Ask an Expert: What Should I Know About Laser Hair Removal for Dark Skin?

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Laser hair removal can be a game-changer for body hair maintenance, but historically, it hasn’t been accessible to everyone. When laser hair removal started gaining popularity in the 1990s, the technology relied on hair to skin contrast to zap the hair follicle, and only worked for fair-skinned clients with dark hair. Recent advancements, however, have created new opportunities for clients with darker skin to enjoy laser hair removal.

To explain more about the developments in laser hair removal for dark skin, we turned to Taylor Bagby, an Aesthetic Nurse Specialist at SkinSpirit’s Palo Alto location.

Your Laser Hair Removal Questions Answered

headshot of Taylor Bagby in black scrubs

SkinSpirit: What is laser hair removal? Could you describe the process?

Taylor Bagby: Laser hair removal, is the process of using a laser to reduce the amount of hair you have in an area. Laser hair removal is not permanent, and typically provides 70-80% reduction.

At SkinSpirit, we utilize the Candela, which has an Alexandrite laser for lighter skin tones, and a YAG laser, which is perfect for brown or darker skin tones. The laser focuses on the pigment of the hair follicle and destroys it.

SS: How should someone prepare for laser hair removal?

TB: It’s important to shave the hair 24-48 hours before your appointment so that the laser can focus on the bulb of the hair follicle. The goal is to catch the hair in the active growth phase to increase the chances of reduction.

SS: What happens during an initial laser hair removal appointment?

TB: During an initial appointment, a test spot is done to assess efficacy for settings. Once that is found, the treatment is relatively quick. Settings are only adjusted as needed.

While many clients find laser hair removal uncomfortable—on par with or more painful than waxing—they like the long-term hair reduction.

SS: What kind of results can someone expect?

TB: Typically you’ll notice about 10% hair reduction after every appointment. Additionally, the hair will start to become thinner and patchier. It can take 8-10 sessions to reach reduction goals. These sessions are spaced out in week spans, depending on the area.

Laser hair removal takes time and is not a quick process. However, depending on genetics, hormones, and medical conditions, treatment sessions can vary. Certain conditions, such as PCOS, fight against hair reduction.

SS: What are the risks around laser hair removal for dark skin?

TB: With laser hair removal, deeper skin tones always have greater risk for burns, hyperpigmentation, and hypopigmentation. Steps can be taken to lessen the risk, but, overall, it will always be a risk.

Burns and changes of hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation arise from unsafe settings or treating freshly sun exposed skin especially when treating deep skin tones. This is why utilizing a physical sunscreen daily on areas treated with laser hair removal is so important.

SS: Does laser resurfacing use the same technology as laser hair removal? What are possible effects of this on dark skin?

TB: Laser resurfacing technology differs in wavelengths and utilization. For example, HALO® utilizes dual lasers—one that is non-ablative and one that is ablative—to address different skin needs, such as pigment, redness, fine lines or wrinkles, and texture. Caution should be taken during laser resurfacing with dark skin due to the risks of a burn, hypopigmentation, and hyperpigmentation.

SS: How can someone with dark skin who wants to try laser skincare treatments prepare? Is there a way to prevent damage to the skin?

TB: To prepare for laser treatments, we recommend using hydroquinone to help lessen the chances of hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation. It won't take away the risk, but it is an added layer of protection to prepare the skin for the procedure.

And, we'll say it again: for laser resurfacing and laser hair removal, a physical sunscreen is vital for treatment areas.

SS: If skin has been damaged after a laser treatment, how can it be healed? What products would you recommend using to speed up the process?

TB: It depends on the level of damage. If a burn occurs, care should be taken to let the burn resolve and heal. Different clinics have a burn protocol that they utilize. We recommend hydrocortisone or a higher steroid if needed to help heal the skin. It’s best not to rush the healing process.

Once the burn is resolved, additional steps can be taken to resolve any hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation that may have resulted from the burn. We are here to help!

Schedule Your Laser Hair Removal Consultation

Are you curious about laser hair removal? Schedule your free consultation today to take the time and hassle out of your hair removal routine with experts in laser hair removal for dark skin.