Laser Hair Removal and Tanning
During its first years of popularity, laser hair removal success rates were very limited for patients with dark skin types. However, the treatment process has been tweaked over time by adding skin cooling devices and the use of longer wavelength lasers to provide safer, more effective treatment for those with darker skin. Risks of burning and hyper pigmentation have been reduced with these improvements. What many patients don't realize is that tanning also affects laser hair removal treatments. Here's why.
Tanned Skin and Laser Light Energy
People with tanned skin have been generally discouraged from traditional laser hair removal treatments because tanning changes their natural skin pigmentation. During a laser hair removal procedure, light energy is directed to the skin where the unwanted hair is located. The skin absorbs some of the laser energy before it reaches the hair follicles. How much energy is absorbed will be determined by the skin color. Tanned skin will usually absorb excess amounts of light energy and can cause burning or discoloration after treatment. Therefore, to treat a tanned patient, the laser energy must be turned down to prevent burning. This, in turn, decreases the effectiveness of the light energy to kill unwanted hair follicles.
Solutions for Those with Tanned Skin
There are two possible solutions for those with tanned skin, as outlined below:
a) A patient can wait until their tan fades before planning a laser hair removal treatment. Waiting can be annoying, but it's much better than wasting their money for a treatment that's not going to be effective. By having a treatment while the skin is still tan, there are risks that the treatment will not remove all the unwanted hair, or the treatment can cause uncomfortable side effects such as burning or skin discoloration. Direct sun exposure can be avoided by wearing a sunscreen that has SPF 15 or higher while outdoors.
b) Another option is to search for a laser hair removal specialist or clinic that uses the latest in laser technology, which can be more effective with dark skinned or tanned patients. New methods have been developed which enable cooling and protection of the skin during a treatment. Since dark or tanned skin attracts more light energy, drawing the energy away from hair follicles, the cooling method keeps the skin cool when this occurs.
Meanwhile, the intense pulsed light is exposed to the hair follicles longer to increase the number of follicles destroyed. The risk of side effects is reduced tremendously while unwanted hair is successfully removed. Keep in mind that not all clinics or physicians have these methods implemented, so the patient should find out if they do before scheduling a treatment.
What About Sunless Tanning Creams?
Sunless tanning creams have the same affect on skin as normal exposure to the sun. These creams also change the skin's pigmentation, and can alter the effectiveness of laser hair removal treatments. If possible, the patient should avoid using these creams for several months before having a treatment.
Tanning after Laser Hair Removal
Obviously, a patient who's just removed hair in a noticeable spot wants to show off their new "hairless" body with a beautiful tan. However, tanning and the use of sunless tanning creams should be avoided for at least a month or two after treatment, or until all tenderness and redness has cleared. The treated areas will be sensitive, and exposure to direct sunlight could harm the skin or cause discoloration. Patients can use a sunscreen that has SPF 30 or higher to protect the treated areas.
There are treatment options available for every skin type, but patients with dark or tanned skin should research the methods used before having a laser hair removal treatment to be sure they're getting the right type of procedure.
This article was written by Candice Pardue.