Yes, yes, and yes! Many people of color have been told for years that they were not good candidates for laser hair removal because of the potential for burns and scarring. Thankfully, that reality has changed! Technological advancements have made it safe for people of color to obtain a variety of laser services, including laser hair removal.
The concern about skins of color and laser treatment has centered, primarily, around fear that laser treatments would lead to increased uneven pigmentation, whether hypo- or hyper- pigmentation, and that such would likely be permanent. Further, this fear begged discussions about liability and litigation.
The reason that the treatment was initially so difficult because the technology was unable to specifically target the melanin in the hair shaft only. Targeting is important because it is the mechanism that allows the laser to focus on the melanin in the hair shaft rather than the surrounding skin. Further, targeting is important because the darker a skin type is, the more melanocytes it has, which means there is a greater chance of discoloration. Melanocytes are cells in the body which create melanin, the substance responsible for skin and hair color. When melanocytes are stimulated, they group together and form color. If these cells group together in clusters on the skin, they form dark marks, or hyperpigmentation. Since the first laser was approved in 1995, cosmetic lasers have progressed into precision tools, making laser hair removal treatments much safer and more effective for ethnic skin tones (1).
The laser hair removal technique, itself, is very simple. First, the skin to be treated is protected with a clear gel, typically, aloe vera. Then, the laser device is manipulated in such a way that the skin is cooled immediately before the laser is deployed at a particular place on the body. Laser devices can be as small as one square inch and grow in size depending on the preferences of the facility providing the service and the part of the body to be treated. Further, the laser device is utilized in even intervals so that the treated hair follicles are spaced evenly apart which is a key contributing factor to laser treatment being able to cause a permanent reduction in hair growth. Finally, the number of times the skin is treated and the closeness of the intervals is important because over-treatment can activate the melanocytes referenced above.
The Service Provider
The prevention of injury via minimizing over-stimulation is a function of the training and expertise of the person performing the laser treatment. The service provider must master the equipment being used because each type of laser has different settings that determine and balance the strength of the laser and how quickly and deeply it travels through the hair shaft. Understanding the skin to be treated and the technology are equally important to effective safe treatment; therefore, it is of paramount importance that individuals seeking laser hair removal services, and people of color in general, confirm that the person performing such treatments on them are licensed, trained, and insured.
Ultimately, people of color can safely obtain laser hair removal services; however, they must first investigate the qualifications of the service provider.