The key here is contrast. Because laser light is attracted to dark pigment, the “ideal” laser hair removal candidate has pale skin (so the laser energy can pass right through it) and dark, coarse hair (to better attract the laser). The closer you are to this combination, the more obvious a target your hair follicle will be, the less of a distraction your skin causes for the laser energy, and the more efficient the treatment. If you don’t have the ideal skin/hair combo, though, you don’t necessarily have to write off laser hair removal…it’s just a bit trickier for you. When you identify your skin type, and if your hair is sufficiently pigmented, then a laser professional can determine the best laser and the appropriate settings required for safe, effective hair removal.
Unfortunately, gray or white hair is considered untreatable by hair removal lasers. In some rare cases, patients report a little luck with gray hair, but generally there’s not enough pigment present for it to be successfully treated. The same can be said for light red and light blond hair. A consultation is still recommended just to be sure, but electrolysis is usually your best bet for these hair colors…at least until technology catches up with you.
In the laser hair removal community, skin types are often discussed in terms of the “Fitzpatrick Chart,” a classification system based on the skin’s response to sun exposure. It’s helpful to know what type you are, and compare it to your hair type, in order to determine how effective laser hair removal will be for you. But keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule, and the only proven way to determine your candidacy is through a personal consultation with a laser hair removal specialist.
We've classified skin types, we’ve covered the ideal skin/hair combination, and we’ve addressed the hair colors that are hard to treat…so, you may still be uncertain about laser hair removal for dark skin. Different laser hair removal clinics have their own policies—some might tell you outright that they haven’t had success treating dark skin, while others will say they need to look at the area in question.
There are two things you should keep in mind: 1. Laser technology is advanced enough to be effective on dark skin (Long Pulse Nd:YAG), it just can’t be guaranteed to work on all dark skin. 2. Realistic expectations make a big difference in laser hair removal success rates. If you accept that your hair or skin type might prevent “permanent” laser hair removal, but can help you achieve tremendous hair reduction, you’ll be a happy, less hairy camper.