Laser hair removal treatments have come a long way with the improvement of new laser technology specially designed to adjust to dark pigments in skin once considered impossible for lasers to safely and successfully treat. Nonetheless, skin tones still play an important role in how a laser hair removal session is planned and implemented. Even for people of fairer skin, the potential risks of tanning (and hence, pigment changes), should not be underestimated.
Laser hair removal works by focusing the laser’s light energy on the skin across areas of unwanted hair growth. The skin absorbs some of the laser’s light energy before it ever makes it to the hair follicle. Darker skin tones absorb more of the laser’s light energy into the skin. This can result in burns from the laser treatment.
Tanning causes the pigment of the skin to change, while the hair does not. This means that while the laser can work, it may not be as effective. To treat tanned skin the laser’s energy level must be adjusted to accommodate the darker skin. Since the hair has not changed, there may not be enough energy getting to the hair follicle to remove the hair. While the treatment can work, it may take more treatments for people with tanned skin to get the results that they want.
As a general rule, most clinics ask that a patient refrain from tanning over the course of their laser hair removal treatments. At the very least, a person should wait until their tan fades before undergoing a new laser hair removal session. While this may not be an ideal solution for people, it can help avoid treatments that aren’t effective and can prevent some side effects such as skin discoloration or burns.
When it comes to self-tanning lotions, the risks are the same. Sunless tanner changes the pigment of the skin and will also draw more of the laser’s light energy. However, as with tanning, if you stop using the sunless tan cream, your skin’s pigment will return to normal and laser hair removal treatment is possible with minimal side effects.
As for tanning or using sunless tanners after your laser hair removal treatment, the key is skin protection. Exposure to sun and the use of sunless tanners should be avoided for the first 30 to 60 days after treatment. Beyond that time period, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 is highly recommended.