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What Is the Effect of Laser Hair Removal on Dark Skin?

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  • Written By: Nicole Etolen
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Laser hair removal on dark skin can cause loss of pigmentation, even when performed carefully and correctly by a qualified dermatologist. This loss of pigmentation can leave light spots on the surface of the skin. There are ways to avoid pigmentation loss, but they are not foolproof.

Skin color is determined by the amount of a natural pigment called melanin present beneath the surface of the epidermis. The more melanin present, the darker the skin will be. Melanin also determines hair color. Laser hair removal works by reaching that melanin pigment in the hair, heating up the follicle and destroying it at its root. Laser hair removal on dark skin might destroy both the skin-color pigment and the hair-color pigment because the laser cannot differentiate between the two.

Laser hair removal is a semi-permanent way to remove unwanted hair on most parts of the body with minimal discomfort. Several procedures are required because the laser targets only actively growing hair follicles, and not all follicles grow at the same time. After completion of the initial procedures, maintenance sessions might be required once every six to 12 months.

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During a laser hair removal procedure, an intense, pulsating beam of light passes through the skin and targets the underlying hair follicle. As the beam passes through the layer of skin containing melanin, the pigment absorbs the light, causing the skin to fade and possibly become damaged. The dermatologist can lessen the risk of the effects of laser hair removal on dark skin by choosing the proper laser and intensity of the beam.

The key to successful laser hair removal on dark skin is avoiding the skin’s melanin pigment completely. Cooling the surface of the skin prior to application of the laser is one way that this can be accomplished. Dermatologists use several methods to cool the skin, including a spray that cools the skin as it evaporates or through the use of special sapphire plates with cool water running between them.

Using a longer laser wavelength might also help protect dark skin. Melanin absorbs shorter wavelengths. Longer wavelengths allow the laser to bypass the melanin and decrease the risk of negative effects of laser hair removal on dark skin. Even at long wavelengths, melanin still might absorb some of the laser’s light, but the damage to the pigment might not be as noticeable or severe.

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