Laser hair removal is revolutionary when it comes to grooming.
For thousands of years men and women have been removing hair by way of wax, razor, tweezer, and more recently the epilator. The pursuit of hairlessness is not a new phenomenon but it’s a battle we fight constantly, because there’s a funny thing about hair: it grows back.
Some of the methods we use damage hair follicles, stunting their growth and making them grow back thinner and weaker than before making them easier to get rid of, but nothing was permanent until lasers came along in the 1960s.
Unfortunately, laser hair removal is not for everyone. I don’t mean some people don’t like it, I mean that it is physically dangerous for some people to undergo the treatment. These are people with darker skin tones.
So is it possible for darker skinned people to enjoy the benefits of laser hair removal?
That’s what we’ll explore in this article.
Firstly we need to take a look at what laser hair removal is and why the technology is not suitable for dark skin.
What is laser hair removal?
Laser hair removal is the process of both removing unwanted hairs and at the same time damaging the hair follicle so that growth is stunted or stopped completely in the future.
This is done through the use of lasers, which target melanin (the pigment that gives hair its color). These lasers turn light energy into thermal energy, resulting in the hair follicles heating up and being destroyed.
You may have heard of melanin before. That’s because it’s the same pigment that gives skin its color.
The darker your skin is, the more melanin it contains.
By now you might be able to understand why laser hair removal is generally considered dangerous for those with darker skin colors. The exact same thing will happen with skin as it does with the hair follicles. The melanin is targeted, heated up, and burned.
So is there any kind of laser hair removal that can be effective with darker skin colors? Yes!
Different lasers, different wavelengths
The original laser hair removal machine used what is called a “ruby laser”, and it had a short wavelength.
What does this mean?
In laser hair removal, if a wavelength is short it will be more effective at targeting melanin. If it is long, it will be less effective.
The ruby laser has a functioning wavelength of 694nm, which is considered short. This made it very effective for those with pale skin and dark hair, but very dangerous for pretty much anyone else because it was also extremely effective at targeting the melanin in skin.
These days, we have a variety of different lasers with different wavelengths:
- Alexandrite: 755nm
- Diode: 810nm
- Nd:YAG: 1064nm
What’s important about this is: a longer wavelength laser is able to bypass the melanin in the skin but is still able to target melanin in the hairs below.
This is huge for anyone with darker skin because it means that laser hair removal is actually possible without putting the skin in jeopardy.
So laser hair removal is an option for those with darker skin, and you’ll find that the Nd:YAG laser is the most commonly used for this purpose.
While there are home devices out there that are useable on darker skin types, like the FDA approved mē Smooth device (we’ll be doing an in depth review soon!), its difficult not to recommend seeing a professional.
This is because its much more of an art to getting the job done safely and effectively when working with dark skin types.
Therefore, experience is key.
A professional needs to have intimate knowledge of laser hair removal for dark skin so they can determine:
- What type of laser would be most suitable
- The wavelength/color of the light used
- Pulse duration (the thicker the hairs, the longer the pulse duration)
- Many other factors that will help you get safe and effective treatment
Keep it cool
Some professionals may even use cooling methods to ensure that your skin is safe.
To avoid treating the melatonin in the skin you can cool it down so that it doesn’t heat up enough to be burned.
This can be done in a number of ways, though mostly through contact cooling. This essentially means something cold touching the skin like 2 sapphire plates with water running through them, a chilled plate, or even a spray that coats the skin and cools it through evaporation.
Ask for a patch test!
A lot of clinics will do this anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
A patch test is when a small area of skin is lasered with different intensity levels to test what the right level of intensity is for your skin.
The key is to reach a level that effectively destroys the hair follicles but doesn’t burn your skin. This sweet spot is surprisingly hard to find, which is again why we recommend going pro.
Final Thoughts & Summary
Its a commonly held belief that laser hair removal for dark skin is just not possible, thankfully that’s not entirely true.
There are different kinds of lasers available these days and with longer wavelengths the light can penetrate deeper so that the hair follicles can still be disrupted without the melanin in the skin distracting it.
The most commonly used kind of laser for darker skin is an Nd:YAG laser (make sure to ask your dermatologist if this is what they’re using when you go for treatment!).
There are home laser devices that will work for darker skin but its not as straightforward a task as it is for lighter skin, so we recommend seeing a professional.
If you’re still looking for an alternative to get rid of hair and aren’t excited about throwing money at a professional treatment, maybe check out our guide Best Epilator for Dark Skin.