Everyone knows by now that baking for long hours in the sun – think poolside, margarita in hand, body slathered in baby oil – is one of the deadliest sins of skin care (right up there with smoking, popping pimples, and not washing off makeup at night). But, clients often forget about the accidental sun exposure they receive almost daily while walking to their cars, driving, and taking their dogs for a walk. There is also forgetting to reapply sunscreen when engaging in outdoor sports and activities. All this makes more several opportunities for sun damage. Luckily, there is a solution for sun-damaged skin – good, old-fashioned (relatively speaking) photofacials.
With all the cutting-edge cosmetic treatments available today, it is easy to overlook some of the technology that has been around a little longer. Sometimes the basics are the best. Since the late 1990s, photofacials have been a very popular and affordable option for removing sun spots (and other common skin issues) and achieving more youthful-looking skin.
WHAT ARE PHOTOFACIALS?
Photofacials are intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments that passes through the epidermis, going deep within the skin, stimulating cells, and encouraging collagen production without damaging the skin’s surface layer. Treatments are quick (just 15 to 30 minutes for most body parts), noninvasive, have minimal side effects, and require no recovery time. While it is used more for tone improvement rather than wrinkles (though it does offer minimal temporary tightening), clients love the fresh, bright results they get from a photofacial.
Photofacials are used to treat unwanted brown and red spots including freckles, liver spots, sun damage, port wine stains, facial vascular lesions, cherry angiomas, rosacea, and acne (also killing underlying bacteria).
For deeper lines and wrinkles, photofacials are not an appropriate treatment. Those would be better suited for more invasive treatments such as deep peels, laser resurfacing, and injections of fillers and Botox.
One of the many advantages of a photofacial is that it can be used on any part of the body – face, neck, décolletage, hands, legs, feet, and so forth. It can also be used on larger areas such as the back. While photofacials can be used to treat smaller facial vascular lesions (spider veins or similar), they should not be used on larger leg veins including varicose veins (those should be treated with a 1064 laser or injected by a medical professional with a sclerosing agent).
Photofacials can be used to treat most skin types (Fitzpatrick I to IV) and, with extreme caution, some Fitzpatrick V types. An experienced laser technician will need to carefully evaluate the client’s skin to avoid creating any further discoloration. Most experts agree that Fitzpatrick VI types should not be treated with photofacials. All ages – from teenagers to senior citizens – can benefit from this treatment, as it is an excellent modality for improving tone, texture, and acne breakouts and even minimizing the appearance of acne scars. While photofacials do not resurface the skin like some other more aggressive treatments, they pull out redness from scars, making them less noticeable. Photofacials can also temporarily improve the appearance of oversized pores.
According to Kristin Warne, a certified laser technician and instructor, “Everyone loves photofacials. They are really one of the staples of our industry. I live and work in Scottsdale, Arizona, so we get a lot of snowbirds here from cold weather climates like Canada. My Canadian clients just rant and rave about photofacials. They are perfect for treating sun damage on faces, necks, hands, and bodies. Even when we’re not thinking about, we still get a lot of sun exposure, especially on our left sides when we’re driving. Photofacials handle that beautifully.”
Warne also enjoys working with teenagers who have been struggling with acne. “Acne can have such a negative effect on the way a person feels about themselves,” she says. “The results of a photofacial can literally change their world and their whole demeanor improves. It makes me feel incredibly happy, too.”
Unlike more aggressive treatments (which may yield more dramatic results, but with downtime involved), photofacials are gentle enough that clients can even be treated on their lunch hour. There is no recovery time involved. Treatments are quick and results are noticeable.
A photofacial involves very little pain. The device’s flashing light feels a lot like a very warm lightbulb touching the skin or the snapping of a rubber band. For more sensitive clients, a topical numbing cream can be applied to skin 20 to 30 minutes prior to treatment.
Clients should avoid sun exposure (and tanning beds – always) for at least two weeks (four weeks would be ideal) before photofacial treatments, so that the device’s light can more easily target brown and red pigmentation. It is important to stress this to the client in a pre-treatment consultation so that they will get optimal results.
With a photofacial, just three to five treatments (once a month) will typically do the trick for most skin issues, blasting away hyperpigmentation and leaving skin looking fresher, smoother, and more evenly toned. Results can last up to one year if sunscreen is used daily. Touch-up treatments can also take care of any new spots that pop up. Some clients return for treatments simply because they love the fresh-looking results they get with a photofacial.
