Is laser hair removal safe for darker skin tones?

Laser hair removal has quickly grown into one of the most popular and widely performed medically aesthetic procedures in only 20 years time. In 2007, there were 11.7 million procedures performed. Of these more than 1.4 million of them were laser hair removal treatments. It represented an impressive 12 percent of the incredible growth in the sector. The treatment that is only a few decades old now has grown into the third most heavily sought ought procedure (non-medical), per the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Dark Toned Skin Participants Remain Few

Because of a quirk of the procedure’s early history, the African-American, Latina, and Asian ethnic groups who possess darker skin tones remain discouraged from electing to have the convenience of laser hair removal treatments. This is because in the early years, the procedure gained a dark and sinister reputation as being capable of seriously damaging darker-toned skin. It is true that in the early days of the procedures, the lack of quality control and the absence of effectively trained laser technicians left much to be desired. This led to the unfortunately enduring perception that laser hair removal procedures entail high degrees of risk for darker skin toned people.

Reality paints a far different picture though. Laser technique and technology advances have led to a rapid demand increase of such procedures from darker skin type consumers. This has led to a market niche that nearly outpaces the numbers of available laser hair removal professionals who have been effectively trained in how to safely perform the treatment for them.

laser hair removal

It is most critical that the laser hair removal technicians share with their prospective patients the hard science that underlies the procedure. They should also share about the vast improvements in the development of cosmetic lasers. Professionals for their parts need to stay educated on the best techniques for removing hair with lasers for darker skin tones so that they can allay all concerns relating to the procedure itself.

The Early Days of Laser Hair Removal Procedures

It was only roughly two decades ago when the FDA first approved using lasers in hair removal back in 1995. The early results demonstrated an ineffectiveness as hair would often quickly regrow. By 1998 the FDA had cleared the original cosmetic laser that focused on melanin in the hair follicles.

Back in the 1990’s, such hair removal could only be had by those individuals lucky enough to possess a lighter skin tone. This was mostly because a highly limited quantity of laser light wavelengths were approved in the early days. These wavelengths proved to cause damage to darker toned skin thanks to their inability to safely concentrate on just the hair shaft melanin.

Because of these safety factors, a great number of dark pigmented people were unable to avail themselves of the up and coming trend in beauty. Yet in the intervening years, there has been a radical improvement in the cosmetic lasers. They are now high precision instruments that possess the capability of focusing light from a full light spectrum in new and powerful ways. All characteristics of hair growth and melanin are now clearly understood in the process of laser hair removal. This means that the procedures have become far more effective and safer for the darker toned skin.

The Science Behind Laser Heat and Darker Skin

The science behind this procedure is called Selective Photothermolysis. It is what makes it so effective. Wavelengths which were carefully chosen for their light penetration work into the skin to target a specific chromophore and melanin in the hair follicle.

After this, the light transforms into heat in the targeted area. This heat within the shaft then diffuses throughout the matrix and stem cells of the hair follicle. It causes proteins within the shaft to coagulate. The neighboring cells begin to raise their temperature in sympathy.

laser hair removal

This creates the desired and necessary mechanical damage to the follicle. It disrupts the hair growth cycle. The reduction is only called permanent if a large amount does not grow back for a greater amount of time than the full cycle of growth.

It is true that both lasers and light-based instruments deployed for these laser hair removal treatments prove to be very sensitive to all melanin and color. This is a critical characteristic of darker skin tones. Because the laser targets red hemoglobin, water, and brown melanin, care must be taken to employ the most optimal and safest wavelength of light with darker skin colors. When the correct wavelength is not utilized, or the penetration depth is not properly set up to be used on individuals with darker colored skin, then the cutaneous skin pigment will absorb too much heat off of the laser itself. This would damage the area of skin treated in fact.

Tools Used in the Procedures

Thanks to breakthroughs in both light-based and laser technology over the past twenty plus years, the procedure providers today have all needed instruments to effectively and safely take off hair from a range of skin colors and types. The darker toned patients only need a laser light that includes longer pulse widths and wavelengths to be both safe and effective. The optimal tool is an Nd: YAG laser.

The lasers with shorter wavelengths like the 810 nm Diode could also prove to be effective for those ethnic groups with a bit lighter skin tones. Because the laser type is ideally well absorbed by the melanin, it can cause epidermal damage for those darkest types of skin. This could lead to hyperpigmentation, which is an undesirable darkening of the skin. It might alternatively cause hypopigmentation, which is a severe lightening up of the skin.

For other types of skin, there is the 800 nm Diode Laser. This particular form of laser is most adept at accurately targeting the proper melanin when the right cooling attachments are interfaced with highly expanded, specific pulses. This laser is just what the doctor ordered for some skin tones.

Yet with darker skin types it can still burn the skin. This is why the Nd: YAG 1064 nm laser is better in many dark skin tones, as it can safely travel deep beneath the patient’s’ skin. It is able to get to the melanin found in the hair follicle and not cause any harm to the epidermal pigment in the process. This is why it is the most ideal laser choice for those darker toned patients.

If you’re thinking of undergoing a laser hair removal procedure, book a consultation at Renu Artful Medicine. Be in the hands of a professional with many years of experience in this particular field. Dr. Philip S. Schoenfeld is a double-board certified plastic surgeon with over 20 years of experience and offers different lasers for hair removal, making each treatment tailored to the individual patient. Visit to learn more about your options.



  1. Nichelle says:

    My biggest issue / concern with the process I fear my skin would keloid after each treatment.

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