "Sign me up," I said.
I was instructed to arrive 30 minutes early on the day of my appointment so they could apply a topical numbing cream. Some doctors apply the IPL in lighter strengths, so the potential for discomfort is less and no anesthetic is used, but effectiveness is reduced so more sessions might be required. My derm likes to "turn up the volume" so that each treatment is more effective. After 30 minutes, I was instructed to rinse off the numbing cream, and to lie down on the treatment table. The doctor applied a gel and started the treatment, doing a couple of test pulses of light to gauge my tolerance. I gave her the thumbs up and said I could take an even stronger pulse (I'm sure the numbing cream helped). The pulse of light does sting a little bit (some have compared it to having a rubber band snapped against the skin), more so on the areas of discoloration, but my doctor moved in a regular and rhythmic fashion, and I grew accustomed to the feeling quickly. Treatment over my entire face only took about 15 minutes.
My face was a bit tingly immediately afterward, but I think that was more from the numbing cream than the laser. Then for about an hour, my skin felt as if I'd received a slight sunburn or was sitting directly under one of those outdoor heat lamps, but this also subsided. The areas of discoloration were an angry purple for about two hours, then faded back to normal. Some of the literature says you can do IPL on a lunch hour and go back to work afterward, but I probably wouldn't, more out of vanity than discomfort.
The brown areas (including some other sun damage I hadn't really noticed before) turned darker over the next day, and looked a bit like very fine coffee grounds, but were smooth and easily covered with concealer/foundation. After a few days, the dark spots began to flake off, and the skin underneath was much more even in tone. Even my brown spot had faded substantially. But what really amazed me was how much smoother and better my skin looked overall. The texture was really improved, and I'd swear some of the fine lines have been erased.
It's been eight weeks now since the treatment, and I'm still very happy with the results. My skin still looks much smoother and firmer, and I'd say my melasma is at least 50% lighter, and even enough in tone that I can more easily cover with concealer. I'm ready to sign up for Round 2, and this time do my neck and decollete too!
*Not a link to my dermatologist's office.
(Note: I'd tried to snap some before and after pictures, but our camera just doesn't have the resolution to show the changes.)