Clients with acne may need more treatments, depending on the severity. Acneic clients can be treated once a week. A photofacial is very effective on acne and an excellent alternative to harsh prescription medications, both oral and topical, that have side effects and can overly dry out skin.
SIDE EFFECTS AND POST-TREATMENT CARE
Following treatment, there is some redness and minor swelling, but clients can apply an ice pack if they feel any discomfort. They can immediately resume their regular activities excluding anything that heats up the skin, such as exercise and steam treatments, for at least 48 hours. Small blisters and temporary brown spots may appear on some clients but fade quickly. Treated dark spots can sometimes harden and flake; clients should be told not to pick at any of these if they occur.
According to Warne, the most important thing clients can do after a photofacial is apply sunscreen – specifically, one with a high SPF (30 to 45) that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. It should be reapplied throughout the day and on all exposed face and body parts (ears, neck, décolletage, hands, shins, feet, and so forth). “Clients tell me they reapply sunscreen when they’re at the pool or on the beach, but they forget that when they’re working all day in an office and touch their faces, they are rubbing away their sunscreen,” she says. “Sunscreen makes such a difference, especially on our faces and hands, because they are exposed all day long.”
For clients with acneic skin, Warne recommends using a topical silver gel (available at many medical spas), which is used to treat wounds and burns and acts as an anti-infective agent; after applying the silver gel, they should apply sunscreen on top.
INCORPORATING PHOTOFACIALS INTO THE SPA
Because so many different types of clients can benefit from a photofacial, it is an easy add-on treatment to existing facial, peel, and hair removal clients. All a skin care professional really has to do is educate them about the amazing results of a photofacial.
It is a good idea to “tell stories” to make sales, as opposed to using traditional sales-y techniques. Most people do not appreciate when a service provider tries to push a product or treatment on them; even if done in a nice way, they will naturally resist. Instead, when doing a facial and the client is relaxed, explain that the spa is now offering photofacials and how other clients are getting excellent results with them. Their interest will peak. Give them an example of another client whose skin is smoother and more youthful looking because of a photofacial and how it has made such a difference in helping them get rid of age spots, acne, sun damage, and so forth – without any downtime. Once the client starts asking questions, mention that the spa is running a special for a limited time – maybe a package deal of three to five treatments – and if they would like to make a purchase today, they, too, can experience a photofacial. Sweeten the pot with a sample treatment on a small spot that has been bugging them.
Another advantage of a photofacial is that it can easily be paired with many topical products (that the spa probably already sells) to obtain maximum results. For example, to speed up lightening of darker brown spots, a topical skin lightening agent can be used between treatments without worrying about any interaction. Or, as mentioned previously for acneic clients, a topical silver gel works beautifully.
MANAGING CLIENTS’ EXPECTATIONS
Each client is different, and each client’s skin is different, too. So, it is important to fully discuss the client’s expectations and skin care goals before any treatment. Let them know what a photofacial can and cannot do (zap most types of red and brown spots? Yes. Eradicate wrinkles? No.), and how the client can help achieve better results by strictly following pre- and post-treatment procedures.
Warne says, “In my experience, 10 out of 10 clients are happy with a photofacial’s results. But I am also very honest with them upfront about what they should expect from one treatment, two, three, and so on.”
She remembers one male client in particular who had been bothered by an increasingly large sun spot on the left (driver’s) side of his face. He was dubious that a photofacial would actually get rid of the spot in just a few treatments. “I told him, you have to trust the process.” she says. “And sure enough, he was thrilled with the results.”
Prices vary, depending on location and whether the spa is an upscale or discount type of business, but most photofacial treatments cost between $200 to $400 per treatment. Considering that each treatment takes only 20 to 30 minutes (depending on treatment area), and most clients require three to five treatments, photofacials can be a very lucrative treatment for the skin care provider.
When compared to other treatments, such as chemical peels (where redness can last significantly longer and peeling can be somewhat unsightly for a week or so) and microdermabrasion (where results are not as visible), photofacials remain a top choice for clients who are on-the-go but wanting visible results. They are proven, safe, and effective treatments to address sun damage, freckles, liver spots, port wine stains, facial vascular lesions, cherry angiomas, rosacea, and acne. Photofacials are an ideal choice for clients with light and medium skin types wanting smoother, clearer, younger-looking skin without any downtime. A photofacial may be one of the basics, but it works.