Can people of color have Laser Hair Removal?
Absolutely! Laser technology and techniques have come a long way since the early years. It is no longer true that people with darker skin must stay away from lasers at all cost. But there are important things to know. In this article you’ll find out all you need to know to undergo this procedure safely.
What kind of Laser is used for Dark Skin?
The lasers that work best on light skin are different from lasers that work best for dark skin. Why? Because lasers are light waves that send energy specifically targeting a “chromophore” or a color target. When lasers were first used for hair removal (20-30 years ago) the kind of laser that was developed for this was aiming energy at the pigment (brown color) in the hair. The ideal candidate for Laser Hair Removal was someone with light skin and dark hair– so that all the energy would go towards zapping the hair in order to destroy its follicle. The laser most often used was an Alexandrite laser with a wavelength of 755nm. These lasers did not work on light hair (blond or white/gray hair) because there was no pigment target. And it couldn’t be done on people with dark skin because the pigment in the skin itself would also be targeted (not just the hair) and therefore the lasers could cause scarring, burns, hypo- or hyper pigmentation of the skin. With Alexandrite lasers, people with darker skin can not have the treatment done at all.
In the last 2 decades there have been many improvements to lasers for hair removal. The Nd-Yag laser has a longer wavelength of 1064nm, which targets pigment deeper in the skin, bypassing the surface pigment. Thus the deep pigment gets targeted (in the hair follicle) but not the surface pigment. The techniques have been refined, using more conservative energy settings (fluence), better cooling and longer pulse durations. Laser hair removal is now recognized as safe and effective on any skin type– as long as the laser and settings used are appropriate for the skin type.
Two other kinds of lasers are often used on light skin types. IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) can be used effectively for light skin but should never be used on medium to dark skin due to the risks of burns and hypo- and hyperpigmentation. Lastly, another laser that is often used for Laser Hair Removal is the Diode laser. This has a wavelength of 810nm, similar to the Alexandrite. Though this is a slightly longer wavelength, and some places offer this for patients with darker skin, I would not recommend it. Nd-Yag is the gold standard for people of color.
Do your homework
- What is different about Laser Hair Removal for darker skin types? Things you should know to prepare:
- Go to an expert who has experience treating people with dark skin.
- Conservative Settings: It is important that the Laser Technician use the proper settings and start very conservative.
- Test patch at least 2 days before full treatment: treat a small area of skin in an area that is not visible to ensure the treatment will be tolerated.
- Prepare for the treatment: do not tan, wax or tweeze. Shave the area before your laser session. Avoid retinols for a week prior to treatment.
- Use skin lightening topicals to prevent hyperpigmentation (especially on the face). These include many prescription topicals and also SkinMedica Lytera, which can be obtained over the counter.
- Be careful to follow all post-treatment instructions. To reduce redness and swelling, consider using cold compresses and soothing topicals such as aloe vera. Over the counter topical steroid creams can also be used for up to 5 days post treatment if needed. Stay out of the direct sun for the entire treatment time if possible and use sunblock daily. Take it easy for 24 hours after the treatment (no sweating!). And again– do not wax or tweeze.
In summary, Laser Hair Removal is safe and effective for people of color. Look for a professional you can trust with expertise who can explain the procedure to you so that it makes sense. Make sure they are using a Yag laser and make sure you do a test patch. Soon the unwanted hair will be a thing of the past and you can ditch that razor.