Voted Northern Virginia Mag Top Docs + Washingtonian Top Docs! 


What’s the difference between Laser Resurfacing Treatments and IPL?

If you’re confused, you’re not the only one! Our skin care specialist Sara Maxsell was featured answering this question in today’s Alexandria Stylebook.


Click through to read it there, or see below for the full post!

Laser? IPL? Answers from Sara Maxsell

By: Elizabeth Cestrone

People ask me about laser and IPL all the time. Having never received either of these types of treatment, I honestly had no idea what to tell them, except a half-hearted shill for the Mystical and Wonderful Powers of Google. Enter Sara Maxsell, a friend of one of our great clients. Sara works as an aesthetician at Bruno/Brown Plastic Surgery and was kind enough to answer some questions for us!

What’s the difference between laser resurfacing treatments and IPL? A lot of people (including me!) get confused around this terminology.

Confusing the two treatments is very common, as many times, they are just different hand pieces on the same machine. IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light, and is NOT a laser. IPL shares some similarities with laser treatments, however, in that they both use light to heat and destroy their targets. IPL is used for hair removal, pigmentation issues, acne, and rosacea (to name a few). As for Laser Skin Resurfacing, there are several different types; here in our office, we use a fractional non-ablative laser, called The ResurFX. “Non-ablative” means that unlike other lasers, ours does not remove any skin; the laser penetrates to the deeper layers of skin to stimulate collagen growth without damaging the skin’s surface.

You assist with and consult on laser appointments. What does a consultation for that look like?

Generally, patients with skin concerns will start by coming to me for a complimentary consultation. Many patients are unsure what they want/need, and are looking for some guidance. During the consultation, I determine lifestyle habits, current skincare regimen, schedule, concerns, etc., and I can make my recommendation from there. On occasion, the patient’s concerns can be as simple as mild redness or a facial vein that bothers them (easily corrected with a few IPL sessions), but more often than not, they are also struggling with a whole slew of issues — anything from collagen loss, to severe wrinkling, to melasma, and more, all of which can require a more aggressive approach.

We are currently offering a comprehensive evaluation with Dr. Bruno or Dr. Brown and me. We are able to take the time to discuss a wide variety of issues and concerns, and answer any questions a patient may have. During this evaluation, we come up with a treatment plan and work together to accomplish their goals for the skin, and this plan usually involves a blend of several different treatments over several different sessions to achieve the best result. This comprehensive evaluation is something we are really excited about because we are able to take aging head-on, and correct and prevent in every way we can. There is nothing better than seeing someone confident in their own skin again, and we really pride ourselves on improving not only the aesthetic of the skin, but the overall health.

What’s your number one, most frequently asked question about IPL treatment? (And what’s the answer?)

“Why can’t I just get one treatment?” The answer is that pigmentation issues are not just on the surface. There are so many layers to the skin, and a lot of damage is underlying. IPL isn’t just a quick cure for cosmetic issues; we are also removing a lot of underlying damage to prevent it from popping up in the near future. Accumulative sun damage isn’t just black and white; the pigment can sit in different layers and some can be quite stubborn, which is why we recommend doing six sessions, to ensure efficacy and long-term success.

What’s something that no one asks, but should know before investing in a course of IPL?

Not many people ask what they can do to prevent future damage. I always recommend being on a pharmaceutical-grade tyrosinase inhibitor, generally a stable ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). This prevents the formation of brown spots, and ascorbic acid is a potent antioxidant, so you’re also getting protection against environmental aggressors. The most important thing to always do is wear a broad spectrum SPF. I’m sure people get tired of me saying that, but I always make sure to add that in!

And now something no one asks (but should) about laser resurfacing treatments?

Not many people ask what they can do to continue results. Now, with the laser, you are stimulating collagen and elastin on a dermal level to repair and renew the cells and bring new fresh skin to the surface. Chemical exfoliation is a great step you can do to maintain results as the acids penetrate to loosen the “intercellular cement,” allowing new cells to turn over at a rapid rate and bring new skin to the surface. Stimulation to those deeper layers is key, so I always suggest my patients come in for a peel every few months, use a prescription-strength Vitamin A derivative, or use a daily regimen of a pharmaceutical-strength exfoliant to have that constant stimulation.

What’s the range of fees someone might encounter when it comes to IPL?

For one session on the face and neck, IPL is $350, but we do suggest purchasing a package of six sessions for $1,400 to maximize results and minimize future pigmentation issues. We also offer a photo-fraction, which is a combination of IPL and Laser Skin Resurfacing in one session. A one-time laser treatment is $800, but we do suggest a package of four for $2,600, to ensure you receive the very best results, and set your skin up for future success.

Click for more information about IPL or Laser Skin Resurfacing at our plastic surgery office in DC.


[Skinceuticals, Dr. Dennis Gross, and Alchimie Forever have many products that fit perfectly into a post-treatment skincare regimen. Swing by Bellacara to create your own bespoke routine after beginning a course of treatment with Sara!]

Follow us on Instagram:

Schedule My Consultation Today »