Hair Removal for All Skin Types: Skin Tones, Lasers, and You
Do you nick yourself shaving? Have you vowed never to visit that waxing salon ever again? Is there any other way to get rid of unwanted body hair, particularly if you have dark skin?
Laser hair removal is an option, but the method you choose differs according to your skin type. Your skin type comes from both your heredity and your ethnicity, and it can vary even between close members of your family.
Until recently, the lasers used for hair removal only suited lighter skin types. It did damage to darker skin, which caused aestheticians to warn many clients away.
Now, there are two different lasers, and more people can get in on long-term hair reduction.
Old Lasers: Why They Didn't Suit Skin with More Melanin
If you thought about laser hair removal before and were sent away due to your skin type, there was a reason.
Ten or twenty years ago, the lasers used for hair removal didn't suit darker skin tones. The problem was never your skin; though, dark skin has more sensitivity than light skin. It was that the lasers used weren't sophisticated enough to determine the difference between darker hair follicles and darker pigments. So instead of only removing your hair, the lasers threatened to cause skin damage like:
- Severe burns
It was a real shame, particularly for women of African descent whose curly hair also makes you more prone to ingrowing hairs.
Today's lasers are much better at treating dark skin, but the sensitivity issue remains.
Anyone with a dark skin type must seek out a treatment provider who has plenty of experience working with your skin type. If your provider uses the wrong wavelength or doesn't prepare your skin correctly, you still risk burns and discolouration.
What Constitutes Dark Skin?
The term "dark skin" could refer to hundreds of shades - each of them as unique as you are. How do we determine what skin type you have for treatment purposes?
We use the Fitzpatrick skin type chart, which combines the approximate shade of your skin (very roughly) with your personal history of sun exposure.
The Fitzpatrick skin type chart doesn't need to be accurate enough to choose your foundation. It's a scientific - although subjective - chart that classifies your skin according to how it burns rather than how it looks.
Six skin types appear on the chart.
Skin type 1 is an ivory colour (before sun exposure) and your skin freckles, burns, and never tans in the sun. Think the colour pink that Scottish people turn on a rare sunny day.
If you have skin type 2, you have fair or pale skin and usually blonde hair. If you go out into the sun, you freckle, burn, and peel, but a tan is possible (if not rare).
Among skin type 3, your skin colour is fair to beige, but you can become sallow. You don't freckle as often, and you do burn, but you can also achieve a tan if you're stubborn enough (unlike types 1 and 2).
If you have skin type 4, you veer into olive to light brown skin. You likely have dark brown eyes and hair. Most sun exposure turns into a tan, but you can burn if you go without sun cream at the equator.
Skin type 5 is a dark brown, and your hair and eyes are dark brown to black. You rarely freckle, never burn, and always tan when you spend time in the sun.
The darkest skin type is 6. Your skin is intensely pigmented and may be dark brown to the darkest brown colour, and your hair is black. You achieve a very dark tan, and you never freckle or burn.
Keep in mind that the ideal candidate for laser hair removal is someone whose skin is lighter than their hair colour. The differences in tone create a contrast that the laser can see. Very dark brown hair and skin are still beyond the reach of some lasers.
Dark Skin Meet Asian Skin: Colour Isn't the Only Challenge
The issue of distinguishing between pigments ruled out patients with dark skin. But very dark coloured skin isn't the only thing that can get in the way of successful hair removal.
People of Asian descent (between skin type 3 and 5) also struggled with the early lasers. Even though light skin types were more compatible with the lasers, studies found that those with 'Asian skin' usually required multiple treatments to achieve the same efficacy as candidates of European descent.
Researchers struggled to find the exact reason for the complications. However, professionals in the field suggest that Asian skin tones present more challenges because the skin is often thicker, and hair types are also not only different but occur at varying depths.
The Best Types of Laser Hair Removal for All Skin Types
All candidates for laser hair removal need to do their homework before settling on a practice. It's particularly crucial for people of colour. Even though lasers continue to improve dramatically, it's also important to find technicians who wield them properly.
Learning about what makes a suitable laser is the best place to start.
What is a Laser?
Laser is an acronym that stands for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation."
It emits a wavelength of light that contains a high amount of energy. The energy creates heat and destroys cells. The wavelength of the laser determines how we use it; we measure a laser's wavelength in nanometres (nm).
Why do we use lasers to get rid of unwanted hair?
The light emitted by the laser targets the melanin of the hair. Because the light converts to heat, it damages the hair follicles. Damaged hair follicles can cause hair to fall out and both limit or delay hair growth.
To successfully deliver enough energy to the follicle to damage it, you need a laser with a particular wavelength. As a result, some lasers work better with darker skin types and others that work best with lighter skin types.
