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The Definitive Guide to Laser Hair Removal for Women of Color

Because sometimes shaving just...sucks.

While body hair is not a sexy topic, for many of us (hi, summer) it’s been top of mind. Even with the new wave of ladies seeking to embrace what Mother Nature gave them, another subset still yearns to go completely bare. While shaving feels like a meh solution compared to the semi-permanent results of tech-savvy lasers, sadly all lasers aren’t created equal, especially when it comes to people of color.

By design, lasers produce energy that’s absorbed by a target (aka hair follicles). Pigmentation in the skin (or lack thereof—women with gray and blond hair aren’t great candidates either) essentially “confuses” the laser, resulting in ineffective or painful treatment sessions. “Laser hair removal can be a little more challenging for clients with darker skin tones,” explains hair-removal specialist Ashley Taylor of Spruce & Bond. “Darker skin has more melanin and can be more susceptible to burns and hyperpigmentation while undergoing laser treatments.”

All hope is not lost though! In an effort to get to the bottom of it all, we chatted with two experts, who broke down all the laser options for women of color so you can finally stop making monthly waxing appointments.

 

Go YAG or Go Home (Seriously)

 
Recently, a progressive laser development—the YAG 1064—entered the market as a viable solution for darker skin tones. “The [YAG] is able to hit the target (hair follicle) only and avoids damaging the other structures in the skin (such as nerves, which would cause pain, skin pigment cells, etc.),” explains dermatologist, cosmetic surgeon, and director at Skin Specialty Dermatology Dr. Fran E. Cook-Bolden, MD. “Specific types of laser-energy devices do the best job at this and at the same time deliver energy that is powerful enough to successfully affect the target.”

 

Results Aren’t Quite Permanent

 
Newflash: even though laser hair removal is lauded as a permanent solution, it’s actually not—at least not right away. Yes, you will get killer results compared to shaving, waxing, and depilatory creams, but, according to Taylor, it’s common to experience slight regrowth, even after a series of treatments.

Why? “Hair grows in three different phases: anagen, telogen, catagen,” she says. “Lasers can only affect the active growing follicles in the anagen stage. You might need five to 10 treatment sessions to kill hair in all phases of growth.”

For the best result, plan on making a visit to your removal specialist every four to eight weeks. Overall, the number of sessions required depends on different parameters, such as the area of your body being treated, the coarseness of your hair, and your gender.

 

Don’t Play Around with Prep

 
The most important rule, no matter how light or dark your skin is, is to avoid sun exposure at all costs. Going into a treatment with freshly tanned skin can cause adverse reactions, such as hyper- and hypopigmentation (those little bleached-looking spots).

“Generally speaking, if you have a fresh tan, either from sun exposure or artificial tanning solutions, wait until the tan fades completely before undergoing a laser hair removal procedure,” warns Taylor. And don’t plan that vacation just yet—you need to stay out of the sun for at least two weeks before a treatment and diligently slather on broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher afterwards.

Another major key? Refrain from tweezing or waxing the intended area at least two to four weeks prior to being treated. “Hair needs to be removed from the surface of the skin to avoid trapping energy on the surface of the skin instead of being concentrated to the root of the hair follicle,” explains Dr. Cook-Bolden. “If you have waxed, depending on your rate of hair regrowth, allow time for the hair to grow so that the treatment is timed right before the hair is visible on the surface of the skin.” In other words, if you rip the follicle out (which is essentially what waxing is, and why it hurts so much), there’s nothing for the laser to target. This means: wasted $$ and potentially damaged skin.

Also, make sure to let your technician know if you are taking any photosensitive medications before (or after) your sessions—retinol is a major one. It’s important to set your expectation level, as well—hair-removal lasers can’t be used on areas with tattoos, permanent makeup, or pigmented scars.

 

Avoid At-Home Treatments (For Now)

 
Our hair-removal experts were very frank with us (which we love!), and both Taylor and Dr. Cook-Bolden aren’t sold on at-home treatments for women of color, despite their popularity on the market. Most options use IPL (intense pulsed light) technology, meaning they can’t be used effectively on darker skin. So, if you want to go bare, it’s best left in the hands of an experienced professional familiar with ethnic skin.

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