You read a lot about the wonders of Botox and the benefits of lasers, but you don’t always hear about the potential side effects involved. The technology for in-office beauty treatments has come a long way, but it’s still not perfect. Additionally, some of those popular lasers and light treatments pose more risks than rewards—especially for skin of color. We asked licensed esthetician and skincare expert Kerry Benjamin to help us figure out what to try and what to avoid.
Meet the Expert
Kerry Benjamin is an L.A.-based esthetician. She is the founder of StackedSkincare and the StackedSkincare spa in Santa Monica, CA.
Scroll through to find out which beauty treatments women with dark skin should stay away from.
“Lasers can be very dangerous and often cause permanent damage for darker skin tones,” Benjamin says. “Putting heat on skin that already has a propensity to pigment will likely only worsen the problem; I've seen this way too many times with my clients.” Benjamin says women with dark skin should avoid Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments, Fraxel lasers, skin-tightening lasers at the 1540 wavelength (like Palomar 1540), and laser hair removal. These treatments cause too much trauma to the skin, which for darker tones can often result in post-inflammatory pigmentation. That said, darker skin tones, including type four, five, and six skin can safely have laser hair removal with an ND-Yag laser. Not every laser is for every skin type.
“You need to treat dark skin with caution, or you can cause serious permanent damage,” Benjamin says. “Microdermabrasion, medium-depth chemical peels, dermaplaning, and microneedling are all super safe and effective at treating acne, pigment issues, and scarring.” It may take more than six months of treatments, but when you’re dealing with the delicate skin on your face, “slow and steady wins the race” is a pretty good philosophy to adopt. And even though these procedures may not be as intense as laser treatments, you can combine multiple treatments for better results (without creating pigmentation risks). But, use caution if you have a darker skin type, or if you're prone to hyperpigmentation with medium depth chemical peels (superficial are safer!).
At home, Benjamin recommends broadband SPF 30 or higher (duh), retinol, and products with exfoliating and skin-brightening ingredients like lactic acid, kojic acid, azelaic acid, arbutin, and licorice extract, all of which will help with skin texture and tone irregularities. “For hyperpigmentation and acne scarring, the Collagen Rejuvenating Kit ($300) is ideal,” Benjamin says. It includes an epidermal growth factor activating serum, a mineral peel with exfoliating willow bark extract and nourishing seaweed extract, and a collagen-boosting at-home microroller. “The combination of these treatments will stimulate collagen, speed up wound healing and cell turnover, and break down scar tissue to brighten and smooth out the tone and texture of the skin.” There is one caution: “People with active pustular or cystic acne should not use a microneedle. Once the acne is gone, it is safe to microneedle at home to remove any post-inflammatory pigmentation or scarring left behind from the acne.”
What beauty treatments do you have questions about? Let us know below!
Chan CS, Dover JS. Nd:YAG laser hair removal in Fitzpatrick skin types IV to VI. J Drugs Dermatol. 2013;12(3):366-367.