There are many factors than can cause burns, but in order for it to make more sense I will first explain how laser and IPL work.
Both IPL and laser work with the energy of an intense light source. Different filters and settings are used to target specific elements in our skin:
- hair follicle for hair removal
- protein and water for rejuvenation
- blood for spider vein removal and broken capillaries.
- burns the follicle
- burns the pigment
- heats the protein and water to increase collagen production
- heats the blood to create coagulation
Why do things go wrong?
The main cause of burns is sun exposure before or after treatment. It is extremely important that you follow your therapist instructions to the letter. You must keep the area to be treated out of the sun (sun, solarium, tanning beds) for 4 weeks before and 4 weeks after treatment. If you need to expose the area to the sun use a broad spectrum sunscreen SPF30+, even if it's cloudy.
Sometimes we go to the shops and forget to use sunscreen, however even if you are in the car, unless your windows are all tinted with UV A & B protection, you are getting sun exposure.
Why it's important to keep out of the sun?
Before Treatment: Sun exposure will cause the cells to produce more melanin for protection from the UV rays tanning or burning your skin, depending on your skin colour and the amount of exposure. If you then undergo treatment there can be increased melanin production causing pigmentation or you can have burns.
After Treatment: UV rays will heat your skin compounding the effect of the treatment. Certain areas of your skin are sensitive after treatment and exposure to the sun can aggravate them causing damage and pigmentation.
Another frequent reason for burns in Laser and IPL treatments is an inexperienced Therapist.
We are all different: different skin colour, hair colour, skin sensitivity, etc. Because of this the energy levels on the laser and IPL machines have to be set specifically for each one of us.
It doesn't matter if the therapist is a doctor, a nurse or a beautician, specific experience in laser and IPL treatments is what counts.
To ensure a successful treatment a good therapist will first do 3 test patches starting in low settings and increasing them according to your feedback. Your feedback is very important. You should have a medium (very tolerable) level of pain. In other words, if 10 is very painful and 1 no pain at all, you should be feeling between 4-6. Some people have more tolerance to pain than others so, to give you a guide, waxing for the first time is about an 8.
It is also recommended to start treatment a week after the test patch is performed, to make sure there are no adverse reactions. This is specially important for people with olive and dark skin.
Also, not all areas of your body react the same, one level of energy may not be suitable for the whole treatment. Please, make sure you tell the therapist if the pain level increases, she can then adjust the settings accordingly.
Certain Drugs and MedicinesCertain medications may cause photo-sensitivity and your skin may react adversely. Tell your therapist if you are taking any medications.
If you are taking Roaccutane (also called Accutane, or Isotretinoin) which is usually taken for the treatment of certain cancers and skin deceases including severe acne; you cannot undergo treatment.
If you are using creams with Retinoids, Retin-A, Retinol or lotions that contain high levels of vitamin A you should stop using them at least 2 weeks before treatment.
Certain Medical ConditionsIf you are Diabetic you may have problems healing.
People with a history of keloid scarring can also have a bad reaction to the treatment.
Immune System Disorders can trigger an overreaction of the body causing increased inflammation in the treated area.
What to do if you are one of the unlucky ones?
Minor Red skinFor many beauty treatments, specially rejuvenation or pigmentation treatments, a minor red skin is an expected and even desirable effect. However, there are cases in which it may be a bit too much. In either case the following guidelines should help.
Apply a cold compress or wash under cool water for 3-5min (don't put ice). Apply Aloe Vera gel or a gel with Beta-Carotene often.
No need to go to the doctor, however advise the salon or clinic where you did the treatment. If you can get down there an show them what happened even better.
STAY OUT OF THE SUN
DO NOT SCRATCH OR PICK THE AREA
It should clear up within a week. If you keep the area covered or out of the sun it should not leave marks.
Dark Red patches or blistering, intense pain.This is not a desirable effect in any case. Apply a cold compress or wash under cool water for 3-5min (don't put ice). Don't pop the blisters. Don't apply butter or toothpaste. Buy specific burns' gauze with ointment at the chemist and cover the area. Consult your doctor as soon as possible.
To avoid pigmentation you should KEEP THE AREA OUT OF THE SUN for at least one year. DO NOT SCRATCH OR PICK THE AREA