A few decades ago, receiving a laser hair removal treatment would've been rather risky for a woman of color. Lasers weren't made with melanin in mind and, therefore, were safest for individuals with fair skin and dark hair follicles. The main disconnect was that the lasers did not properly distinguish hair follicles and skin pigment, so those with dark skin could run the risk of severe burns, scarring, discoloration, and more. Thankfully, in recent years, we've seen an advancement in inclusive technology made especially for dark skin tones. Nevertheless, it's still so, so important for those with dark skin to do their research, ask their technician specific questions, and follow the right pre-procedure and post-procedure guidelines to ensure they undergo the safest laser treatment.
Meghan Murphy, a registered nurse at Candela, an American laser company, along with Christian Karavolas, owner of Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal, lay down the laws every dark-skinned woman should follow for the safest laser hair removal process.
What to Ask Before Getting Laser Hair Removal
Okay, so maybe you're thinking about trying it out, but you're not even sure where to start. It's very important to follow these specific pre-procedure guidelines before going in for the treatment. "Dark skin is more sensitive than light skin," Karavolas points out. "As such, do your research before getting treated. Go to a facility that has many years of experience with dark skin, ask them to see before and after pictures, always do a test patch and wait prior to treatment. If the reaction is good, then you can proceed."
Murphy also believes it's vital to confirm the laser hair practitioner is knowledgeable on treating a wide variety of skin types and understands post-procedural care. "As a dark-skin patient seeking laser, I would ask the laser practitioner how long they have worked in the field of laser hair removal, approximately how many patients they've treated with a dark skin type, and how satisfied those patients were with their results," she suggests. To be sure your skin doesn't have a bad reaction, she reiterates that you should not overlook this step: "It is ideal to have the practitioner perform a test spot in an inconspicuous area and wait for approximately 48 hours post-treatment. This is an added safety precaution." Be sure to not use any medications that create photosensitivity for at least one week before your treatment. And if you're on Accutane, avoid laser for approximately two to four months after getting off the regimen.
The Best Laser for Dark Skin
"Since the contrast between the color of the skin and the color of the pigment in the hair follicle is what allows the laser to easily pick out what to target, laser hair removal typically works best on fair skin with dark hair," Murphy explains. "With the advances in laser technology, the Nd:YAG wavelength has demonstrated safety and efficacy. Side effects are minimal with this wavelength and generally can be easily avoided, especially if the patient follows the pre- and post-treatment guidelines."
"The GentleMax Pro Laser is safe for darker skin types due to the fact that it offers two wavelengths: one being a 755 nm wavelength or a 1064 nm wavelength," explains Murphy. "The 1064 nm wavelength, also known as the Nd:YAG wavelength, is not as highly absorbed by melanin as other wavelengths. Due to this, the wavelength can safely treat all skin types because it deposits its energy deep into the dermis without relying on melanin to do so. Also, the GentleMax Pro offers varying pulse durations enabling a better destruction of the hair follicle, larger spot sizes enabling a deeper depth of penetration and effective DCD cooling. DCD cooling protects the epidermis, allowing for a safer delivery of energy."
Karavolas also recommends the Nd:YAG laser because the wavelength bypasses the epidermis, so it's very safe on dark skin.
What to Do After Your Laser Hair Removal
According to Murphy, you should avoid direct sun exposure for at least a month pre-treatment and post-treatment. You also shouldn't bleach, pluck, or wax for four to six weeks. "Post-procedural care should entail applying a cool pack post-treatment, avoiding any exercise or heat-inducing activities for 24 hours, and to avoid sun exposure throughout the treatment series," explains Murphy. "To reduce any redness or swelling after treatment, it is recommended to apply a cool compress, aloe vera, and topical corticosteroids morning and evening for five days post-treatment."
Karavolas agrees, suggesting any soothing cream after laser. "This can be aloe vera, vitamin E, vitamin K, or hydrocortisone 1% over the counter," he explains.
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Risks Every Dark-Skinned Woman Should Know
Darker skin tones have extremely sensitive skin, which is why it's so important to differentiate lasers for dark skin and lasers for light skin. "If the wrong equipment or wavelength is used, your skin may get temporary burns or discoloration," Karavolas warns. "Lasers for darker skin complexions have been in existence since 2000. However, most facilities have not spent the money to buy the right equipment." He notes that since the opening of Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal in 2002, the company has specialized in dark skin and have 13 lasers for all skin tones and complexions.
How Much Time You Should Spend on Your Process
Remember that your results may be different because every treatment varies depending on the person. "Hair growth is reduced after each treatment, and the number of treatments required will be based on your hair color and type, body area, and skin tone," Murphy adds. "Typically, four to six treatments are recommended."
Next up: According to a dermatologist, every dark-skinned woman should know these things about their skin.