So, you’re looking for a longer-lasting way to remove unwanted body hair. You’re not alone. If you have a darker skin tone, however, there will be an added layer to your search: finding a laser hair removal method that won't potentially result in hyperpigmentation. The reason? Most hair removal lasers have shorter wavelengths that can damage highly melanated skin.
Thankfully, YAG laser hair removal is here to help solve that dilemma—and it's becoming an increasingly popular solution. We spoke with board-certified dermatologists DiAnne Davis, MD, and Marisa Garshick, MD, to learn more about this dark-skin-friendly method of hair removal. Keep reading to learn more.
Meet the Expert
What Is YAG Laser Hair Removal?
YAG laser hair removal refers to a specific type of laser used for hair removal. “The full name is nd:YAG (Neodymium-Doped Yttrium-Aluminum-Garnet) laser and its wavelength is 1064 nm, which is a safer wavelength [for performing] laser hair removal on skin of color,” says Davis.
Benefits of YAG Laser Hair Removal
- Reduces body hair density
- Results last longer than other hair removal methods
- Particularly safe for darker skin tones
YAG laser hair removal, like all laser hair removal, is designed to get rid of unwanted body hair. While laser hair removal of all kinds is thought to permanently obliterate unwanted hair growth, in reality, Garshick says that YAG and other lasers reduce body hair density but typically won’t get rid of it forever. Still, YAG laser hair removal is a great choice for anyone looking to notably lessen hair growth. “While YAG lasers can be used on all skin types, they are particularly good for those with darker skin types as it is considered both safe and effective,” Garshick adds. (More on that in a bit.)
When considering YAG laser hair removal, just keep in mind that, like all laser hair removal, it works best on dark brown and black hair. “The laser targets the pigment in the bulb of the hair follicle,” Davis explains. As such, she points out that those with lighter hair (think: light brown, light red, blonde, gray, and white hair) are not the best candidates for laser hair removal, as the laser won’t be able to effectively target the pigment and adequately reduce growth.
How to Prepare for YAG Laser Hair Removal
YAG laser hair removal is a non-invasive cosmetic procedure. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that you'll want to press pause on certain skincare products in the week leading up to your appointment. “It is recommended to stop using skin care products that may contain active ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or retinoids at least five to seven days prior to your treatment session,” Davis says.
Beyond topicals, Garshick says that it’s important to avoid waxing, plucking, and threading two weeks ahead of your YAG laser hair removal appointment, as these practices can limit the hair that’s present at the time of treatment, which will make the overall hair removal session less effective. “Shaving can be done within a few days prior to the treatment as this helps to shorten the hair but still leaves the follicle present,” she adds.
What to Expect During YAG Laser Hair Removal
Overall, YAG laser hair removal is quite tolerable, albeit a touch uncomfortable. “The treatment can be a little uncomfortable, often feeling like a rubber band snap,” says Garshick, who adds that YAG laser hair removal treatments are typically accompanied by a cold gel and/or an ongoing burst of cool air to serve as a distraction from the sensation.
As far as the treatment itself, Davis says that the person performing it will either stamp or glide the laser over the treatment area (depending on the specific device being used). But keep in mind: It isn't a one-and-done treatment. “It can take multiple sessions to reach desired results,” Garshick says. “It is best to think of it as laser hair reduction, in that the laser will help to effectively reduce the overall hair density, as opposed to complete laser hair removal.”
YAG Laser Hair Removal vs. Similar Treatments
What sets YAG laser hair removal apart from similar treatments—including IPL, Ruby, Alexandrite, and Diode Lasers—is just how safe and effective it is for all skin tones, particularly skin of color. “Laser hair removal works by targeting the pigment of the hair follicle to help destroy the hair follicle and, as a result, reduce hair growth,” explains Garshick. “This is why dark hairs tend to respond the best to laser hair removal when compared to light hairs, and why darker skin types require careful consideration regarding which type of laser is used.”
The reason YAG laser hair removal is so safe for darker skin tones is due to its longer wavelength. “It penetrates more deeply and is less likely to impact the superficial melanin pigment surrounding the follicle which is what makes it a safer alternative in darker skin types,” Garshisck says.
One thing to note, however, is that due to the deep-diving nature of the YAG laser, Davis says that it can be a bit “spicier” than other lasers with shorter wavelengths. Still, it’s not significantly more painful.
Potential Side Effects
Any laser, including the nd:YAG, can potentially lead to a burning sensation beyond the immediate treatment. “As with any energy-based device, there are potential side effects [with the nd:YAG laser] that can include but are not limited to superficial burns of the skin, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, post-inflammatory hypopigmentation, incomplete treatment, skin irritation, redness and/or swelling, possible infection, and permanent scarring,” Davis reveals. That said, laser hair removal is among the most popular cosmetic procedures out there, and these potential side effects are the exception, not the rule.
As with all beauty and skin treatments, the cost of YAG laser hair removal is dependent upon the size of the area being treated, who is performing the treatment, and where the treatment is being performed geographically. Generally speaking, YAG is more expensive in cities than in rural areas. On average, though, Garshick and Davis agree that individual sessions can cost between $250 and $1,000.
Following a YAG laser hair removal session, it’s common for skin to feel tender and appear red or inflamed. These side effects typically resolve within a few days. To aid in the healing process, Garshick says that it’s important to avoid sun exposure to the treatment area, as it can cause hyperpigmentation due to the skin’s increased sensitivity.
Additionally, she says it’s imperative to wear sunscreen even if you’re not spending a prolonged amount of time exposed. “Because the skin is more sensitive after laser treatments, it is best to use gentle cleansers, such as Dove Irritation Care Body Wash ($14), and moisturizers such as Cetaphil's Moisturizing Lotion ($16) or CeraVe's Moisturizing Cream ($17),” she adds. “In some cases, a post-laser cooling gel may be applied to help soothe skin, such as the Elta MD Laser Enzyme Gel ($19).”
Again, keep in mind that even if you experience redness and irritation, it likely won’t be the last of it. “Multiple sessions are generally recommended at an interval of four to six weeks apart, and while it is not necessarily permanent removal, people notice significant hair reduction that can last for years,” Garshick says. “While some people may experience hair regrowth sooner, touch-up maintenance treatments can be performed as needed.”
The Final Takeaway
YAG laser hair removal is a great option for anyone looking to notably reduce the density of unwanted body hair. That said, thanks to its longer wavelengths that bypass surrounding melanin, YAG laser hair removal is particularly beneficial for those with darker skin, as it’s less likely to cause hyperpigmentation in the process.