What Sisters Should Know About Laser Surgery


Image courtesy of Pulse Light Clinic

Laser surgery offers a wide range of medical, cosmetic, and other advantages, spanning from LASIK for vision correction to skin resurfacing. This procedure, which employs focused laser beams to cut tissue, has become a prevalent and secure practice within the beauty industry. Replacing traditional medical instruments with ultraviolet and other laser types, laser surgery effectively removes tissue, hair, and skin, leading to noticeable improvements in patients’ appearances. Regrettably, for the Black community, access to laser surgery has been limited or non-existent until now.

Hair removal lasers which received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the late 1990s, were initially recommended exclusively for individuals with light skin and dark hair. However, there were racial disparities evident in the field of laser surgery. The cover of ESSENCE in August 1997 shed light on this issue by revealing the racial bias present in the use of laser treatments. At the time, medical professionals advised Black women against receiving laser treatments altogether.

“Reading brown skin is very different,” board-certified dermatologist and Harvard-trained Mohs surgeon, Dr. Michelle Henry told The Cut.

The Alexandrite Laser, is the “Golden Standard” on laser hair removal. has been predominantly used for individuals with lighter skin tones. Unfortunately, this has led to exclusionary practices in the field, as “standardized” hair removal lasers have often neglected darker skin types. Throughout the history of cosmetic surgery, limited technology have put Black women at a higher risk of experiencing hyperpigmentation and skin damage due to light exposure. IPL, or Intense Pulsed Light Technology, should not be used on darker skin, which may result in burns and other complications. 

However, it’s time to dispel the myth that laser surgery is not an option for the Black community.

Thanks to significant technological advancements since the 1990s, laser surgery has become a viable option for darker skin, albeit with certain considerations. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), laser hair removal is now feasible for all skin types, provided there is sufficient contrast between the skin and hair color. However, individuals with darker skin are more susceptible to burns and hyperpigmentation, requiring the expertise of a skilled medical professional when performing laser hair removal on darker skin tones. In this case, the Nd: YAG laser is the safest technology to use when treating Black skin.  “Even with all the articles that have come out, there is still a dearth of information when it comes to academic textbooks about skin of color,” Henry continued. “Successful laser hair removal and other procedures really come from not only studying skin of color, but knowing it well and doing a lot of volume.”

In contrast to lasers primarily designed for treating lighter skin, the Nd: YAG laser possesses the unique ability to distinguish between dark skin color and dark hair color. This feature makes permanent hair removal on darker skin more effective.

While advancements in laser surgery have made it safer for darker skin, there are still exclusions and limitations for Black women with the most rich and deep skin. Some procedures like laser skin resurfacing, care a higher risk of hyperpigmentation in individuals with richer skin tones. The landscape has improved from the era when certain laser treatments were unavailable to the Black community in the 1990s to the present, with technological developments catering to diverse skin tones. However, there’s work towards greater inclusivity to still be done in the field of laser surgery to ensure equitable access and safer outcomes for all individuals, regardless of skin color.


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