Hair removal for dark skin types can be a challenge. Not only is the hair often thick and coarse, but the amount of melanin in the skin (which is attracted to heat) makes dark skin types more susceptible to complications. This article will aim to discuss the key issues surrounding laser hair removal for dark skin types and how we can assist in the permanent yet safe removal of unwanted hair for these skin types.
Understanding Skin Types
The most common tool to gauge skin type which is used in the medical field is called the “Fitzpatrick Scale”, named after Thomas B. Fitzpatrick. He developed this method as a Harvard Dermatologist in 1975 as a means to categorise the many different skin types that we see today. The Fitzpatrick scale was developed by exposing different skin types to UV light and then measuring the skin’s response. Do you know which skin type you are? Here is the Fitzpatrick scale – why not try to determine your skin type below?
- Type I Pale white; blond or red hair; blue eyes; freckles — Always burns, never tans
- Type II White; fair; blond or red hair; blue, green, or hazel eyes — Usually burns, tans minimally
- Type III Cream white; fair with any hair or eye colour; quite common — Sometimes mild burn, tans uniformly
- Type IV Moderate brown; typical Mediterranean skin tone — Rarely burns, always tans well
- Type V Dark brown; Middle Eastern skin types — Very rarely burns, tans very easily
- Type VI Deeply pigmented dark brown to black — Never burns, tans very easily
As you can see, the Fitzpatrick scale begins at number 1 for fair skin types, and goes all the way to 6 for the darkest skin type. This tool is used by our therapists in order to gauge suitability for certain skin treatments, whether it is laser hair removal, photo rejuvenation, or even anti-ageing.
In this article, we will consider dark skin types to be anywhere between a 4 and above on the Fitzpatrick scale.
What are the challenges of treating dark skin types for hair removal?
Treating dark skin types for the purposes of permanent hair removal can be a delicate and complicated process – the main reason being that darker skin types due to their composition are more prone to scarring, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and even burning caused by the skin absorbing too much heat. These characteristics of dark skin types make it incredibly difficult to treat at high enough energies to see dramatic and satisfactory results, as the probability of complications are simply too high.
Pain is also a major concern during these types of treatments for those with dark skin types. The darker the skin, usually the more pain the client will feel. This is because if dark skin is treated with a laser that is not suitable or designed for dark skin types, it can deliver a far greater amount of energy and heat into the skin. This not only causes discomfort during treatment, but also increases the risk for complications.
One option that many clinics like to take is to under-treat or treat at very low energies in order to avoid turning clients away. The main issue with this is that whilst it may be much safer to reduce settings to their minimums, the effectiveness of the treatment is greatly compromised. With the coming and going of intense pulsed light (IPL) devices for hair removal purposes, we discovered fairly rapidly that these sub-par devices were not destroying the hair follicles permanently, but rather would simply weaken the follicle meaning that the hair would fade or become less coarse. Over time however, this would mean you would be left with very thin and lighter hair which does not respond well to permanent laser hair removal treatment.
History behind the evolution of medical grade lasers
For decades, clients who had darker skin were not suitable for laser hair removal and would be turned away or referred to non-permanent methods such as waxing or depilatory creams. During the early developmental stages of aesthetic technology, the only devices that existed for semi-permanent hair removal were IPL devices. These devices did not target a specific wavelength, but rather spanned a broad spectrum of light therefore greatly increasing the chance of burning and scarring in clients with darker skin. Over the years, these IPL devices began to flood the aesthetic market and soon after many horror stories emerged from clinics around the world (not just in Melbourne) regarding severe burn and scarring cases due to the mis-handling of energies used by these IPLs or even lack of suitability for treatment in the first place.
When the first round of medical grade lasers was developed during the early 1990s, however, they were much safer, despite having much more focused power than the more inferior IPL devices. These lasers would work by only emitting one single wavelength and having a constant controlled output of energy. But many of these new generation lasers on the market were more suited to clients with fairer skin as the technology was still not suitable for truly dark skin types (4+ on the Fitzpatrick scale).
Fast forward to today, however, with modern advances in technology we are now able to use the strongest and safest medical grade lasers (not IPL) to target unwanted hair growth and destroy the hair follicles permanently. Skin rejuvenation and anti-ageing treatments are now also possible and safe due to these latest Nd:YAG lasers. The beauty of these types of medical lasers are that they are not attracted to the melanin in the skin, and have more of an affinity to blood supply (the vascular system). Therefore the risk for complications such as burning or scarring are significantly reduced.
At Victorian Cosmetic Dermal Clinics we have a medical laser for every skin type. We take the time to assess your skin and always perform test patches prior to commencing your course of treatments. This allows us to fully gauge your suitability in a controlled and safe environment and ensures we deliver the maximum results to you no matter what your skin type.