Given laser hair removal’s increasing popularity as one of the most-requested nonsurgical cosmetic treatments over the last several years, it’s easy to assume that everyone is a candidate. In reality, the best results are seen from certain combinations of hair color and skin tone.
Why Skin Tone Matters
Why does skin tone matter at all when the topic of discussion involves hair removal rather than skin? The answer lies in understanding how laser hair removal works. Lasers are a concentrated form of light energy, and that light is absorbed by the target area—in this case, the hair follicle. Darker hair contains more pigment, allowing for a higher level of energy absorption.
When dark hair grows against light skin, the laser energy is drawn to the pigment, which stands out in easy contrast to the paler skin behind. For those with ethnic skin tones, the difference in shades between hair and skin is less pronounced, which means there’s a risk that the pigment in the skin could absorb the laser energy instead.
Different Wavelengths for Different Skin Types
Using a process called selective photothermolysis, a variety of light wavelengths target the laser-absorbing pigmentation, or chromophore, in the hair follicle. During the absorption process, light is converted to heat, which then spreads through the hair shaft, damaging the follicle just enough to prevent future regrowth. During laser hair removal treatment, your laser technician selects the wavelength that’s best for your specific skin tone in a way that allows penetration of the chromophore.
Because the lasers used are so highly sensitive, the skin’s pigmentation (melanin) can easily end up targeted instead if the wrong wavelength is used. By customizing the wavelength and penetration depth to account for the unique combination of each individual’s hair and skin tone, an experienced laser technician can better ensure patient safety and avoid unnecessary damage to the treatment area, allowing for effective laser hair removal in darker skin tones.
The Fitzpatrick Scale
The Fitzpatrick skin type scale helps laser technicians determine the best candidates for laser hair removal according to skin tone, as well as decide which wavelength is most likely to deliver the ideal results. The guide was developed by a dermatologist, and divides skin tones into six different categories according to their response to UV rays:
- Type 1: Pale skin that’s sometimes freckled, but burns rather than tans.
- Type 2: White skin that usually burns, but tans sometimes.
- Type 3: White skin ranging to olive. Burns sometimes, but always tans.
- Type 4: Brown skin that rarely burns.
- Type 5: Dark brown skin that almost never burns.
- Type 6: Black, highly pigmented skin.
When undergoing laser hair removal, the three darkest skin tones carry the highest risk of injury.
Laser Hair Removal and Ethnic Skin
- There’s a persistent misconception that performing laser hair removal on those with ethnic skin tones is impossible. Luckily for those men and women of African-American, Asian, East Indian, Latino, Mediterranean or Native American heritage, LHR on darker skin is possible as long as the right wavelength is used, and the proper precautions are taken.
- Today’s laser technology is more advanced than ever before, allowing for safe and effective hair reduction across a full spectrum of skin tones. However, longer wavelengths and pulse widths are a must, along with performing a spot test prior to treatment to better gauge the best wavelength to use.
Caroll Delo is a board certified laser technician at Simply Smooth Laser Center in Tampa, a niche practice that focuses specifically on laser treatments. Simply Smooth Laser Center offers the most advanced options in laser hair removal, laser skin rejuvenation and laser tattoo removal.