Laser hair removal is like foundation. It came to be and then was only available in a few light shades. It took a long time for makeup brands to finally offer foundation in all shades possible, from the darkest to the lightest. It also took some time before laser hair removal was able to cater for women of color.
Laser hair removal for women of colors has always been a gamble. The ideal candidate for the treatment has a fair skin and dark hair. The contrast between the two will help the laser focus on the pigments in the hair. Dark skin usually offers a very low contrast with dark hair.
Furthermore, machines were not always sophisticated enough to catch that contrast, making the treatment not completely safe for women of color. However, that has changed with the coming up of new technology that makes laser hair removal safe for a very wide range of skin tones.
How does laser hair removal work?
Laser hair removal is a cosmetic procedure that uses a concept called selective photothermolysis. According to this principle, a wavelength will match and pulse duration and produce a kind of energy meant to target a specific object without damaging the surrounding tissues. Here, the object is the pigment in the hair.
During a laser hair removal session, the light energy emitted by the laser gun will target the pigment in the hair. Then, it will travel from the tip of the hair all the way down to the follicle. There, it will turn into thermal energy and damage the follicle. Permanently damaging the follicle will help prevent any further hair growth.
When the follicle is permanently damaged, it is unable to regenerate or produce hair. However, it is possible that some follicles need several treatments to be fully damaged. Laser hair removal also only works when the hair is in the anagen phase of growth. It is indeed the only time the hair and the follicle connect, allowing the energy to travel from the former to the latter.
Unfortunately, only 20% of all your hair is on this particular stage of growth at any point in time. As a consequence, one session can only treat up to 18% of the hair on the treated area. This partly explains why patients need several sessions. It is the only way that the hair can go through the different stages of growth and each single one is effectively targeted.
The best lasers for women of color?
It is the contrast between skin and hair that allows the laser to safely and effectively target the pigment in the hair. The sharpest contrast is offered by fair skin and dark hair, which is why for a long time, such individuals were the ideal patient. Women of color and people with dark skin tend to offer a lower skin-to-hair contrast.
Thus, it can be difficult for the laser to find its way to the follicle. Or at least, it was a few years back before a progressive laser development entered the cosmetic market as a viable option for women of color. That technology is the ND:YAG 1064 nm. This laser has demonstrated safety and efficiency on dark skin. The ND: YAG laser indeed goes deeper into the skin that any other laser.
The 1064 nm wavelength is not as highly absorbed by melanin as other wavelengths. Thus, it can safely treat all skin types. Indeed, it deposits its energy deep into the dermis without relying on melanin to do so. Because it bypasses the epidermis, it is very safe on dark skin. It also has minimal side effects that can be easily avoided if patients follow pre and post-treatment guidelines.
At Spektrum Laser Spa, we use the V-Frost by Vertex Lasers machine which is a ND: YAG laser, as well as the Soprano Ice, also ND: YAG laser.
Risks of laser hair removal on dark skin
ND: YAG lasers make laser hair removal very safe and efficient for women of color. Due to its 1964 nm wavelength that bypasses the epidermis, it also avoids the most common risks of laser hair removal on darker skin tones. However, just like any other cosmetic procedure, potential risks still remain.
The most common laser-related side effects for dark or Black skin are hyperpigmentation, dark spots and hypopigmentation. The skin pigments may either get darker or lighter. Hypopigmentation can be difficult to treat. It is therefore important to ensure your skin can sustain laser hair removal without discoloring. You may ask for a test patch during a free consultation, just to be on the safe side.
Using the wrong machines can lead to burns, scarring or discoloration. While some may be temporary, others can be permanent. It is also important to always follow guidelines regarding pre and post-session care. Indeed, regardless of skin color, the laser treatment leaves the skin more sensitive and subjective to sun damage.
Scroll below for our best advice on pre and post-session care!
Avoid IPL and DIY laser
The reason why ND: YAG laser is safe on dark skin is because the energy does not rely on pigmentation to get to the follicle. It is specifically adapted to work on darker skin. However, IPL as well as home laser devices do not offer that. This makes them unsafe for women of color.
Indeed, the lack of contrast between hair pigment and skin tone can confuse the machine and can lead to burns, scarring and discoloration. Home devices are unable to adapt to skin color and have only a few if only one intensity available. They use IPL which has a less controllable energy emission.
Furthermore, home devices generally are not as efficient as a spa treatment. The intensity is usually lower than in a spa and therefore you will need to have a treatment every two weeks. It may be difficult to reach some areas and you may hurt yourself in the process. The safest, most effective and cost effective way to do laser hair removal is to book an appointment at a spa.
Pre and post-session care for women of color
The best way to make your laser treatment as safe as possible is to follow pre and post-session care guidelines. Before you book your appointment, make sure the laser spa or clinic uses the right machine for your skin tone, i.e. ND: YAG. You may book a consultation for a test patch and to ensure you are eligible for laser hair removal.
Before your session, try to stay away from the sun as much as possible. Tanning incurs superficial pigmentation change and puts the skin in an excited state, which can interfere with the procedure. If you are on medication, tell your technician. Some medication can increase photosensitivity and it may thus be a good idea to reschedule.
Shave at least three hours before your session. The night before is even better is it gives some time for the skin to heal. Shaving does make the skin more sensitive. Clean your skin of any lotion, cream or moisturizer.
After your session, it is important that you wait at least ten day before exposing the treated area to the sun. You must also apply a physical sunblock with a SPF 30 at least. The skin is more vulnerable to sun damage after a session. Avoid hot showers, saunas, working out or any other heat inducing activity. The energy stays in the skin for up to 24 hours and too much heat can lead to burning.
Women of color can undergo laser hair removal safely. The ND: YAG laser is the best option for a safe and efficient treatment with long lasting results. Potential side effects may remain but they are easily avoidable should the patient follow the proper pre and post-care guidelines.