Nearly a decade ago, Lisa Pegram walked into a Sephora with one of her girlfriends. While browsing the store’s sea of beauty products and tools, they eyed a laser hair removal device. But only Pegram’s friend, who was lighter in complexion than her, was able to go home with the product.
Back then, most lasers weren’t made with melanin in mind. According to the National Laser Institute, the ideal candidate for laser hair removal was someone with fair skin and dark hair. For individuals with deeper complexions, using lasers posed risks: Previous laser tools weren’t sophisticated enough to distinguish between hair follicles and melanin pigment. So, those with medium to dark skin had a high chance of burning, scarring, and hyperpigmentation.
Pegram’s experience shopping for the laser hair removal tool made her think about the countless people of color unable to safely experience at-home laser treatments. While laser technology has become more inclusive over the past ten years, Pegram realized an at-home laser specifically designed for Black and Brown skin still failed to exist. That’s when she decided to do something about it. Enter: Belle51, a line of at-home lasers and micro-needling tools made for darker skin tones.
I recently chatted with Pegram to better understand how she is working to create a safer laser experience for those with dark skin tones. Keep scrolling to learn more about Belle51.
How The Laser Works
By day, Pegram is a data scientist who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Columbia University. When she was in the research phase for Belle51, the founder collaborated with engineers at Columbia to determine what lasers work best for people of color. “We started delving into the research to find out which lasers actually worked and what we could do to improve upon existing devices,” Pegram said. “We found a manufacturer I could work with, and we sent them the prescription of exactly what I wanted inside the laser. They were able to manipulate that so that I could have the laser that I wanted.”
Their efforts culminated in Belle51’s signature product, The Solèy Laser. The brand’s premier product is a PiQo4 laser —the first FDA-cleared picosecond laser that removes dark spots, dark areas, melasma, unwanted moles, stretch marks, and acne scars.
It stands out amongst competing lasers for a few other reasons, too. The PiQo4 laser uses four different wavelengths of light —1064nm, 532nm, 650nm, and 585nm —to treat pigment and tattoo coloring on the broadest range of skin types. It also delivers short, high-energy laser pulses that break up abnormal melanin deposits into small particles, which are eliminated by the body’s immune system. The PiQo4 laser can do this faster than similar tools on the market, which allows you to need fewer treatments. “What I usually see from customers is that within three to four uses, you can see a significant difference,” Pegram said. Adding to its efficiency, the PiQo4 laser can handle treatment areas up to 15mm—which is nearly four times larger than any other laser currently available—making it perfect for sizable trouble areas.
For many, using an at-home laser system can present a bit of a learning curve. For people with darker complexions, taking the proper precautions is essential to prevent burning or discoloration. “I tell customers to make sure that you only keep the laser on the dark areas because it can cause light spots,” Pegram said.
To help customers get acclimated to the laser, Pegram often hosts one-on-one sessions and shares essential after-care tips. “Using SPF is really important. You also don’t want to wet the area for at least 72 hours,” Pegram said. “Don’t exfoliate and try to stay away from harsh chemicals like retinol. I also tell them to use hypoallergenic washes or natural deodorant if you’re treating dark spots on your underarms.”
The Future of Belle 51
For Pegram, she’s focused on creating technology that addresses people of color's skin concerns. Her next move? Designing a hair removal device. “We're working on laser hair removal so that a lot of our common issues like ingrown hairs on the bikini line will cease to exist,” Pegram said.
“It will be complete this summer. We'll be going through the patenting process and then also the FDA approval process. I'm hoping by mid-2021 we'll have it launched officially.”