I've wanted laser hair removal for as long as I can remember. I come from a hairy family, so naturally all the hair on my body — from my head to my legs — grows rapidly and thick. TMI? Maybe, but I know I'm not the only person battling indestructible body hair they don't want.
But as a woman of color, my laser hair removal options have been few. Many specialists aren't equipped with lasers suited for dark skin (yes, that's a thing). Finding a treatment could never be as simple as logging on to Groupon and picking the best deal. If it is that simple for you, though, there are still several things to consider before booking that appointment.
I spoke with two laser hair removal experts, and this is everything you need to know before going under the laser.
There's nothing wrong with hair growth; it's completely natural! But contrary to popular belief, laser hair removal should not be approached in the same casual manner as everyday practices such as shaving and waxing, according to Dr. Eric Bernstein.
"Because [shaving and waxing] are quite common, easy, and mostly low-risk, we often put laser hair removal in the same category. It's not!" he says. "The lasers we use to remove hair target the melanin pigment in hair and stimulate an inflammatory response that then ‘tells’ the hair to ‘rest’ for a prolonged period of time.
"It’s important to have an experienced medical person operating the laser who has had training in using these devices. Hair removal lasers can hurt the skin, eyes, and maybe even our teeth, because they are powerful and penetrate quite deeply — so they must be used properly."
Though there are hundreds of deals out there promising you optimal results, picking a qualified laser specialist is crucial. It's imperative to select someone who considers all aspects of your skin before applying any lasers, including but not limited to skin tone and hormonal conditions.
"In women with facial hair, [I have to ask], is it a normal occurrence and hereditary, or are there abnormal hormonal levels that require a test to identify a possible treatment?" Bernstein says. "Lasers can very rarely stimulate hair growth, especially in situations of a hormonal imbalance, an important reason to seek laser hair removal from a doctor’s office."
Inquiring about the kind of laser used should also be a top priority. For Bernstein, the GentleMax Pro is the laser of choice.
"My practice was the first one to have this laser in the US. It’s very powerful, which makes it super-fast, because I can treat large areas with a big spot and a rapid rate of pulsing. Because this laser has a DCD, I can go as fast as the laser lets me and not worry about the skin being cooled, for maximum protection."
A DCD, by the way, is a dynamic cooling device. Essentially, it cools the skin to prevent damage and pain.
For women of color, however, there is much more to be considered. Christian Karavolas, owner of Romeo and Juliette Laser Hair Removal Spa, which boasts a large clientele of color, knows that all too well.
"Those with darker skin need to be cautious of the type of laser being used," Karavolas says. "However, there are lasers that work on skin of color. They must have a specific wavelength."
For women of color, Karavolas suggests the Nd:YAG laser.
I received a Brazilian laser removal treatment from Romeo & Juliette, but first the team sat me down to discuss my skin history. I told them my race, how much I had been in the sun recently, and how often I shaved or waxed. After my consultation, my best option was clearly the YAG laser.
"Usually, to get rid of hair, you need to use high settings of each wavelength. This makes the treatment more painful and subject to temporary complications at times," Karavolas says. "With the YAG laser, you are able to blend both wavelengths at the same time. Therefore, you only need to use minimal settings of each wavelength to achieve the same results. By firing both wavelengths at the same time, you are getting both benefits of an alexandrite wavelength at the surface of the skin, as well as a YAG wavelength below the epidermis."
But don't expect that hair to disappear overnight after one treatment with any laser. The average amount of treatments needed is six plus possible additional touch-ups over the years. For some areas, even more treatments are needed.
Hormonal areas such as the face and upper arms sometimes require more than six sessions with touch-ups once or twice per year.
And if you were wondering how my Brazilian removal went ...
The area down there is now smoother than a baby's bottom — with no sign of ingrown hair and not an ounce of discoloration. Romeo & Juliette constantly made me feel comfortable, and I couldn't be happier with my results. It's a good feeling to know that I can honestly suggest a laser hair spa for women of color from real-life experience.