Are you on the losing side of the battle to keep your body hair maintained? Our health and wellbeing contributor, Dr Dami, shares her laser hair removal experience.
Back at uni one of my Middle Eastern friends was considering laser hair removal as an alternative to constantly shaving her legs. It seemed like such a great idea, and I’d seen beauty influencers like Jackie Aina talk about their experience. However, when I went home and did some research I was horrified by some of the stories and pictures of laser burns that I had seen in some dark-skinned patients. Furthermore, my GP at the time recommended electrolysis as my only viable option; so like many black people, I believed that laser hair removal just wasn’t suitable for my skin type.
Knowledge, they say, is power and it wasn’t until I attended a lecture by a black dermatologist that I realised electrolysis wasn’t my only option. She explained what lasers were and which specific types of lasers were suitable for dark skin. Three years after that lecture, I finally decided to take the plunge and try it out for myself.
Why not? Lasers are a semi-permanent / permanent way of getting rid of unwanted body hair. In the long term, they are thought to be cheaper than other hair removal methods such as shaving, waxing and depilatory creams.
However, laser hair removal can be challenging for dark skinned people as the laser targets melanin, the substance that gives us our dark colour.
As we have melanin in both our skin and hair, there is a risk that heat from the laser may not only damage our hair follicle (which we want), but also our skin (which we don’t want). So how do we get around this?
Certain lasers such as the diode (810 nm) and Nd:YAG (1064 nm) have a higher penetrating power such that the laser beam is able to travel deep into the skin to where the hair follicles are located. That way, there is a lower likelihood of damaging the skin surface. In addition, using a cooling device during the treatment can help to get rid of any excess heat, which reduces any further risk of skin damage. Of the two types, the Nd: YAG is thought to be the safest option when dealing with black skin with only about 5% of patients in one study experiencing transient skin discoloration, which eventually resolved. Other rare side effects that can occur include scarring, blistering, crusting, erosions and infections.
Most people experience a significant reduction in hair growth and thickness with lasers. From each session, you can expect to see a 10- 20% decrease.
About 8 – 12 sessions may be required to achieve maximum results. Depending on how many parts of the body you are treating it can be quite expensive. Costs range anywhere between £250 to upwards of £1,000 for a full course of treatments. It’s usually cheaper to book online and some companies offer payment plans. However, I generally recommend saving up for this so as not to incur debt, and find the 52-week savings plan a reasonable way of doing this.
Finally, apart from hair removal, lasers can also be used to treat razor bumps in the beard area and on the back of the scalp in black people.
I had a free consultation with one of the practice nurses at my first visit who asked about my previous medical and medication history. She subsequently explained what the treatment entailed, the possible side effects and clarified which areas were going to be treated, which was my mid chest area in this instance. I also had to sign some paperwork giving my consent to go through with the treatments.
I was a bit nervous as it was my first time and asked lots of questions. I especially wanted to know the type of laser being used and if they were experienced with treating my skin type. I also probed further to see if any of their dark-skinned patients had experienced any side effects and was reassured. There was only one case of a patient who had experienced some skin darkening, however, this was due to not using any sun protection whilst on holiday after treatment. The darkening eventually did settle and I was informed there was a doctor available to deal with complications such as these. As I wasn’t taking any chances, I bought the recommended post-treatment pack, which contained a sunscreen, aloe vera gel and a thermal water spray.
Following the paperwork, I was taken to the laser room where I had a patch test performed. This is where they test the laser on a small patch of skin in the area to be treated, to see if the skin reacts. You typically have to wait for 48 hours after the patch test to see if there is any reaction and if none, it is assumed it is safe to proceed.
Thankfully my patch test went well and I booked my first treatment for later that week. I was advised to wear loose-fitting clothing on the day to prevent any friction or heat between the treatment area and my clothing. I was also asked not to apply any lotions or shave the treatment area on that day.
When I arrived, I was taken to the treatment room and given a pair of goggles to wear. This is done to prevent any damage from the laser light, as the back of our eyes contains a lot of melanin. The treatment area was first cleaned and the area to be ‘lasered’ mapped out with a white pencil. The individual hair follicles were zapped with the laser beam and immediately cooled with a cooling gas from the same device. To be honest, I found it quite painful as each zap felt like a rubber band snapping against my skin. I found it was more painful if the areas were close to the bone (e.g ribs) as opposed to if it was over a lot of underlying fat. As everyone’s pain threshold is different, there is the option to use a local anaesthetic cream to numb the area beforehand. The technician can also use more cooling gas or lower the settings if it gets too painful.
Once the treatment was over, the thermal water spray was applied which I continued to use regularly over the next 24 hours. I also applied sunscreen religiously and was advised not to take a hot shower for the next 24 hours.
I noticed some redness and tiny pimple like swellings over the treatment area called ‘perifollicular oedema’. This can happen after treatment, and ideally should last for a few minutes to hours. Mine however mine lasted for about three days. It is important to let your laser technician know this so that they can alter the settings of the laser machine accordingly at the next visit so as to reduce any risk of skin damage. I’m pleased to say this eventually settled and on the next treatment, I did not notice any swelling.
Finally, the demeanour of your technician really goes a long way in making the process bearable. You want someone who is emotionally responsive and listens to your concerns and not just someone who is trying to get the job done as quickly as possible. So if you have any issues don’t be afraid to speak up.
So, there you have it; my laser hair removal experience. Wishing you all a safe and pleasant experience.
Take Home Points
– Research all you can before your treatment
– Ask questions!!!!
– Ensure it’s an Nd:YAG laser
– Speak up if it’s too painful
– Use sunscreen and a cooling spray for at least 24 hours after treatment
– You can shave or use depilatory creams between treatments, however do NOT wax
– Contact your clinic ASAP if you notice any side effects.