How to get laser hair removal safely if you have dark skin

Laser hair removal is an efficient and effective way to have smooth, stubble-free skin on your legs, armpits, bikini line – or anywhere else – for months at a time.

It’s an attractive treatment option for people who like to remove some or all of their body hair, because once you’ve been through a certain number of sessions your hair won’t grow back for ages – taking the hassle out of your beauty routine.

However, like so many treatments and products within the beauty industry, it doesn’t cater for everybody. People with darker skin have been left behind, with traditional laser treatments failing to work for them – or even causing long-term damage.

The reason for this was because of how earlier laser technology worked to target hair follicles.

‘Prior to now, laser hair for people with both dark hair and darker skin tones has been an issue for technology to distinguish,’ Paulo Leite, laser specialist at Arc Aesthetics and Laser tells

‘That’s because laser therapy works by beaming intense light at the hair follicle, causing permanent damage so hair no longer grows. But because they target the pigment in the hair, it was typically the contrast between dark hair and lighter skin that helps the laser focus on its target.

‘Therefore, fair skin and dark hair was the ideal for treatment. For that reason, darker skin tones have been warned off laser treatments, as there has been a greater risk of pigmentation, light spots blisters, and even scarring.’

The good news is that this is changing. New technological developments have made laser hair removal treatments more inclusive, and there are now options that cater specifically for people with darker skin.

New laser technology for Black or brown skin

According to aestheticians, one of the most effective devices on the market at the moment is the Lumenis SPLENDOR X system.

Paulo says this is an advanced, safe and effective laser hair removal system that uses a combination of wavelengths that can be fired with adjustable proportions.

‘This enables us to customise and tailor the treatment to fit the patient’s specific skin type, hair colour and thickness for the most effective treatment,’ says Paulo.

‘With this laser, larger spots penetrate deeper, so there’s no overlap, less risk of burns and no retouching missed areas. This means patients can be treated quickly and accurately, within 30 minutes for the whole body.’

What are the benefits of this new laser technology?

SPLENDOR X uses a binary laser emission of Nd:YAG(1064nm) and Alexandrite (755nm) wavelengths with synchronised and adjustable proportions.

The system means that hair removal is completely customised across a wide range of skin tones like never before. In one session, even the finest hairs can be removed and in much shorter treatment times, making it less painful. A full body top-to-toe laser hair removal can be done in under 30 minutes.

Paulo Leite (left), laser specialist and Richard Cippollini (right), aesthetic practitioner (Picture: Arc Aesthetics and Laser)

It’s generally accepted that using the Nd:YAG wavelength (1064 nm) is the most suitable for treating skin types IV-VI. This is because the absorption by epidermal melanin is much lower than with other wavelengths such as Alexandrite, that are better suited to treating lighter skin types.

Nd:YAG is also highly absorbed in oxyhemoglobin. This affects the blood supply to the hair follicle.

Paulo Leite, laser specialist, Arc Aesthetics and Laser

What should people with darker skin consider before getting laser hair removal?

Do solid research

‘Make sure the clinic you plan to visit has extensive evidence of successful results on skin tones that are similar to yours,’ says Paulo.

Thorough consultation

Paulo adds that you should ensure that your laser provider is thorough in consultation before any treatments.

‘Not only should you expect the consultation to cover the normal topics you would see from any medical treatment, but it should also include your ethnicity, because different ethnicities – regardless of skin tone – react differently to lasers,’ he explains.

Patch test

Paulo says: ‘Your practitioner should always provide a patch test before administering full treatment.’

It’s not permanent

You’ll need regular sessions to keep hair from growing back.

How often sessions are needed varies for each person. For example, you may need a session to remove facial hair every four weeks, and for body hair every six-eight weeks.

Side effects

Laser hair removal is safe, but it can occasionally cause side effects – including pain, red skin that may last for a while.

Rarely, side effects can also include:

  • crusting, blistering, bruising or swelling of your skin
  • lightening or darkening of your skin
  • scarring
  • burns from the laser’s heat
  • bacterial infections

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