The aim of this website is to provide a source of information for people of color regarding laser skin treatments. Light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation (LASER) procedures are generally more likely to cause side effects when performed on darker skinned people in comparison to when performed on lighter skinned people. Success rates are also lower in darker skinned people. Nevertheless, these procedures are still very popular among people of color and often result in great long lasting sometimes permanent positive results.
If your skin type is Type 3, 4, 5 or 6 on the Fitzpatrick scale, it is imperative for you to ensure that you choose a practitioner with plenty of experience treating people of color. Ideally, your practitioner must have at least several laser types to treat people of color. Note that LASER stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.
Laser Hair Removal in Darker Skin
Of the various cosmetic laser procedures out there, laser hair removal is by far and away the most popular one for both dark skinned and light skinned people, and therefore the most important focus of this website.
The laser hair removal phenomenon began in the mid-1990s upon FDA approval of the first laser hair removal machine. For most of the 1990s and early part of the new century, there were limited options for people with colored skin to get laser hair removal. Since 2001, however, laser technology improved significantly, and it is now also possible for darker skinned humans to get some degree of permanent hair removal upon treatment with Nd:YAG lasers (and sometimes Diode lasers too).
Results still vary drastically from person to person depending on numerous known (race, sex, hormone problems, skin color, hair color, hair texture) and unknown factors. It should be noted that even on fair skinned humans with dark hair (i.e., the best candidates), laser hair removal has only been approved by the FDA for “permanent reduction” rather than “permanent removal” due to some of the same similar uncertainties as colored people regarding success.
Lasers come in a range of wavelengths and are classified accordingly. Lower wavelength ones are only suitable for people with fair lighter skin. Nd:YAG lasers can treat people with all dark skin color tones. Some doctors and dermatologists also use IPL on darker toned skin types.
- Ruby Laser (wavelength 694 nm). This is the original laser variety that was first used in the 1960s. It is rarely used anymore due to the availability of superior new technologies.
- Alexandrite Laser (wavelength 755 nm). See more here. Ideal for treating skin types 1, 2 and 3. It is highly absorbed in melanin.
- Diode Laser (wavelength 810 nm). Often used to treat people with skin type 4.
- Nd:YAG Laser (wavelength 1064 nm). Ideal for treating darker skinned people of color with skin types 4, 5 and 6.
Adding to the confusion, most laser system manufacturers offer blended machines. These cover a range of wavelengths, encompassing at least two of the above categories (via different handpieces).
Also to be noted, there are two other cosmetic lasers with longer wavelengths that are often used for skin treatments:
- Er:YAG Laser (wavelength 2940 nm). This is categorized as infrared light. Erbium lasers are used for skin resurfacing, acne scare reduction, wart removal and skin rejuvenation. Note that while Nd:YAG lasers are non-ablative (the top surface of your skin is left intact, while the laser heats only the lower layer), Er:YAG lasers are almost always ablative. Consequently, they remove the surface layer of human skin.
- Carbon-Dioxide (CO2) Laser (wavelength 10,600 nm). Often used for skin resurfacing.
Both the above lasers are also used as part of fractional laser treatments. Erbium:YAG lasers for superficial ablative skin treatments; and CO2 lasers for deeper ablative treatments. The four possible combinations of ablative, non-ablative, fractionated, and non-fractionated are nicely covered in this summary from 2012.
Other Laser Treatments for Darker Skinned People
Among other laser treatments on darker skinned people include:
- Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH). Also check out the best skin lightening creams as a first line of treatment.
- Acne and dark acne scars.
- Ingrown hairs.
- Pseudofolliculitis barbae (razor bumps). Especially common in African Americans.
- Keloids and hypertrophic scars.
- Age spots.
- Skin growths.
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)
Note that Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatment for hair removal and skin photorejuvenation is very popular. However, this technology is not classified as laser. The IPL technique makes use of a high-powered, hand-held, computer-controlled flashgun. It delivers an intense, broad-spectrum pulse of light (in the range of 400 to 1200 nm). IPL is the most commonly used technology in home use laser hair removal machines.
A large scale collaboration of darker skinned people’s experiences with cosmetic laser treatments in one place will surely be of great use to a lot of folks.
Finally, be warned that darker skinned patients have to be especially careful when selecting a laser practitioner. This skin damage from laser hair removal video says it all.