The Black Girl’s Guide To Laser Hair Removal

As much as some of us love the idea of getting rid of unwanted fuzz forever, laser hair removal sure does come with a lot of caveats. You’ll need a significant amount of cash and time to invest in multiple sessions, not to mention a high pain threshold. And, for those with medium to deep skin tones who want to remove their hair, there’s a lot of misinformation that you have to watch out for, too — resulting in anything from an ineffective treatment to more serious burning and scarring.

“If the wrong laser is used on the wrong energy, or if the technician is inexperienced and hasn’t treated dark skin before, it can be dangerous,” says Dr. Alicia Barba, MD, a Dove dermatologist. But if you prep properly and use the right products, you’ll walk away from your appointment with smooth and even skin that’ll last long beyond summer.

We asked Barba and other skin pros to break down everything you need to know about laser hair removal for women of color. Check out their tips, ahead.

Before Your Treatment

First and foremost, talk to your technician about any new meds you’re taking, including supplements and antibiotics. “Some make you photosensitive, meaning you’re more likely to burn from the laser,” Rachel Roff, founder of Urban Skin Rx and owner of Urban Skin Solutions Med Spa in Charlotte, NC says. “Often times, you need to discontinue those meds for 72 hours to be on the safe side.”

You shouldn’t tweeze, pluck, or wax for a minimum of two weeks, either, according to Roff. The hair bulb needs to stay in place while the laser is firing; otherwise, it won’t absorb into the root. However, you should come in with your target areas cleanly shaved. “It’s a blunt cut on the surface hair, not removing it completely,” she explains.

illustrated by Louisa Cannell.

Choosing The Correct Laser

Not all lasers are created equal, and it’s important to seek out a professional who can determine the best one for you. “Derms use the Fitzpatrick Scale to classify how different skin complexions respond to ultraviolet light,” explains Roff. “If you have an olive to dark complexion, you’re likely a 4 through 6. The only laser that is safe for those types is the YAG 1064 nanometer.” That’s because it has a longer wavelength, which allows the energy to penetrate deeper down into the hair follicle, minimizing the transfer of heat to the skin pigment. “The skin pigment can compete with the hair pigment for the energy of the laser, absorbing heat and risking a skin burn,” explains Dr. Barba.

This is poses a risk for those who have more melanin in their skin, adds director of New York Laser & Skin Care, Arielle N.B. Kauvar, MD. “Lasers are absorbed more strongly by the melanin pigment, and can interact with the epidermal pigment and cause damage. This is why the 1064 YAG penetrates deeply, beyond the epidermis, and is absorbed less strongly.”

To be on the safe side, you can always call ahead to see if the treatment center has the YAG. But also make sure to get an in-office before-and-after photo specifically of clients with deep skin tones, Roff advises. “A lot of laser companies offer images to companies that buy their product, and they can be misleading,” she says. “Always ask for photos from the place you’re visiting, to see if the pros work with your skin tone.”

illustrated by Bella DiMarzio.

Do your Homework

According to Dr. Kauvar, it’s best to see a physician or a nurse with laser training who is supervised by a physician. “While laser hair removal is a very safe procedure, side effects can occur,” she says. “It’s important that the health provider be properly trained and have the knowledge and experience necessary to treat patients.”

The best technician can also vary by state, Dr. Barba adds. States regulate who can use lasers very differently; New Jersey, for example, only allows doctors to administer them. The majority of places require oversight by a physician who often delegates the hair removal to a nurse or physician’s assistant.

Overall, most states do require laser technicians to be certified. So ask to see those qualifications, and always inquire about your technician’s experience. “Is [he or] she a nurse? An aesthetician? Figure out what type of license they hold, how many treatments they’ve done, and how often they work on different skin tones,” Roff says. “People usually don’t mind answering these questions, as long as you’re respectful about it.”

illustrated by Abbie Winters.

After Your Treatment

Oftentimes, laser treatments aren’t really a one-and-done deal. Roff says that it takes a series of sessions and touch-ups (typically six to eight for each area) to achieve 90 percent reduction in hair. “After each session, don’t go for another treatment for 10 to 14 days,” she advises. “Not every follicle will be affected by the treatment, because it takes a minute for the hair to fall out.” She also stresses the importance of avoiding excessive sun exposure for a few weeks after each session, and always wearing at least SPF 25 when those areas aren’t covered.

Unless you experience hormonal changes, stress, weight gain, or start taking certain medications, your hair won’t regrow for years, Dr. Kauvar says. You may just require a minor touch-up every year or two. “Hair grows in different cycles,” Christian Karavolas, owner of Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal Spa, notes. “And touch-ups synchronize that growth cycle. Once treatments are done on non-hormonal areas — like legs, the bikini line, and underarms — it only takes minor treatment.”

illustrated by Paola Delucca.

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