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What To Know About Laser Hair Removal If You Are Dark

Dec 03, 2023

Hair removal can be a tricky and frustrating feat to take on. Whether you're finding yourself shaving every other day, or constantly going in for a wax, it's a lot of effort to have smooth skin every day. Thanks to advanced technology, laser hair removal has been a very convenient option to pursue permanent hair removal. However, it hasn't always been safe for everyone.

When this technology first came out, people with darker skin tones were at risk of discoloration, burns, or scarring because the laser did not work well with darker skin tones. This is because the laser can usually distinguish between the hair pigment and the skin tone, which is easier to do on fair skin. By doing so, it then beams the laser light onto the hair follicle to permanently damage it in order to stop the hair's growth. The lasers of this time were not created with darker tones in mind. Today, its technology has advanced to be more inclusive and safe for people with dark skin (via Venus Concept). Here's what you need to know.

There are two different types of lasers that are now safer to use on dark skin. The first is known as the Nd:YAG, and the other is known as the diode. The Nd:YAG, also referred to as the YAG, is better than many other lasers because it goes deeper into the skin, pushing past the skin's pigmentation. Its longer wavelengths and weaker melanin absorption rate make it safe for darker skin and darker hair. "The wavelength of this laser goes deeper into the skin than a diode," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., tells Glamour. "So it more successfully bypasses the pigmentation present in the skin."

The diode laser is another safe option for darker skin types, even proving to be a little more successful than the YAG, based on a study published in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery. After eight sessions of both laser treatments, the diode laser resulted in 92% hair reduction, whereas the YAG resulted in 90% hair reduction. This study was done on patients with levels four through six on the Fitzpatrick skin types scale (via Healthline). These levels are usually skin types that tan brown, burn less, and get darker as it scales up. "In patients with dark skin, the diode laser's energy has to be delivered in a slower manner per pulse, leaving more time for skin to cool," Dr. Gmyrek tells Glamour. "It also has an instant cooling device that protects pigment from overheating and being damaged." The diode laser, she says, is also less painful.

Before you head out to just any laser hair removal center, you should make sure that they have the right technology and knowledge for dark skin to avoid damage to your skin. "I would ask the laser practitioner how long they have worked in the field of laser hair removal, approximately how many patients they've treated with a dark skin type, and how satisfied those patients were with their results," registered nurse Meghan Murphy, R.N., B.S.N., tells Byrdie. Murphy, who has over five years of professional experience with lasers, also recommends that you ask to see before and after photos of patients with dark skin to be able to see what the center's results and work look like.

Additionally, the laser hair removal center should be following the correct pre- and post-procedure guidelines. Choose a doctor that will be able to go over these products with you, helping you choose the best medication and skin care necessary. Avoid ingredients with photosensitivity such as AHAs, BHAs, retinol, retinoids, and salicylic acid, per Elevated Aesthetics. Check with your doctor about how skin medications could affect the procedure. For example, if you are on Accutane, you should stop taking it for at least six months before the laser hair removal to avoid scarring. Professionals like Dr. Murphy also recommend doing a patch test first and waiting 48 hours before proceeding to make sure the reaction is good (via Byrdie).