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Why Do We Get “Small Black Dots” After IPL Hair Removal? : A Dermatologist’s Guide

By Ahsan Farooq Khan
April 24, 2024
5 minutes

Being a dermatologist, one often encounters questions and concerns from a significant number of patients undergoing IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) hair removal treatments. Before answering the questions right away, it is imperative to first give a basic overview of how IPL works. IPL is an acronym for intense pulsed light and it works by delivering light with multiple wavelengths. It can be used to address a wide array of skin-related concerns, be it hyperpigmentation, acne, fine lines, or wrinkles, and it can even help treat vascular lesions such as spider veins. Hair removal stands out as the most frequently employed application of IPL compared to others.

A frequent concern arises among IPL device users regarding the emergence of “small black dots”, also referred to as pepper spots, seen on the skin after the application of hair removal devices. While IPL proves to be effective in diminishing hair growth, these dots can confuse and occasionally prompt product returns. So, don’t fret! In this article, we will delve into the underlying cause of these “black dots”, explore their occurrence, and provide strategies which are effective in managing this concern of yours.

Why Do These “Small Black Dots” Occur?

The presence of these “small black dots” after IPL treatment can be attributed to the hair roots that have not completely detached from the follicles. IPL devices work by deactivating the hair follicles, leading to a reduction in hair growth over time. However, during the initial stages of treatment, some hairs may not shed completely, leaving behind the root within the follicle. This residual root coupled with the lack of visible hair on the surface of the skin, manifests as the characteristic “small black dots.”

Can these Black Dots be Removed?

Fortunately, these black dots can indeed be effectively managed. It is important to understand that their presence does not signify treatment failure; instead, they are a natural aspect of the hair removal process. Addressing them requires a thorough comprehension of the hair growth cycle and strict adherence to the prescribed treatment regimen.

It is recommended to shave the area to be treated before using the hair removal device. Shaving ensures that the hair above the skin’s surface is removed, allowing the IPL light to target the hair follicle in a more effective way. However, if the length of the hair is already less than 2mm, shaving may not be necessary.

Once the area is shaved and the IPL treatment is initiated, some hair roots may remain within the follicles, resulting in the formation of “small black dots.” This occurrence is entirely normal and should not cause alarm. Consistent use of the IPL device over time, following the recommended treatment cycle, is key to addressing this issue.

Although, understandably, the clients may seek immediate results, it is vital to temper expectations and stress the importance of patience and consistency in IPL hair removal treatments. While results may not be immediate, adherence to the treatment protocol in a dedicated way can lead to notable hair reduction over a period, gradually reducing the appearance of black dots.

Addressing Patient Concerns

As a dermatologist, effective communication with clients is of paramount importance in order to ensure their concerns regarding IPL hair removal and, at the same time,  adequately addressing the presence of black dots. Below are essential considerations to keep in mind when responding to patient or customer inquiries:

1. Educate about the hair growth cycle

It is of utmost importance to be aware of the fact that hair growth occurs in cycles, and not all hairs are in the active growth phase simultaneously. Therefore, it may take several sessions of treatment to target all hair follicles in an effective way.

2. Stress the importance of consistency 

Place an emphasis on maintaining a consistent and regular use of the IPL device according to the recommended treatment schedule. Consistency plays a pivotal role in achieving optimal results and minimizing the appearance of black dots.

3. Provide reassurance

It is important to offer the clients reassurance regarding the presence of black dots. They need to be reassured them that it is a normal part of the hair removal process and does not indicate failure of the treatment. Be patient and continue with the advised treatment regimen for best results.

4. Alternative solutions

There are cases where clients are particularly concerned about the appearance of black dots, and, in this case, they can be suggested temporary solutions such as makeup or concealers to cover them up until they naturally fade away.

5. Follow-up and support

Follow-up appointments are absolutely crucial to assess the progress of the treatment. On these visits, a doctor will address any concern that bothers you, and provide ongoing support throughout their IPL hair removal journey.

By addressing customer concerns proactively and providing clear explanations and guidance, dermatologists can help clients navigate the IPL hair removal process with confidence and achieve satisfactory results.

To Sum Up

The presence of “small black dots” after IPL hair removal is a typical outcome resulting from lingering hair roots within the follicles. Although these dots might cause initial apprehension, they can be successfully addressed with consistent treatment and adherence to the prescribed protocol. It falls upon dermatologists to educate and assist clients along their hair removal process, guaranteeing they attain their desired outcomes safely and efficiently. Therefore, it is always important to visit your dermatologist to know about the kind of treatment you need. In this way, you will always be offered the most safe and suitable treatment for you which is specifically tailored to meet your needs.

Ahsan Farooq Khan
Dr. Ahsan Farooq Khan is a physician and a senior clinical fellow in dermatology. After completing his postgraduation in medicine, he completed his training in the sub-speciality of dermatology. He has considerable experience in diagnosing and treating a myriad of patients with dermatological issues. Dr. Khan has a special knack for aesthetic medicine and he is highly trained and well-equipped to deal with energy-based devices. He has been performing procedures with lasers for a couple of years now and he has treated many patients successfully for hirsutism and scars and various other issues with the help of various modalities of lasers.
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