Let’s face it: While our South Asian heritage offers us many things, being hair-free is not one of them.
One of the most common procedures I get asked about from my South Asian patients involves laser hair removal, and whether it is a safe practice. While it is prudent to be careful with cosmetic procedures due to our darker skin tones, laser hair removal is one that can be safely and successfully done.
It is crucial when having this procedure done to have it performed by a laser technician who is well-versed in treating darker skin tones and can also treat complications if they do arise. Therefore, I always recommend seeing a board certified dermatologist, especially in these instances. The specific type of laser is important for our darker skin tones, and I only use the ND YAG (1064 nm) on my Fitzpatrick skin type IV-VI patients. That is the group most South Asian skin tones fall under.
How Does It Work?
The laser emits a specific wavelength of light that is then absorbed by the melanin in the hair follicle that is being targeted. The light is converted to heat, which will further damage the hair. Due to the process of the hair growth cycle, each specific follicle must be targeted multiple times within this growth cycle to prevent it from growing back. This is why multiple sessions are required. It calls for at least four to six sessions for most body areas, ideally spaced one month apart.
We ask that you shave the area – as against threading, plucking, or waxing – because the laser can burn any hair on top of the skin, leading to superficial burns and resultant hyperpigmentation (darkening).
Common side effects include slight pain during the procedure itself (I usually liken it to the feeling of a hot snapping rubber band), redness, and minimal swelling at the site of the procedure. Other side effects include superficial burns, hypopigmentation (loss of skin color), hyperpigmentation, or increased paradoxical hair growth. These are often the result of either an incorrect wavelength of laser used, incorrect settings, or skin that has been exposed to too much UV radiation. The proper technique can help avoid most of these problems.
That is why it is imperative to consult a physician who is well-versed in treating darker skin tones and any complications that may arise in it.
Preparing for the Laser Appointment
Shave the area the night prior to your procedure. Avoid tanning, excessive sun exposure, and take all precautions against IV radiation two weeks prior to the procedure. Most dermatologists will recommend stopping all retinoids and chemical exfoliants approximately five days prior to the procedure. Avoid chemical peels and microdermabrasion in the area prior to the procedure.
In the clinic, I often hear several myths regarding laser hair removal. Here are some of the most common ones.
1. The required shaving will make your hair grow back thicker.
No, shaving will not make your hair grow back thicker or darker. Shaving (not waxing or tweezing) is important because it keeps the portion of the hair follicle required to absorb the laser’s energy.
2. Laser hair removal is not advisable for those with darker skin tones.
LHR is safe in all skin tones as long as it is done by a licensed professional, such as a board-certified dermatologist. Certain lasers are necessary in those with darker skin tones and the person performing your procedure should be well versed in the differences.
3. One treatment should suffice.
LHR requires 4-6 sessions spaced at least one month apart for ideal results. Each session leads to an approximate 10-20% decrease in hair growth.
Anyone doing laser hair therapy has the qualifications to do it.
Not everyone performing laser hair removal has the correct qualifications or expertise in doing so. Do your research and find a professional who is well-versed in different laser techniques and also how to take care of complications that may arise.
Mona Mislankar, MD, FAAD is a board certified dermatologist. For more details, visit Dr. Mislankar on Instagram @drmislankar.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.