Dark Skinned People Warned to take Precautions with Laser Hair Removal

Since I started this site, I have written several articles about the most suitable lasers for hair removal in people with dark skin. A new article from ABC warns about the dangers of laser hair removal in people with darker skin. One has to exercise the utmost caution before proceeding with such a treatment if you have highly pigmented skin.

Laser Hair Removal Dark Skin
Laser hair removal in darker skinned people can be dangerous if the incorrect laser is utilized.

Dark Skinned People Urged to Take Precautions with Laser Hair Removal

In the new ABC article, it is emphasized that not all hair removal lasers are suitable for use in people with darker skin. On Nightline, they interviewed Eshanka Jayasinghe, a darker skinned South Asian origin woman who got major scarring and sun sensitivity after her laser hair removal procedures.

With the laser hair removal industry booming, an ever increasing number of clinics are treating people of color without suitable equipment or relevant experience.

It’s estimated about a million people get laser hair removal annually, and the industry rakes in around $300 million a year, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jeanine Downie, laser hair removal machines are strong and can cause permanent skin damage and scarring when in the wrong person’s hands. High demand for this procedure has resulted in clinicians who do not have proper training or medical knowledge about the risks to darker skin.

In general, Nd:Yag lasers are the most suitable in removing hair from people with skin types 4-6 on the Fitzpatrick scale. However, there are also other machines nowadays that combine several different wavelengths into one handpiece.

It should also be noted that not all dark skin is the same. People with African skin tones require a different treatment strategy in comparison to people with East Indian skin. See my post on laser hair removal in Indian skin.

If you do not take precautions, the use of an inappropriate laser for darker skin types can even cause potentially permanent burns on your skin. Make sure to go to a clinic that has significant experience in treating people of your skin type and ethnicity. And they need to show you a range of before and after photos of their past darker skinned patients.

Also of major importance, do not undergo any kind of laser procedure if you have had significant recent sun exposure. And if you have grey or white body hair, the laser will not succeed in eliminating the follicles.

Mandelic Acid for Darker Skin Tones

The three main types of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are glycolic acid, lactic acid and mandelic acid. Among these three, mandelic acid is the most suitable and least harmful for darker skin tones. This is primarily due to its larger molecular size that is gentler on the skin.

Mandelic Acid for Hyperpigmentation

Mandelic Acid
Mandelic Acid from The Ordinary.

Mandelic acid is especially popular in treating hyperpigmentation issues in people of color. It will help lighten dark spots over time by exfoliating the skin without causing any inflammatory reaction.

An especially popular product on Amazon is The Ordinary mandelic acid 10% + HA with alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and hydrating hyaluronic acid. This topical has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars based on almost 2,000 reviews as of the time of writing this post. An even higher strength product is Naturium Mandelic Acid 12% plus Niacinamide. You can also purchase creams and gels containing this key ingredient.

A 2013 study from the US found that a combination treatment with vitamin C and mandelic acid resulted in successful short-term and long-term treatment of melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Mandelic acid does not kill melanocyte cells, so it will not exacerbate your existing hyperpigmentation and skin discoloration. According to New York based dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah, as told to Allure:

Despite its larger particle size, mandelic acid also delves deeper into skin than other AHAs because it is oil-soluble. Glycolic and lactic acids, on the other hand, are water-soluble, so they only work on the top layers of skin.

The Skin Benefits of Mandelic Acid

Mandelic acid can improve your skin texture, clear your pores, accelerate cell turnover, exfoliate, brighten dull skin, and reduce areas of discoloration and excess pigmentation. The end results is even toned, clearer, smoother, brighter and plumper skin. Note that it is recommended to use SPF sunscreen when using this acid, since it can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight and UV ray exposure.

Other Alternatives

For people with sensitive skin, glycolic acids and lactic acids can sometimes cause side effects. In that case, mandelic acid is a great alternative. However, even the last mentioned can cause some skin redness and irritation. Make sure to also read my past posts on tranexamic cream for skin lightening and cysteamine cream for treating hyperpigmentation. If you are only interested in mild exfoliation and skin brightening, kojic acid is a good naturally-derived ingredient that is suitable for skin of color.

How often Should you use Mandelic Acid?

In the beginning, it is recommended to use a mandelic acid based product just one to two times per week. Thereafter, if your skin can handle it without any adverse reactions, you can increase the frequency of application to three to four times per week.

Me Sleek IPL and Radio Frequency Hair Reduction

In general, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) laser hair removal is not safe for people with dark skin tones (skin types 5 and 6 on the Fitzpatrick scale). In my post on the best at-home laser hair removal devices, almost none of them are suitable for people with very dark skin.

Me Sleek Hair Removal
Me Sleek at-home hair removal with IPL and Radio Frequency technology from Elos.

Me Sleek IPL plus RF Hair Reduction

However, recently I heard about a unique at-home hair removal IPL and Radio Frequency (RF) combination device called mē Sleek. It uses dual-wave patented Elos technology that has been used for over 15 years. It is advertised as being the only FDA cleared at-home hair removal technology that is effective on all skin tones and the widest range of hair colors. However, do note that Elos also makes a similar IPL plus RF hair reduction device called Iluminage.

The Sleek permanent hair reduction device is recommended to be used once a week for 7 weeks. After that, it can be used for touch-ups on an as needed basis. It can be used by both women and men. Any large area of body hair below the neck can be treated. Only use it for facial hair below the cheek line. Areas close to the eye region need to be avoided as this can be dangerous for your vision.

According to the manual, each leg can be treated in 8 minutes; an under-arm is done in just 1 minute; each arm takes 2 minutes; bikini area in 1 minute; face in 1 minute; male back in 6 minutes; male chest in 7 minutes; abdomen in 3 minutes; and an entire full body treatment can be done in 25 minutes. Each body area must be treated with 2 or 3 passes due to the gentler IPL energy in this product.

Advantages of Me Sleek

Among the pros of me Sleek include:

  • FDA cleared for all skin tones. Including fair, medium, olive, light brown and the darkest brown skin types.
  • CE certification.
  • Unlimited flashes. Life-time hair removal warranty without the need to purchase any replacement cartridges.
  • Rapid speed of clearance due to the fast light pulses and large treatment surface area. Among the fastest at-home hair removal devices on the market.
  • Flashes upon skin contact, so no need to press any buttons.
  • Sleek design that comes with a power cord, so no battery needed.
  • Features three speed settings.
  • Safe and side effect free, with no pain, irritation, discomfort, nicks, cuts, stinging or razor burns.

Many dermatologists and plastic surgeons like this machine because of its versatility in treating patients of all ethnicities and skin types.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) and Radio Frequency (RF) Combination Treatment

The combination of both Intense Pulsed Light flashes and Radio Frequency current results in a very effective pain free and safe treatment for people with darker skin. The two energies work in combination to treat your hair follicles, and the resulting IPL is gentler on your skin. Note that the RF energy does not get effected by the melanin content of your skin. Both the IPL and RF provide separate heating of the hair shafts and follicles. i.e., it is a two-fold process of low intensity energy driven hair destruction.

Price and Results

On Brookstone’s website, me Sleek is currently priced at $299. On the Elos site, it is listed at a cost of $349. On Wal Mart’s site, it is priced at only $170. Considering the unlimited lifetime flashes, this is a very reasonable price in my opinion.

On average, the manufacturer states that customers will notice:

  1. A 46% hair reduction after just 2 weeks.
  2. Up to 94% hair reduction after 7 weeks.