Laser Hair Removal for Dark Skin with YAG Laser
Somewhere between the Kennedy administration and today, lasers went from being the stuff of Russian-spy novels to a staple in dermatologists’ offices. They can erase blotchiness, soften scars, and tighten skin, and they’re now one of the top nonsurgical cosmetic procedures in the country. In some cities, you can duck in for a “laser facial” that’ll take roughly as long as a blowout — 30 minutes, in and out. (Though doctors recommend going to trained dermatologists for the service.)
But one of the biggest advances is about color, not convenience: For decades, lasers were recommended, pretty much exclusively, for use on lighter skin tones. The ones that targeted pigment in the skin would damage dark skin (or, in the case of laser hair removal, not work at all), and the ones that delivered high bursts of energy and heat put darker skin at risk of scarring and hyperpigmentation. No more: New devices — and smarter ways of using existing ones — are making lasers accessible to nearly everyone and squashing some outdated ideas about dermatology along the way.
Rosacea flare-ups aren’t just something paler people have to deal with, says Shereene Idriss, a clinical instructor in dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “Everyone has superficial vasculature that can dilate and create unwanted redness,” she says. “I have patients who are half black and half Irish, and they have rosacea.” The Vbeam, a pulsed-dye laser that tackles red pigment, has long been the weapon of choice for rosacea and spider veins, but doctors are now waking up to the fact that it can be used on a wider variety of skin tones. Instead of dismissing the Vbeam as an option for darker complexions, many have learned to dial down the speed and temperature of the laser, making it suitable for deeper skin tones. (If you’re thinking about the Vbeam and have a medium to dark skin tone, ask for a test to be done somewhere unnoticeable, like underneath the jawline, if your dermatologist or plastic surgeon doesn’t suggest it first.)
For Unwanted Marks
The pico laser gets the award for most improved. Also known by its brand names — PicoWay, PicoSure, and Pico Genesis — the pico can zap away sun spots, scars, and birthmarks on pretty much any skin tone — something most dermatologists agree wasn’t possible five years ago. Its pulses are exponentially faster and less heat-generating than previous models, which means it’s less likely to cause scarring on darker skin tones, according to Paul Jarrod Frank, a dermatologist in New York City. Years ago, treating pitted acne marks with lasers on those with Fitzpatrick skin types 4, 5, or 6 was difficult, says Roy G. Geronemus, a dermatologist in New York City. (The dermatological Fitzpatrick scale divides skin tones into six shade categories, with 1 being the lightest and 6 being the darkest. For comparison, Michelle Obama is a 5, estimates Zakia Rahman, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine.) “Now I can treat them with the PicoSure laser with no downtime and less risk of pigmentary damage,” says Geronemus.