Laser hair removal works by delivering an intense light that is absorbed into the hair and converted into heat. That heat is then absorbed by the hair follicle’s stem cell, destroying the entire hair follicle while leaving the surrounding skin intact and unaffected. For some people laser hair removal drastically reduces hair growth to the point that you can stop shaving altogether, so it can be more cost efficient in the long run.
However, until a few years ago, laser hair removal was really most effective on individuals with lighter skin and darker hair. Thankfully, the technology has evolved to include those with deeper complexions that want to zap away unwanted fuzz. You should always do your due diligence before considering any aesthetic treatment and research it — including all the pros and cons, and finding a skilled provider. With laser hair removal in particular, it is imperative you to go to someone who is experienced in removing hair with darker skin tones to mitigate any negative effects. Both of our senior laser practitioners have more than 10 years of experience treating deeper skin tones.
The contrast between the color of the skin and pigment in the hair follicle is what helps laser hair removal technology to easily pick out what to zap. That is why for the longest time, laser hair removal worked best on fair skin with dark hair: the laser could not distinguish between deep skin and dark hair. That meant that those with darker complexions risked discoloration and hyperpigmentation when being treated. That is not the case anymore — as long as your technician using the right laser platform. Our cutera xeo® system, consolidates a laser and light-based system — one with treatment suitable for lighter skin, and one with a special “Nd:YAG” wavelength that is safer for darker complexions.
The 1064 nm wavelength, also known as the Nd:YAG wavelength, is not as highly absorbed by melanin as other wavelengths, Due to this, the wavelength can safely treat all skin types, because it deposits its energy deep into the dermis, without relying on melanin to do so. The Nd:YAG wavelength is a long wavelength that can deeply penetrate the skin and heat it to the right temperature to damage the hair follicle.
Avoid complications by following specific pre-treatment steps. We suggest avoiding sun exposure for at least two weeks before you get laser hair removal. It could put you at more risk for potential burning, scarring, or sun damage from the laser. You also should stay away from bleaching, plucking, or waxing hair in the area you’ll be treating for four to six weeks prior to your appointment. You want as many hair follicles to be intact as possible so the laser can seek and destroy them all! We ask patients to shave 24 to 48 hours before treatment. The shorter the hair at the skin’s surface, the more energy the laser focuses on the hair follicle below.
You’ll need to go more than once for the best results. It's usually recommended you get zapped four to six times for an ideal outcome. Your provider can help you with timing your visits, but typically, they are spaced out every four to eight weeks. As you book your next appointment, keep in mind that you should avoid waxing, plucking, and tweezing as your hair regrows. Shaving is OK — it doesn’t remove the hair at the root, which needs to be intact in order to be destroyed by the laser. Dealing with the stubble may be frustrating, but let it serve as a reminder to you that smoother skin is just a few treatments away.
Note that there are possible side effects, which can include redness and swelling. However, you can help minimize those side effects by applying sunscreen daily (something you should be doing anyway!) and avoiding “hot” activities such as exercise or sauna visits for 24 hours post-treatment. If any redness or swelling does occur, she recommends applying a cool compress, aloe vera, or a topical corticosteroid in morning and night for the five days following your laser appointment.