Early-generation hair removal lasers worked only on light skinned, dark haired individuals. Modern advances in laser and light technology provide safe and efficient hair removal options for a variety of skin types. Older hair removal lasers targeted the melanin in the hair follicle itself, but they inadvertently affected all melanin in the exposure area, resulting in damage to darker skin. New lasers can penetrate the top layers of skin (where melanin resides) and target only the deeper layer where the hair follicle is located. This is achieved with longer wavelengths and pulse widths.
How Laser Hair Removal Works
The acronym laser stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” The light in laser hair removal devices seeks out melanin, the pigment responsible for dark hair color and and darker skin tones. On lighter skin tones with dark hair, the skin is unaffected because the laser seeks out only the darker hair follicle.
The higher levels of melanin in darker skin types absorb light and dissipate UV radiation, resulting in natural sunscreen. Darker skin tones are less likely to burn after sun exposure and less inclined to develop skin cancer. But they also attract the light from lasers.
Hair removal lasers have a difficult time differentiating between a dark hair follicle and dark skin pigment (melanin). This can result in infective hair removal and potential damage to surrounding tissue. Hair removal for dark skin requires a laser able to target the correct skin depth—where the hair follicles lie— and bypass the melanin in the upper skin layers so that only the hair folicle is treated. Otherwise, the skin can absorb heat from the laser, which can result in skin damage and uneven hair removal.
The Fitzpatrick Scale
The Fitzpatrick Scale was developed in 1975 by a Harvard dermatologist named T.B. Fitzpatrick. This scale was developed to identify and classify different skin types based on their sunlight tolerance for dermatological procedures. The Fitzpatrick scale ranges from 1-6, or lightest to darkest. Skin types between the ranges of 4-6 require a properly trained laser technician and lasers that can be adjusted to meet the needs of the individual skin type.
Darker skin types can be more likely to experience a delayed reaction after laser hair removal treatment. Therefore, performing a test spot with different levels of intensity can help provide a baseline for effective treatment with minimal skin exposure. The most optimal hair removal lasers for ethnic skin tones incorporate mechanisms that can adjust the wavelength, adjust the laser pulses’ timing and vary the energy output. A skilled technician can utilize the Fitzpatrick scale to determine the best hair removal options for all skin types.
Candela GentleLASE® Pro
Candela lasers are the gold standard for laser hair removal. They offer more versatility than other multi-wavelength devices on the market. Candela’s GentleLASE® Pro series is safe for use on all skin types and is effective for hair removal, surface veins and pigmented anomalies. The Pro series incorporates cooling technology for comfort without sacrificing efficiency.
With the right tools and an experienced technician, all skin types can benefit from laser hair removal with few side effects and lasting results.