Laser hair removal: How to be less hairy without damaging your skin

Woman undergoing laser hair removal

Hair removal is definitely one of the most annoying things that comes along with being widely considered an attractive female in the 21st century.

If you are a naturally fuzzy lady like myself, without a lot of time, maybe you’d prefer something a little more permanent.

Research has shown that longer-lasting hair removal methods like laser treatments will probably save you money in the long run, be a time saver, and mean overall smoother skin. In fact, laser hair removal is one of the most commonly requested cosmetic procedures in the U.S., according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

As popular as these procedures are though, women with ethnic skin tones face unique challenges when it comes to laser hair removal.

Laser hair removal risks for ethnic skin tones

In laser hair removal procedures, a laser detects the contrast between skin and hair, so the darker your hair and the lighter your skin, the better the laser works.

There is evidence due to the nature of how the technology functions, that darker-skinned individuals are more likely to suffer from permanent dark spots (hyperpigmentation) or white spots (hypopigmentation).

Pigment changes are the most common side effects of laser hair removal for those who have darker skin, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says all patients of laser hair removal may experience minor side-effects such as skin irritation which can include discomfort, redness, and swelling.  This can last 1-3 days after treatment.

What skin type are you on a scale of 1-6? Find out below

The graphic below shows the Fitzpatrick Scale, developed in 1975 by T.B. Fitzpatrick, a Harvard dermatologist. It is the current and recognized method among the medical aesthetics community to classify skin colors and their reaction to UV light.

Skin color palette to determine damage from hair removalAccording to the National Laser Institute, skin types 4-6 have the largest risk for injury if a laser technician is not properly trained in treating dark skin types.

Tips for minimizing skin damage from laser hair removal

Make an appointment with a dermatologist: To protect your health and get the results you want, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends pursuing a consultation with a dermatologist. During the consultation, there’s a chance the dermatologist will tell you that laser treatment isn’t right for you, especially if you are looking to remove facial hair which has the greatest risk of sun exposure.

Ask for a patch test: If you have very dark skin, the AAD advises doing a patch test. A small area is lasered at different energy levels to determine the right level for effective removal without burning your skin. The zone between effective level and burn is very narrow in very dark individuals.

Avoid IPL light: Intense Pulsed Lights (IPLs) work in a similar manner to lasers, but with a less controllable energy emission. However, IPLs still fall under the umbrella of laser hair removal. This type of procedure puts you at a greater risk for pigment changes if you are a dark-skinned individual.

Look for Diode or ND-Yag laser machines: Technology has advanced so much that there are newer machines that really minimize the risk for darker-skinned patients. The machines proven to have greater success in dark-skinned individuals are the Diode laser and Nd-Yag laser machine, according to the AAD. These laser machines have improved by being more precise and specific.

Stay out of the sun: In order to minimize pigment change from this procedure, prospective long-lasting hair removal clients need to avoid extended sun exposure, tanning beds, and self-tanners for at least two weeks before treatments. And once you’ve had a treatment you also want to avoid going out and laying on the beach. Wearing SPF 30 or higher sunscreen for the month following the procedure to help prevent temporary changes in the color of the treated skin is advised.

And one other way to greatly reduce your risks for skin pigmentation changes, as well as other serious side effects, is to have your treatment performed by a medical doctor who is extremely skilled in using lasers and who has in-depth knowledge of the skin, advises the AAD.

If you’re considering a more permanent form of hair removal, and are a dark skinned Latina, it’s important to know the risks and what steps you can take to avoid skin damage in order to make your experience a successful one.

For more information on laser hair removal, check out the American Academy of Dermatology’s page dedicated to laser hair removal facts and questions.

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