Vertex Lasers Blog

Does Laser Hair Removal Work On All Skin Tones?

When laser hair removal first started to be a research topic, testing was done on white skin. Thus, lasers were calibrated for and more suitable to lighter skin tones. As a result, it was believed for a long time that laser hair removal did not work for darker skin.

Furthermore, because of the very nature of the treatment, based on targeting pigments in the hair, people with fair hair also thought that they would not be able to undergo laser hair removal. Blonde, ginger and grey hair after all are really low in melanin.

Just like for any other laser hair removal myths, old habits die hard. However, they still must be debunked. Laser hair removal works on all skin tones and here is why.
1. How does laser hair removal work?

Laser hair removal uses selective photothermolysis. The laser produces a beam of light that will target and remove unwanted hair. To be more specific, a wavelength of light and a pulse duration will match and safely target the hair without damaging surrounding skin tissues.

Thus, during a laser hair removal session, the laser will target pigments that are present in the hair. The light energy will then travel through the hair before reaching the follicle. There it will turn into thermal energy, thus damaging the follicle.

The objective of laser hair removal is to damage the hair follicle beyond repair so that it can no longer regenerate or produce new hair. The procedure cauterizes the blood vessel feeding the follicle. Only then hair growth will stop.

While some hair follicles will be damaged after one session, other will require more attention. Due to the hair growth cycle that is different for each single hair, patients will also need to come for a treatment every six weeks for a few months.

Indeed, laser hair removal only works when the hair is in the anagen phase of growth. It is the only time the hair connects to the follicle, thus allowing the energy to travel to its destination. Since only 20% of all hair is in the anagen phase, people require at least six sessions of laser hair removal.
2. Does it work on all skin types?

Due to the very concept at the core of laser hair removal, the question of whether the treatment works on all skin tones does come to mind. After all, laser hair removal targets pigments. How could it ever make the difference between skin and hair pigments?

The question did not arise upon testing the procedure on fair skin. Indeed, the contrast between skin and hair was sharp enough to dismiss the risk of burning the skin. Light skin is very low in melanin after all.

Fairly early on in the life of laser hair removal, the ideal candidate for the treatment was established as someone with light skin and dark hair. Does that mean that other skin tones cannot undergo laser hair removal? And what about light skinned people with fair hair?

The treatment on the former would risk confusing the machine which would be unable to differentiate between skin and hair pigments, thus increasing risks of burning. The same would happen on light skin with fair hair since both targets would not be rich in melanin.

However, this concern is unfounded. Laser hair removal works on all skin types. Mostly because new machines can now adjust to different skin tones and ensure they can all be treated.
3. Can people of color undergo laser hair removal?

Since the laser targets pigments, it is the contrast between skin and hair that really allowed the light energy to get to where it is meant to go. Thus, laser hair removal presented more risks for dark skin since the contrast was low or close to non-existent.

However, improvements in technology and more research into laser hair removal allowed to solve the issue. Diode and ND: YAG lasers provided a solution, reduced side effects and removed most risks for darker skin.

ND: YAG lasers can have different wavelengths. However, the 1064nm wavelength is the one that interests us here since it is not as highly absorbed by melanin than other wavelengths. In other words, ND: YAG lasers do not rely as much on melanin to deposit the energy into the dermis and to the hair follicle.

As a result, such laser can treat all skin tones safely and effectively. The wavelength bypasses the epidermis and the lack of skin to hair contrast does not matter. It is not needed as much anymore. Our V-Frost by Vertex laser hair removal machine offer such features since it has a ND: YAG laser.

ND: YAG can adjust to the skin tone of the patient. However, IPL and home laser devices cannot. That is why they are not safe for dark skin and people of color should stay away from them.
4. Does it work on fair hair?

People with light skin and fair hair faced the same issue as people of color. The contrast between skin and hair color was not sharp enough. The lack of melanin in fair hair would make it difficult for the laser to target the hair.

However, blonde is not one shade. And hair color varies on the body depending on the location. While leg hair may be too light for laser, bikini and underarms’ will be dark enough. However, as pigments are scarcer, it will be more difficult to target the hair and patients with fair hair may not more sessions.

The questions of whether laser hair removal works on fair hair remains. So? Yes. Yes it does. Simply because laser technology improvement made it possible. The lack of pigments may make it trickier for the laser to target the hair but not impossible.

ND: YAG lasers can successfully remove light-colored hair. Indeed, as explained above, ND: YAG laser devices have a longer wavelengths that does not rely as much on melanin to deposit energy into the skin. It targets pigments more accurately regardless of its quantity and can precisely penetrate the skin without damaging surrounding tissue.
In conclusion

ND: YAG lasers and their 1064nm wavelengths are the laser of choice when it comes to treating dark skin and fair hair. This technology improvement allowed to facilitate treating all skin tones and enlarge the pool of potential laser hair removal customers. Thus, laser hair removal works on all skin tones.

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