Nd:YAG Laser: The Best Laser for Skin Types 4-6
One of the new types of lasers used for treating skin conditions is the Nd:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet). What you need to know about the laser is the laser medium is a crystal. More importantly, the Nd:YAG laser features a wavelength of 1064 nm.
A 1064 nm wavelength is significant because it can reach deeper layers of skin than other types of lasers.
That means we can use it in many types of treatments including to:
- Remove hair
- Smooth spider veins
- Treat varicose veins
- Remove age spots, freckles, and other pigmentation
- Remove tattoos (blue, grey, and black)
Why is reaching deeper skin layers necessary for hair removal? When the light pules can go further, they target the hair follicle, which minimises further growth.
Researchers have also tested the Nd:YAG laser on women with skin types 4 through 6 (light brown to dark brown). In one trial, they provided 20 women with these skin types with three treatment sessions with a 1064-nm Nd:YAG laser. Upon follow-up, they found that all candidates experience substantial hair reduction in the treatment area.
They also lost 70-90 per cent of their hair in the targeted area within 12 months after the final treatment.
Some of the patients did experience mild to moderate pain, and some found temporary pigmentation on the treatment area. But overall, all of them received the desired results and the Nd:YAG laser was found to be both safe and effective for patients with darkly pigmented skin.
Similar results were found in a trial of Indian patients with skin types 4 and 5.
Alexandrite Wavelength at 755 nm: Best laser for Skin Types 1-3
The alexandrite laser uses an alexandrite crystal as a medium. It produces a wavelength of 755 nm, which makes it a red light laser. Like the Nd:YAG laser, it can be used to treat age spots, freckles, and spider veins. But it only works its magic on certain types of skin.
The laser shines when it treats dark hair among patients with skin types 1-3. We can use it on patients who fall under skin type 4, but they must also have very light skin for the category. Although some say it doesn't perform well when targeting lighter hair, it does perform better than the Nd:YAG laser.
However, it is best to use it only among skin types 1-3 because it can destroy melanin. When misused, patients can walk away with white patches on their skin and little to no hair loss to show for it.
Splendor X by Lumenis
Your skin type dictates whether you will get the best results from an Nd:YAG laser or an alexandrite laser.
A new device offers both.
Splendor X by Lumenis is the latest in laser hair removal tools. It launched in 2018 at the American Society of Dermatological Surgery (ASDS), and it's the first laser to include both alexandrite and Nd:YAG wavelengths at the same time.
What does this mean?
In most cases, you need to use a high setting of either the alexandrite or Nd:YAG wavelength to get the results you need. High settings usually result in more pain during treatment and heighten the risk of temporary complications.
Splendor X is different because by combining the two laser types in one, you can use minimal settings. It provides the same results but with fewer complications.
It also combines the best attributes of both lasers.
The alexandrite laser works best with hair on the surface of your skin. The stronger Nd:YAG laser targets hair follicles below the epidermis (which is why it comes with more pain). That means you can use it on sensitive areas like your face as well as on your legs and back - all with less pain.
Questions to Ask Before Hair Removal
By now, you know more about the types of lasers used for hair removal and what to expect in terms of safety and efficacy.
But the laser only works as well as the treatment provider. So you should be sure to ask plenty of questions before you book a laser session, particularly if you fall in skin types 4-6.
Do You Have the Right Lasers for My Skin?
The first question to ask is whether the therapies used at the clinic are suitable for your skin. This question is particularly pertinent to those who have very light coloured hair as well as those with darker skin.
You should also make sure that the therapist has experience working with your skin or hair type. There is much more involved in setting up and delivering laser treatment than described in this post. So, it is crucial that they know all of the technical details involved and can find the right settings.
How Many Treatments Will I Need?
Everyone needs more than one treatment. In the end, the laser needs to target the hair during its growth phase. But because hair reaches it at different points, you'll need multiple sessions to get it done.
The number of sessions needed depends on your skin type and hair density.
What Side Effects Can I Expect?
Both Nd:YAG and alexandrite lasers are considered safe and effective to use over the long-term.
However, both can also come with side effects that can include:
Your therapist should offer a patch test to assess the likelihood of any severe reaction.
Everyone Can Enjoy the Benefits of Hair Removal
For years, only those with skin types 1-4 could enjoy the benefits of laser hair removal. But new technology means that people with all skin types and hair densities can now get rid of unwanted hair without risking discolouration - or worse.
Remember that although laser hair removal is now very commonplace, it is still a complex procedure, particularly for anyone with darker skin tones. It's essential to find a therapist who not only specialises in hair removal but who knows the intricacies of working with each skin type.
Are you interested in laser hair removal but were previously told it was impossible? Get in touch to learn more about using Splendor X to be free of unwanted hair.