IPL for melasma

IPL or BBL uses broad wavelengths of light to treat conditions such as pigmentation, acne, rosacea redness & sun damage. These treatments generate too much heat & should not be used to treat melasma pigmentation. Picosecond lasers have replaced IPL since 2015 as these lasers are more specific to pigment. Learn more about what types of pigment can respond to IPL therapy.


4-7 days


7-14 days, rebound common

Treatment Time

15 minutes


SPF + pigment correctors

Treatment science score

The science of IPL

  • IPL stands for intense pulsed light, BBL stands for broad band light
  • IPL & BBL are awesome for non-melasma pigment
  • If IPL or BBL is applied to melasma, rebound pigment often occurs
  • Pico lasers offer far more effective & safer treatments for melasma
  • Melasma worsened by IPL can be treated with pigment correctors

IPL is an excellent treatment for non-melasma pigmentation, however if used for melasma it can frequently rise to rebound pigment, worsening pigmentation.

What is IPL or BBL?

IPL & BBL are broad light based therapies, as compared to lasers which utilize one wavelength of light. IPL & BBL are devices that do many things, but are not designed to treat melasma pigment. They target both pigment & redness, generating an excessive amount of heating in the process.

Heat flares melasma, & hence why we do not utilize IPL to treat this condition. We do employ heat technology to treat other conditions listed below.

What types of pigment can IPL treat?

IPL is an excellent treatment modality for non-melasma pigmentation. This includes-

  • Freckles
  • Sun damage
  • Poikiloderma (discolored neck, chest & decolletage areas)
  • Age spots

Why do we not use IPL for melasma?

IPL generates way too much heat. Heat stimulates pigment cells to produce more melanin, making melasma worse. In addition the broad spectrum of light that IPL produces is not as accurate as picosecond lasers.

Why are lasers better than IPL for melasma pigment?

Lasers provide more precision when it comes to targeting pigment as they are specifically designed to target pigment, whilst IPL is designed as a multifunction device.

Picosecond lasers are even more advanced as they deliver energy to break down pigment without generating heat. This is termed photomechanical or photoacoustic as compared to photothermal destruction as seen with IPL. Heat stimulates pigment cells to produce more pigment, hence why melasma flare ups after IPL.

What types of lasers do we use for melasma?

At The Melasma Clinic we employ over a dozen lasers for melasma pigment, the most commonly used ones are-

  • Picosure Pro (best for melasma)
  • Picoway
  • Dermal toning lasers: QRas, Spectra, Hollywood Spectra
  • Fractional lasers; Fraxel, LaseMD Ultra, Clear & Brilliant (less useful)

When is IPL better than lasers?

Dermatologists employ IPL or BBL over lasers in the following situations-

  • Treatment of non-melasma pigment on the chest, neck & decolletage for conditions such as poikiloderma (brown pigment on the sides of the neck).
  • Freckles (though lasers are also excellent in clearing this type of pigment).
  • Pigmentation on the hands & arms
  • Other forms of red pigment, such as rosacea

How does IPL work?

IPL delivers wavelengths of intense light to target key elements in the skin. For pigmentation the target is melanin, whilst for rosacea the target is oxyhemoglobin found in the blood causing redness. Heat from the IPL destroys both pigment & capillaries, depending on the wavelengths used.

What is the treatment like?

Treatments are more uncomfortable compared to lasers as IPL delivers energy over a longer period of time compared to picosecond lasers, hence patients experience more pain.

Discomfort can be alleviated with contact cooling & Zimmer-cryogen cooling. Treatment times vary from 5 minutes to 15 minutes, depending on the areas treated.

What is the recovery following IPL?

For pigmentary conditions, expect the following recovery process-

Day 0-2 Redness, darkening of pigment
Day 2-4 Shedding of pigment, ‘Milo’ spots
Day 4-8 Mild flaking, exfoliation of pigment
Day 8+ Clearer skin

Melasma patients can expect clearance within 7 to 14 days, however most cases will rebound back after 2-4 weeks, depending on the settings of IPL & severity of melasma.

What is the difference between IPL and BBL?

They refer to the same device/s. BBL is a marketing term used by a company called Sciton & stands for broad band light. We have been using this device for the past 15 years.

BBL is the branding for devices like BBL Hero, Forever Young & Forever Clear.

What is the fastest & safest solution for melasma pigment?

Picosecond lasers employ ultrashort pulses of light to safely shatter unwanted pigment without heating the skin. This is the fundamental difference between picosecond technology & lasers such as Fraxel & IPL.

With precise settings, lasers can markedly reduce pigment within a few weeks with no rebound in pigment production & no downtime.

How do we treat melasma flare ups caused by IPL?

IPL melasma flare ups & rebounds are commonly referred to our clinic. Even though the clinical findings & side effects are profound, this type of flare up is easier to treat compared to microneedling or RFM flares of melasma, primarily because pigment is more superficial with IPL flares.

The first step is to determine the depth of pigment. In most cases the pigment is superficial. If your treatment was aggressive (blistering), then it is much harder to treat. The second step involves pigment suppression with topical correctors. The third step is to reduce pigment using short pulsed lasers.

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We can settle most cases within 3-6 weeks with appropriate pigment correctors, plasmin modulators & picosecond lasers. Book an appointment with our clinical team in Brisbane or Sydney if you require assistance.

The Melasma Clinic difference

Our specialist clinic is overseen by dermatologists who provide a comprehensive & bespoke approach to skin care. We take into account the complexity and individuality of your skin. Our pigment solutions include preventing future recurrences of melasma. Our ethos is to improve & maintain your skin’s health & vitality as an ongoing commitment to our patients.

Dr Davin Lim

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If I can identify the cause of pigmentation, chances are I can treat it. This can only be achieved with careful real time examination…

More of our mostFrequently asked questions

What areas can be treated with IPL?

Can all skin types be treated with IPL or BBL?

What are the potential side effects of IPL or BBL?

Who performs the procedure?

A SummaryDavin’s Viewpoint: IPL and melasma

Dr Davin Lim | Dermatologist
Sydney | Australia

The argument is not that IPL is outdated, nor is it a bad treatment for melasma, it is about employing appropriate energy sources for targeting a specific condition. It is the commercialisation of IPL or more specifically BBL that has given this treatment a bad reputation. Laser clinics employ one system (Sciton BBL) to treat a multitude of conditions including pigmentation, melasma, rosacea, skin rejuvenation, skin tightening & even acne.

Publications in the early 2000s initially reported the success of intense pulse light for the treatment of melasma (as this preceded picosecond lasers by 15 years). Fast forward 25 years & we now know that in most cases IPL will flare melasma primarily due to too much heating of the skin, resulting in rebound pigmentation after a brief period of pigment clearance.

In exceptional cases melasma can improve with IPL, the narrow operating window applies when-

1. Melasma is superficial (epidermal)
2. Skin color contrast is present – fair skin with superficial pigment
3. Cooling is sufficient to reduce heat build up
4. Device settings are spot on (wavelength, pd, energy, pulses, technique)
5. Post treatment inflammation is used (cooling, cs preparations topically)
6. Tyrosinase inhibitors are used

Steps 1-6 were employed prior to the invention of picosecond lasers.
Our clinics still use IPL for treatment of other types of pigment, including freckles, sun spots, age spots. IPL IMO is the treatment of choice for pigment due to poikiloderma on the neck & decolletage areas. It is still a relevant treatment.