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Laser Hair Removal on Dark Skin

Beautiful LegsLaser hair removal is all the rage.  Coily Embrace is here to help answer questions and clarify some points about this procedure, especially as it pertains to women of color.

What is laser hair removal?

Laser hair removal is a process by which individual hair follicles are destroyed with a laser so they stop producing hair.

How is this different from other hair removal techniques?

Depilation techniques involve removing the hair that’s above the skin – and includes shaving, sugaring, and chemical depilatories that dissolve the disulfide bonds in the hair making it weak enough to wash away.

Epilation techniques remove the entire hair from the root which includes the part of the hair below the skin.  Examples of this include plucking/tweezing, waxing, threading, epilators, and the permanent hair removal procedures:  laser hair removal and electrology.

What are permanent hair removal techniques?

Electrology has been around for over 100 years, and is the only procedure that can “officially” be called *permanent* per FDA.  Electrology uses a probe that is inserted into the individual hair follicles and an electric current destroys the cells that produce the hair.  It is time consuming, painful, and costly – which is why it’s being rapidly replaced by laser hair removal.

Laser hair removal is widely available, affordable, and only elicits minimal pain.  Hair removal is effective, and it is considered safe.  Since laser hair removal requires multiple sessions, and possibly once yearly “boosters” it is not *technically* considered “permanent” by the FDA because eventually, SOME hair will grow back if no touch-ups are performed.  It is rather called "permanent hair reduction."

How does the laser work?

Hair Removal

Different lasers work in different ways.  There are some lasers that target the dark pigments in the hair, and when the light pulse finds the dark hair spot, it targets the surrounding follicle and destroys it.  This type of laser is best for people with light skin and dark hair, because if the skin has any melanin (which most skin types have at least a little bit), some of the heat from the laser targets the skin melanin too…and burns/damages it.

There are other lasers (with longer wavelengths)  that target the microscopic blood flow at the base of the hair follicle.  It destroys the blood flow, thereby causing subsequent death of the hair follicle.  Since it is not affected by (or otherwise uses) pigment/color for effectiveness), and since all active/growing hair follicles require a supply of blood – this method is effective no matter the skin or hair color.

blood vessel laser

Can I safely get laser hair removal with dark skin?

Yes, you can.  You must be sure the laser clinic you visit has the right kind of laser.

Which is the right laser?

A laser with longer wavelengths.  Short wavelengths are absorbed by the melanin in the skin, and cause burns and discoloration.    Nd:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet; Nd:Y3Al5O12) laser is long at 1064nm and has is much safer for surrounding skin.  There are various companies who use the Nd:YAG technology.  The most popular and wide spread YAG laser used in laser hair removal is the Candela GentleYAG.

So where should I go to get laser hair removal?

Of course it is extremely important that you choose a clinic that’s safe, sanitary, with a good reputation.  However, with regards to specific equipment requirements you should see out a laser hair removal clinic that:

1)      Uses this type of YAG laser technology

2)      Is familiar with treating darker skin

What should I expect with laser hair removal that might be unique to women with darker skin?

If the YAG laser is used, and the technician is trained/experienced in dealing with dark skin, you shouldn’t have any specific *additional* concerns than anyone else.  Darker skin has a higher tendency to become discolored if burned, damaged, or manipulated.  But, with this laser technology, discoloration is not common.  Nonetheless, before lasering your facial hair, you would probably benefit from lasering another part of your body first to determine how YOUR skin would react to the laser.  That way, if you are one of the atypical patients that has an adverse reaction to laser treatment, you’re not wearing it on your face.

Would you recommend laser hair removal for women of color?

All hair removal techniques has the potential to damage the skin.  And many people also find NOT removing unwanted hair presents additional problems – odor, rash, itchiness, redness, ingrown hairs and subsequent infection and keloids, etc.

Laser hair removal allows you to stop constantly ‘damaging’ your skin with these techniques AND prevents the problems that are associated with hair growth in unwanted places – including ingrown hairs, bumps, and subsequent infections.  The risk is very small, the potential benefit is huge! 

So we are advocates of laser hair removal for women with dark skin.