Laser Treatment For Skin Of Color: Is It Safe?

laser treatment for skin of color

Since the 1960s, dermatologists have successfully used lasers. Although, the technology and types of applications have rapidly advanced since then, the misinformation around lasers in skin of color continues. For decades, women and men of color have been discouraged from using laser therapy. Possible complications include burns, skin discoloration, and scarring. So yes, there are instances of lasers causing skin damage in ethnic skin types. However, injury can happen on any skin type. We’re here to say that laser treatment for skin of color is just as safe for all skin types… in the right hands.

What is a laser treatment anyway?

A laser, which stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, shoots a narrow beam of focused light. This laser light energy is different from natural light, which takes a scattered approach. The heat energy generated by the laser is absorbed by the target, breaking up and  destroying hair follicles, sun spots, acne scars, and a whole lot more.

Different lasers have specific wavelengths. Targets (like melanin and capillaries) respond better to particular wavelengths, while the pulse width is the rate or speed at which the light gets delivered. By controlling both elements, your dermatologist can treat various cosmetic issues on almost any part of the body.

Lasers in skin of color

When we say  ‘skin of color,’ we refer to non-white skin as indicated by the Fitzpatrick Scale. The Fitzpatrick Scale ranges from 1 to 6 and tells the pigment level in your skin and your overall risk of sun damage and skin cancer. For instance, someone with dark brown skin will fall within 5 or 6 on the scale. That person has significantly more melanin and will experience less damage from UV rays.

However, darker skin types will almost always develop some pigmentation changes (or discoloration) when exposed to injury or inflammation. These skin types are also at risk of developing keloid scarring after injury, like from lasers.

So, is laser treatment for skin of color safe?

The short answer is yes. The concerns about laser treatments in skin color are valid, but are based on outdated information. In the early 1990s, when the first FDA approved lasers for hair removal, there were cases of burning, scarring, inflammation, and hyperpigmentation. The rationale was that the lasers were ‘confused’ and could not tell between the darker pigments and hair follicles.

Since then, laser therapy has advanced. Innovative lasers utilize Nd:YAG technology, getting maximum results with minimal damage to surrounding tissue, especially in ethnic skin types. 

Furthermore, dermatologists can now use these innovative machines on all skin types, significantly reducing side effects. The procedure’s safety is down to the person wielding the laser. When it comes to laser therapy, don’t sacrifice or compromise price or convenience. Always go to a board-certified dermatologist. Your dermatologist will choose  the exact treatment regimen ideal for your skin.

How can lasers help in skin of color?

Men and women of color experience a range of skin conditions that can benefit from laser therapy. Here are some of the conditions and ways that lasers can help:

  • Hair removal: Hair removal is probably the most requested type of laser treatment. The focused light of the laser targets hair follicles at the root. In some cases, this can permanently remove or reduce hair from the targeted area. New advancements in technology mean people with darker skin can have safer laser hair removal.
  • A laser facial: Looking for a way to rejuvenate your skin. Stop by your dermatologist on your lunch hour for a laser facial. Laser facials use a combination of light therapy, including Laser Genesis to clean your pores, smoothen skin tone and texture, and even reduce wrinkles and fine lines. The treatment stimulates collagen production, giving you that refreshed eternal glow. 
  • Laser treatment for spots and acne scars: Acne continues to affect millions of Americans. Even when it’s gone, the evidence in the form of scars remains. Laser treatment can help treat acne scars after a detailed consultation with your dermatologist. While CO2 lasers and IPL work well on lighter skin, these lasers can cause hyperpigmentation. Lasers like the Nd: Yag  or PicoSecond can address scars while causing no damage to nearby tissue.
  • Skin conditions specific to skin of color: Laser therapy is also useful for skin conditions prevalent in darker skin. For instance, folliculitis keloidalis is inflammation of hair follicles at the back of the scalp. Laser therapy, combined with medicated creams,  can effectively treat this condition.

Skin of color needs the right technology.

When it comes to lasers on dark skin, technology is half the battle. Lasers like the Nd:YAG have wavelengths perfect for skin types 4-6 on the Fitzpatrick scale. These lasers emit beams that can target hair or the affected areas without damaging surrounding tissue. Dermatologists will routinely avoid using Intense Pulsed Light on ethnic skin as these can cause post-inflammatory pigmentation.

Skin of color needs the right expertise.

The other half of the battle is your provider’s expertise. Darker skin needs time. Your board-certified dermatologist should understand this and will use the laser at low, less damaging energy levels. This technique means that people with darker skin will need more sessions than white or lighter skin types. Be sure to choose a dermatologist who is an expert in the use of laser in ethnic skin.

Avoid these treatments to be on the safe side.

Your board-certified dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon will recommend most laser treatments. However, there are treatments to avoid to be on the safe side. Ablative laser resurfacing is one such treatment. The procedure uses intense light waves to remove the outer layers of skin, and can lead to hyperpigmentation. 

With laser therapy comes a little bit of discomfort on any skin type. However, if the skin feels raw, painful, or uncomfortable in the hours or days after your procedure, this could be a sign that something went wrong. At this point, make sure to see your dermatologist right away. More importantly, make sure to let your dermatologist know of any pre-existing conditions, specifically herpes simplex, which can reactivate with specific laser treatments.

Let Eternal Dermatology help with your skin needs.

The misinformation surrounding lasers have robbed many people of color of their usefulness and effectiveness. Rest assured, lasers and laser technology has since evolved. Laser treatment for skin of color is effective. Furthermore, anyone can have adverse side effects with the wrong technique and equipment.

At Eternal Dermatology, we pride ourselves on creating fantastic laser therapy results for people of color. We have a range of procedures available and provide an in-depth consultation first. We want to make sure our patients feel comfortable by taking the time to answer questions, debunk myths, and get a deep medical history before proceeding.

For more help, book an appointment online. Or call us at (301)679-5772. Dr. Ife Rodney MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and can help with laser therapies for all skin types. Eternal Dermatology is conveniently located in Fulton, MD, and serves Columbia MD, Baltimore, Silver Spring, and surrounding areas.

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