Until recently, laser hair removal for dark skin didn’t exist, as did good sunscreens and a wide range of foundation colors. Our skin tone has never been an obstacle to laser hair removal, but thanks to advances in technology and the growing focus on inclusivity, we now have access to the procedure.
Here’s the lowdown on lasers and how they work: Lasers send intense light at the follicle, damaging it permanently so that hair cannot grow. The ideal candidate has traditionally been someone with fair skin and dark hair because they target the pigment in the hair-the contrast between dark hair and lighter skin helps the laser focus on its target.
Therefore, laser hair removal for dark skin has been a gamble: Devices were not sophisticated enough to differentiate between dark hair and brown or black skin pigments, which could result in dark and light spots, blisters, and even scarring of the surrounding skin. In recent years, lasers have become smarter and safer, making it possible for people of all skin tones to get rid of unwanted fuzz. Here’s what you need to know.
Dark Skin Lasers: The Best Choices
In order to treat dark skin and dark hair with lasers, you must first understand how Nd:YAG and diode lasers work. Recent years have seen an increase in the popularity of Nd:YAG (or just YAG). In comparison to diodes, this laser has a wavelength that penetrates deeper into the skin. In medium to dark skin, YAG works best because it bypasses melanin and thus is more successful at bypassing pigment. The laser is one of two offered by Shobha hair removal, founded and operated by Shobha Tummala. In addition to fair-skinned clients, she will also use it on those who have recently tanned.
Although the diode laser may be more complicated for those with skin types over a 4 on the Fitzpatrick scale (which measures sun sensitivity from 1 to 6), there are some benefits to using it. “Dark skin patients require a slower delivery of energy for diode laser treatments, allowing the skin more time to cool,” says Gmyrek. A suction mechanism even distracts your attention from the discomfort of the Lumenis LightSheer laser, one of the most popular diode lasers. It’s the least painful.
Dark skin and laser hair removal: risks and benefits
You’ll want to avoid the most common laser-related side effects for dark or black skin: hyperpigmentation, or dark spots, and hypopigmentation, where the pigment of the skin lightens. Williams notes that hypopigmentation is more difficult to treat (although Gmyrek notes that it sometimes resolves on its own), so if you think you might be prone to it, ask your laser removal expert for a test patch.
Hair removal with lasers costs
At least six sessions are required. “Everyone’s different,” says Tummala, even if darker skin sometimes needs more treatment than fair skin. Many providers charge by the session, which can add up quickly. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that the average cost per session in 2017 was $293, but it varies widely depending on the part of the body you’re targeting. Prices generally increase with the size of the area.
In many practices, YAG and diode treatments cost the same. Depending on your Fitzpatrick scale and your pain tolerance, it may also be worthwhile if you’re closer to 3 on the Fitzpatrick scale and have brown or black skin. However, Gmyrek believes that Nd:YAG laser hair removal is the safest method overall.
The best way to prepare for a laser hair treatment
Getting a coupon through a discount site is not the right time right now. It matters who the provider is (and what their expertise is). As for Marlene, 28, who had the treatment done on her underarms, “I was willing to pay a premium to see a professional with great reviews.” Dark skin laser hair removal must be performed by a professional with extensive experience.
As well as covering the topics and forms you would expect from any medical professional, the screening should also consider your ethnicity, since different ethnicities-regardless of skin tone-react differently to lasers. Despite your fitzpatrick score of 3 or 4, if you’re Latinx or Asian, your skin may react like a 6 to the laser.
As soon as your appointment is scheduled, pamper your skin. At least five days before your treatment, stop using skin-care products with harsh ingredients, such as glycolic and salicylic acids, benzoyl peroxide, and retinoids (such as tretinoin and adapalene). As a result, your skin can be more sensitive to laser energy, says Gmyrek.
Become a vampire and avoid the sun-or at the very least, wear sunscreen. (This means broad-spectrum SPF 30 or more; tinted moisturizers and foundations do not count.) A tan means more pigment, which can trigger a different (and potentially dangerous) reaction to the laser. The laser provider may lower the treatment energy or reschedule the treatment if you’re even slightly tanned.
Taking Care of Dark Skin After Laser Hair Removal
It’s still possible to have side effects, but there are options you can choose from. “Hydrocortisone can help to resolve inflammation associated with irritation or redness,” says Gmyrek. If you have acne-like eruptions or folliculitis, your derm can prescribe a topical antibiotic. If you have hyperpigmentation, you can try a topical cream for dark spots. Gmyrek says it will help normalize the color of the skin.
However, many people who once shaved daily now say the minimal maintenance is well worth it. “Overall, my experience was great,” says Marlene. One of the best parts? It shows how far laser hair removal has come for dark skin, since she didn’t experience any burns or pigmentation issues.