A Guide To Laser Hair Removal For Women Of Color
Laser hair removal for women of colors has always been a gamble. The ideal candidate for the treatment has a fair skin and dark hair. The contrast between the two will help the laser focus on the pigments in the hair. Dark skin usually offers a very low contrast with dark hair.
By design, lasers produce energy that’s absorbed by a target. Pigmentation in the skin (or lack thereof, women with gray and blond hair aren’t great candidates either) essentially “confuses” the laser, resulting in ineffective or painful treatment sessions. Laser hair removal can be a little more challenging for clients with darker skin tones.
How does laser hair removal work?
Laser hair removal is a cosmetic procedure that uses a concept called selective photothermolysis. According to this principle, a wavelength will match and pulse duration and produce a kind of energy meant to target a specific object without damaging the surrounding tissues. Here, the object is the pigment in the hair.
During a laser hair removal session, the light energy emitted by the laser gun will target the pigment in the hair. Then, it will travel from the tip of the hair all the way down to the follicle. There, it will turn into thermal energy and damage the follicle. Permanently damaging the follicle will help prevent any further hair growth.
When the follicle is permanently damaged, it is unable to regenerate or produce hair. However, it is possible that some follicles need several treatments to be fully damaged. Laser hair removal also only works when the hair is in the anagen phase of growth. It is indeed the only time the hair and the follicle connect, allowing the energy to travel from the former to the latter.
Unfortunately, only 20% of all your hair is on this particular stage of growth at any point in time. As a consequence, one session can only treat up to 18% of the hair on the treated area. This partly explains why patients need several sessions. It is the only way that the hair can go through the different stages of growth and each single one is effectively targeted.
Is Laser Hair Removal Safe for a Women of Color?
Yes, if you're a woman of color, you can have a successful, safe experience with laser hair removal. Just be sure to use caution and do some thorough investigation before you choose your treatment provider
ND: YAG lasers make laser hair removal very safe and efficient for women of color. Due to its 1964 nm wavelength that bypasses the epidermis, it also avoids the most common risks of laser hair removal on darker skin tones. However, just like any other cosmetic procedure, potential risks still remain.
The most common laser-related side effects for dark or Black skin are hyperpigmentation, dark spots and hypopigmentation. The skin pigments may either get darker or lighter. Hypopigmentation can be difficult to treat. It is therefore important to ensure your skin can sustain laser hair removal without discoloring. You may ask for a test patch during a free consultation, just to be on the safe side.
Using the wrong machines can lead to burns, scarring or discoloration. While some may be temporary, others can be permanent. It is also important to always follow guidelines regarding pre and post-session care. Indeed, regardless of skin color, the laser treatment leaves the skin more sensitive and subjective to sun damage.
You’ll want to minimize the chances that you’ll develop the most common laser-related side effects for dark or Black skin: hyperpigmentation, or dark spots, and hypopigmentation, in which the skin pigment lightens. According to Williams, hypopigmentation can be harder to treat (although Gmyrek notes that it can sometimes resolve on its own), so ask your laser removal expert to do a test patch if you think you might be prone to it—just to be on the safe side.
The Best Lasers for Women of Color?
It is the contrast between skin and hair that allows the laser to safely and effectively target the pigment in the hair. The sharpest contrast is offered by fair skin and dark hair, which is why for a long time, such individuals were the ideal patient. Women of color and people with dark skin tend to offer a lower skin-to-hair contrast.
Thus, it can be difficult for the laser to find its way to the follicle. Or at least, it was a few years back before a progressive laser development entered the cosmetic market as a viable option for women of color. That technology is the ND:YAG 1064 nm. This laser has demonstrated safety and efficiency on dark skin. The ND: YAG laser indeed goes deeper into the skin that any other laser.
The 1064 nm wavelength is not as highly absorbed by melanin as other wavelengths. Thus, it can safely treat all skin types. Indeed, it deposits its energy deep into the dermis without relying on melanin to do so. Because it bypasses the epidermis, it is very safe on dark skin. It also has minimal side effects that can be easily avoided if patients follow pre and post-treatment guidelines.
At Infinity Laser Spa, we use the V-Frost by Vertex Lasers machine which is a ND: YAG laser, as well as the Soprano Ice, also ND: YAG laser.