Lasers are totally amazing. One of the top nonsurgical cosmetic procedures in the US, lasers can soften scars, erase blotchiness, remove hair, and tighten skin. But, lasers weren't always accessible to everyone. For decades, they were exclusively recommended for lighter skin tones. That's because the lasers that were used to target pigment in the skin would damage dark skin, increasing the risk of scarring and hyperpigmentation. The good news is that lasers have come a long way! Nowadays, they are safe and effective on nearly all skin types and tones. Here's everything you should know about laser treatments if you're a woman of color:
The V-Beam is a pulsed-dye laser that tackles red pigment, like the redness found in spider veins and rosacea. Instead of dismissing this laser as an option for darker skin tones, it can be used on nearly all complexions if its speed and temperature are dialed down. If you have doubts, you can always request that a test be done somewhere unnoticeable, like underneath the jawline.
The Pico Laser
The pico laser, known by its brand names as PicoWay, PicoSure, and Pico Genesis, zaps away sun spots, scars, and birthmarks on pretty much any skin tone. Its pulses are faster and less heat-generating than previous models, which means there's less of a risk of scarring on darker skin tones.
The Palomar 1540-nanometer fractional laser
The Palomar 1540-nanometer fractional laser is used to treat stretch marks. It works by creating columns of light that penetrate a millimeter or more into the skin. This causes the skin to produce more collagen below and around the surface, diffusing the look of stretch marks. Those with darker skin can explore this as an option, as long as they take a slow and steady approach. According to most dermatologists, it's safest to deliver energy to darker skin at slower, less traumatic speeds.
Nd:YAG lasers, such as Cutera Excel HR 1064 and Sciton Joule 1064, are used for laser hair removal. They are great alternatives to older pigment-targeting lasers. While these lasers still target melanin, they focus on the hair follicle rather than the skin surface above, allowing dark skin tones to be treated safely.
Fractionated lasers, like Fraxel, stimulate new collagen growth deep inside the dermis, resulting in smoother, firmer skin. These lasers are safe and effective on all skin types and tones. But, since the skin is still being hit with heat and energy, there is always a risk of hyperpigmentation. Topical therapies, like hydroquinone, can help minimize damage by relaxing pigment-making cells. They should be taken a week before and after a fractionated laser procedure so it won't trigger pigment production.