Demystifying Laser Hair Removal and Dark (Olive, Asian or Black) Skin Tones

April 10, 2015

No, it is not about race

Let’s just get that out of the way right off the bat, shall we? This is not some kind of underhanded industry mischief against women of color. It is actually a way of keeping women of color from the potential harm of laser hair removal and seeing what options we have. So, take a breath and ask the question, ‘Can laser hair removal be done on dark skin?

The science of skin and hair

Before we clarify that answer, let us understand what it is about skin color that affects hair removal options. Skin color is classifies into six photo types from very fair skin (photo type I) to black skin (photo type VI). Dark skin tones generally fall between photo type IV and VI, which tan easily and almost never burn when exposed to the sun.

Fair Skin and Black Skin Tones Girls Pictures, Images, Photos, Wallpapers

However, with hair removal, the heat rays intended to burn hair follicles target the melanin in the hair. Dark skin has a lot more melanin that fair skin meaning that without a high-precision tool to distinguish the hair melanin from that of the skin, there could be a lot of unnecessary burning going on. As a result, darker skin tones tend to risk worse side effects from laser hair removal than lighter skin tones.

So what are our options?

There are two general hair removal options referred to as laser hair removal.

  • Intense pulsed light hair removal

This works in a similar way to lasers only it is less precise, increasing the risk of harm on dark skin tones. In fact, most of the devices that use this technology come with clear instructions stating that is should not be for brown or black skin.

The consequences of using this on dark skin range from excessive hair growth to having permanent white lines on the areas of the hair removal. Definitely not good!

  • Laser hair removal

This is okay for darker skin. The light rays are more stable, measured and controlled so there are reduced risks of harm. However, not all devices are safe for darker skin.

The light from these devices should have long pulse widths and wavelengths. Shorter wavelengths can apply for lighter skin tones since the absorption in melanin is high resulting in damage to the epidermis and consequently hyper-pigmentation or hypo-pigmentation.

An Nd: YAG 1964nm laser is so far the safest option for dark skin. The light beams are able to go deep beneath the skin and reach the hair follicle melanin without damaging epidermal melanin. There is still need to take into consideration the timing of each pulse, the device compression and the energy applied on the skin, for optimal safety when administering the treatment.

Safety first!

Beyond understanding your skin type, you need to avoid tanning at least 2 weeks before having this procedure done. Further, make sure you run a test laser hair removal on a small patch of skin before doing the full procedure. Be sure to wait for about 2 or 3 days to see if there are any negative reactions from the test treatment.

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