Photo: Ian Rubin/Trunk Archive
I’ve had an issue with unwanted facial hair since my 20’s. It started as one wild hair on my chin that seems to have invited more than a few friends to join in the fun, turning my daily beauty regimen into a crazed ritual of plucking and alternative hair removal solutions that have gone on for years—without actually solving anything. Deep down I knew it was time to consider laser hair removal, but as a woman of color, I’ve heard the concerns around the laser mistaking melanin for a hair follicle, resulting in burns and scarring. Turns out, lasers have come a long way in recent years.
“Everyone is a candidate for laser hair removal,” says Dr. Carlos A. Charles, MD, board-certified dermatologist and owner of Derma di Colore, a dermatology practice specializing in the care of multicultural skin. “In fact, multicultural patients can do better than others with lighter skin and hair because the laser really picks up on the darkness of the hair. Even those with the deepest skin tone can use them.” (There’s only one exception to the everyone rule: patients using Accutane.)
When considering laser hair removal, Dr. Charles says to ask a lot of questions upfront and make sure your dermatologist is using the right tools. “You’ll want to make sure you’re using the Nd:YAG laser (the Alexandrite is also effective) with a 1064 nanometer wavelength. The longer wavelength means it bypasses the melanin and goes directly into the pigment of the hair follicle,” he says. But before that, at your consultation, ask what type of laser and what wavelength will be used, and if your doctor has experience treating skin of color. “We can set many factors when it comes to the laser settings, so make sure they know how to alter it to suit your particular skin tone.”
Don’t wax before your appointment—you want the laser to be able to see the hair (your derm will shave any trouble spots if necessary), and make sure there isn’t anything on your face, whether makeup or moisturizer. During the treatment, be sure you and your dermatologist literally keep your cool. “Make sure you keep the skin as cool as possible,” Dr. Charles says. “The laser I have shoots out a bit of cryogen before the laser hits and immediately afterwards. If the skin is too warm, it can cause the laser to mistake melanin for the hair follicle, which can cause a burn and/or thermal injury. We give patients ice packs five minutes before and after the cryogen cold laser to keep the skin cool and injury-free.”
But the results are worth it. The lasered hairs will fall out and consequent hair will be both finer and less dense. Ingrown hairs, the pesky, painful side effect of waxing and shaving, aren’t an issue with laser, and neither is hyper-pigmentation since you’re not agitating the area. “I always emphasize that we’re not getting rid of all your hair for good,” Dr. Charles says. “Hair grows in cycles and eventually a new crop of hair follicles will form, but it never comes back to the same extent it started.”
And yes, you will feel it: “The majority of people don’t need numbing, but the laser is a little painful. It’s not a walk in the park, but it’s totally doable.”