Debunking common myths on laser therapy in skin of color

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By and Dr. Charles Crutchfield III and Alexis Carrington

Lasers have changed our lives. They play vital roles in many of our daily activities. They are essential tools used in the fields of entertainment, communications, construction, commerce, and medicine.

The term LASER stands for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” What that really means is that a laser is a device that can produce a single, pure wavelength of light. Each wavelength can target specific substances. For example, in medicine, some lasers can target red lesions (like blood containing vessels or birthmarks), some can target brown and black colors, like the pigment in liver spots or for hair removal, and some can target water, the major component in skin, so, in essence, they can act as a scalpel.

There has been a misconception that lasers won’t work or are harmful to skin of color. This is not true.

Laser therapy for procedures such as laser hair removal is growing in popularity. Laser therapy has come a long way since the 1990s, with the invention of new lasers to treat conditions in every skin type and gender. With the improvement of these therapies, it’s essential to realize that some common beliefs about laser treatment are not fact, but really myths. 

We’re going to debunk the most common myths about laser therapy. 

Myth: People with darker skin tones should not get laser treatments. 

Believe it or not, this is still one of the most common misconceptions about laser therapy, especially for people of color. However, it could not be more incorrect. Laser therapy, such as laser hair removal, is an excellent treatment for common skin conditions, like “razor bumps” (known as Pseudofolliculitis Barbae) rather than shaving, plucking, and waxing.

Myth: It’s for women only. 

On the contrary, more men than ever before are seeking laser therapy. For example, men utilize laser hair removal, which is used to permanently eliminate unwanted hair, as well as issues like razor burn and ingrown hairs. Men receive treatment primarily on their faces, necks, and backs, and many men turn to laser hair removal to sculpt their beards and sideburns. 

Myth: “If you have dark skin, you can’t have laser hair removal.” According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), laser hair removal can be performed on all skin types, with the condition that there is a contrast between the skin and hair color. It is true that people with darker skin are more prone to burns and hyperpigmentation (dark marks); therefore, it is crucial the doctor has experience performing laser hair removal on darker skin tones.

The AAD also says there are specific lasers for people with darker skin tones, and an experienced physician and laser surgeon can select the best laser for the desired outcome, and adjust the laser settings to minimize any unwanted effects. It is recommended to ask the physician which type of laser they plan on using, and how much experience they have. 

Myth: It Hurts. This is an understandable fear but is also false.

According to the AAD, when performed by a board-certified dermatologist, laser therapy should result in little to no discomfort. Some have described it as “a slight warmth to the skin.” The amount of pain varies among each person and how much pain they tolerate. Thankfully, topical anesthetic creams can be given before the procedure to ease the discomfort if needed, and many physicians are even using laughing gas, like at the dentist’s office. Lasers can be uncomfortable, but there are ways of making laser treatments very tolerable.

Myth: Laser therapy exposes you to radiation:

This is simply false. Laser therapy does not emit radiation. It is a therapy approved by the FDA. It does not emit radiation that is harmful to the patient.

Myth: Laser hair removal works on every hair color:

Unfortunately, this is a myth. The AAD reports lasers do not effectively work on light-colored hair. Lasers target pigment, which means it would not work on light hair such as blonde, white, gray, and red, because they lack pigment. Be wary of providers that say laser hair removal will work for all hair colors.

Myth: Laser hair removal causes more hair to grow:

Lasers work by removing hair follicles, which stops the hair from growing. It does not create new hair follicles. That being said, factors like hormones, medications, and skin types dictate the differing amount of laser sessions one may need. It is almost impossible to get rid of all hair in one session. It’s best to ask your dermatologist which therapy would fit you.

Laser therapies are safe and effective solutions for treating certain skin conditions. However, to prevent complications and assess which therapies are best for you, ensure your laser treatment is performed by a board-certified dermatologist with the proper education, training, and experience needed to provide the best treatment available.

Alexis E. Carrington, MD is a graduate of Pepperdine University undergrad and St.
George’s University School of Medicine. Dr. Carrington is currently completing her
Internal Medicine preliminary year at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine Elmhurst
Program in New York City and currently applying to dermatology research fellowship
with plans to match into dermatology residency.

Alexis E. Carrington, MD is a graduate of Pepperdine University undergrad and St. George’s University School of Medicine. Dr. Carrington is currently completing her Internal Medicine preliminary year at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine Elmhurst Program in New York City and currently applying to dermatology research fellowship with plans to match into dermatology residency.

About Dr. Charles Crutchfield III MD

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations, and president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians.  

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