Laser Hair Removal: Treating Dark Skin

September 6, 2010 in Hair Removal 101,Laser hair removal

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Until recent times, laser hair removal was not recommended for dark or tanned skin. In fact, laser sessions could cause unpleasant side effects in dark skin, such as blistering, scarring, and discoloration. Today, laser hair removal is available for those with dark or tanned skin, but it is still important to understand why dark skin is sensitive to lasers and why caution is necessary.

Lasers are aimed to target the melanin (pigment) in the hair follicle. However, the main concern is that the laser cannot make a difference between the melanin in the hair and the melanin in the skin. This makes it problematic because the melanin in the skin can absorb the light that should have been absorbed by the melanin in the hair follicle. And dark skin absorbs more light than what is needed. This makes it more likely that the skin will be burnt or damaged as a result of the laser treatment. In other words, if you have dark skin, the concern is that the pigments in your skin will absorb too much of the laser’s light, which can result in side effects. This explains why darker individuals who have undergone laser hair removal treatments in the past have had negative experiences.

Those with dark skin are fully able to be treated with laser hair removal today, however, when treating dark skin, it is necessary to use lasers that produce the longest wavelengths of light. This is because melanin absorbs short wavelengths of light, and the ability of melanin to absorb light reduces as you go to longer wavelengths, thereby minimizing the risk to dark skin. In other words, some lasers are able of decreasing the ability of the skin to absorb light. This is what makes the laser hair removal process safe for those with dark skin.

While laser hair removal can now be efficient for darker individuals, it is of utmost importance to know that not all lasers are safe for dark skin. There are only a few lasers available on the market that can safely treat dark skin. The Nd:YAG laser is a good example of a laser that can efficiently remove hair on dark skin. It has the longest wavelength of all lasers: 1064 nm (nanometers). Specifically, the brand names “GentleYag” and “CoolGlide” are two of the best Nd:YAG lasers available today.

With the advancement of technology, people with dark skin are now definitely among those who can enjoy the benefits of laser hair removal. However, laser hair removal practitioners who deliver the treatments must perform with great care and have training and experience in treating dark skin.

Photo via Celeste Jetcity

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