Laser Hair Removal for Dark Skin 2023: Safety, Risks, and Tips
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Everything you need to know, according to the pros.
When it comes to hair removal, most of us have plenty of options—from at-home waxing kits and hair removal creams to electrolysis and more. But for a long time, having dark skin meant that you couldn't choose one of the most popular and long-lasting options for removing unwanted facial hair and body hair: professional laser hair removal. Not only were early laser hair removal devices ineffective at removing hair on darker skin tones, but they also weren't safe. But thanks to the growing demand for inclusivity and some serious advances in laser technology, there are now a handful of excellent laser hair removal options for darker skin.
But before you make that appointment, you need to know what to look for first. Ahead, two dermatologists (shout out to Michelle Henry, MD and Shereene Idriss, MD) share everything you need to know about laser hair removal if you have darker skin, including how these lasers work, how to prep for your appointment, and more.
Laser hair removal is ideal for anyone looking to stop or slow hair growth on specific parts of the face and/or body. At-home laser hair removal devices exist and can be effective when used properly and consistently, but the best and safest results typically come from professional laser hair removal treatments administered at a dermatologist's office.
"Lasers remove hair by emitting a beam of light that targets the melanin pigments found in hair follicles," explains Dr. Henry. "The light emitted by lasers is converted to heat which damages the hair follicle and delays or inhibits growth." Historically, it was the contrast between dark hair and lighter skin that enabled the laser to target follicles—which is also the reason these devices weren't able to distinguish between dark skin and dark hair, making them unsafe for deeper skin.
Because many old-school lasers had trouble differentiating between dark skin and dark hair, they carried risks for dark-skinned patients, like hyperpigmentation, blisters, and scarring. These days, though, lasers are much smarter and more precise, so they can get rid of unwanted hair for a wider range of skin tones.
"With recent technological advancements, it's safe to perform laser hair removal on dark skin," says Dr. Henry, "as new technologies can bypass the epidermal melanin and target only the melanin pigment in hair follicles." Translation: Many new lasers are able to tell the difference between your hair color and skin color.
While laser hair removal is now an option for dark skin tones, it's important to remember that not all lasers are created equally. "The two main types of lasers that are b est for people with darker skin tones are the Nd:YAG laser and the diode laser," says Dr. Idriss. "They both work on patients with dark skin and darker hair."
Both lasers types are pretty common (but always call ahead to make sure your dermatologist can safely treat you before making an appointment). Don't worry about specifics: Your doctor will decide which laser is right for you, but FWIW, Dr. Idriss says she's a fan of the Lumenis laser in particular, which is a combination of a diode and a Nd:YAG.
Discoloration (including hyper- and hypo-pigmentation) are the biggest risks with laser hair removal on dark skin, but choosing the right laser can minimize these risks. "The way a laser works is that, depending on the wavelength, it hits a certain depth in your skin," Dr. Idriss explains. "Certain lasers, like the Nd:YAG, go deeper into the skin, bypassing the layer of skin cells that make pigmentation, so it's not going to trigger hyperpigmentation."
Other risks include burning and blistering, which are more likely to happen if devices are used incorrectly or the wrong laser is used on your skin tone, so it's incredibly important to go to a medical professional who is thoroughly trained on laser hair removal.
While your experience with laser hair removal will largely depend on the specifics of your hair and skin type, there are certain steps you can take to ensure safety and maximize efficacy. "Before your treatment appointment, make sure you haven't waxed recently and you don't have a tan," warns Dr. Idriss. "For laser hair removal, you want the root of the hair to be present and waxing removes the root, and tanning will make it harder for the laser to work."
You'll also want to avoid any kind of exfoliating products, like retinol creams and AHAs and BHAs in the days immediately before your treatment too. What you should do, then? Use a razor (like one of the options below) to shave the areas being lasered within 24 hours of your appointment and arrive to your appointment with clean, dry skin.
"Generally speaking, you should see a noticeable reduction in hair growth after six to eight sessions of laser hair removal treatments," Dr. Henry says, but you may require as many as ten. The cost of your treatment will vary depending on the type of treatment you receive, the size of the area covered, and where you receive it. For example, laser hair removal on smaller areas, like the upper lip or underarms, costs around $300. For larger areas, expect to pay around $2000, Dr. Henry says.
Historically laser hair removal was not considered safe for darker-skinned patients, but thanks to some major advances in the technology and a greater focus on inclusivity, it can now be performed safely on all skin tones. For the safest and most effective results, be sure to choose a provider who is well-trained on the treatment and has ample experience treating people with skin tones similar to yours.
Gabby Shacknai is a New York City-based journalist with years of experience researching, writing, and editing beauty and wellness stories that range from aesthetic treatments for millennials to sweat-reduction techniques. Gabby is an authority in all hair removal techniques, but is an expert when it comes to laser hair removal. She works with the industry's top dermatologists and hair removal experts to assess new laser hair removal brands and technologies.
Gabby Shacknai is a New York-based journalist and editor who produces high-quality content for a wide variety of outlets and brands across various industries.
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15 Natural Deodorants That *Actually* Workineffective at removing hair on darker skin tones, but they also weren't safe How does laser hair removal work? remove hair by emitting a beam of light that targets the melanin pigments found in hair follicles Is laser hair removal safe for dark skin? it's safe to perform laser hair removal on dark skin Which laser hair removal treatment is best for dark skin? b est for people with darker skin tones are the Nd:YAG laser and the diode laser Your doctor will decide which laser is right for you What are the risks of laser hair removal for dark skin? it's incredibly important to go to a medical professional How do you prepare for your laser hair removal treatment? make sure you haven't waxed recently and you don't have a tan shave the areas being lasered within 24 hours of your appointment How many laser hair removal sessions do you need? should see a noticeable reduction in hair growth after six to eight sessions The takeaway: Michelle Henry Shereene Idriss Gabby Shacknai