Experts Say These Are The Best Laser Treatments For Dark Skin Tones

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the best lasers for dark skin tones

Lasers have come a long way since their inception — and no, I’m not referring to the ones beaming in outer space. Step into any dermatologist's office or medspa today and you’ll most likely see a machine that looks right out of a sci-fi movie, a mini robot on wheels with a handheld device attached, also known as a skin care laser. From warding off blemishes to minimizing fine lines and boosting collagen, laser treatments are one of the most effective ways to rejuvenate the skin. Its biggest breakthrough, however, isn't about what it treats but who: A few decades ago, lasers were solely designed for lighter complexions, leaving people with deeper skin tones in the dark. The lasers that did target pigment ran the risk of causing hyperpigmentation, burning, and scarring —but new innovations are making it more equitable for all.

I’m no stranger to laser treatments. This past fall, I tried Moxi, a non-ablative fractional laser that helps improve discoloration, uneven texture, and radiance. Unlike BBL HERO, which is best suited for lighter skin tones on the Fitzpatrick scale, this melanin-friendly laser afforded me glass skin in less time than it takes to get a gel manicure. If you’re considering non-invasive cosmetic treatments to level up your skin care routine and unsure where to start, don’t fret. Ahead, three experts give the lowdown on the best laser treatments to safely enhance melanin-rich skin.

What To Know Before Getting A Laser Treatment

The skin care market is booming with laser options, however, it’s critical to understand the complexities and precautions to take before diving in. Dr. Rosemarie Ingleton, M.D., a New York-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of skin care line ROSE Ingleton MD, tells TZR, “many lasers are not safe on darker skin (for example, CO2 and IPL), and the ones that are safe need to be used by experienced practitioners who understand laser technology and are experienced in treating darker skin types.” She adds, “they can adjust treatments and energy levels based on your skin tone.” Moral of the story? A skilled practitioner is non-negotiable. Do your research to find a practitioner with the credentials and receipts to back it up before booking that appointment.

The Best Laser For Uneven Texture, Scars, and Fine Lines

Indented scars (think icepick, rolling, and boxcar acne scars), uneven texture, and wrinkles are best treated with Fraxel Dual laser. This is a popular multitasking fractional laser (hence the name), which utilizes focused laser energy to create microscopic channels that penetrate deep into the skin to stimulate collagen, ultimately activating the growth of new, healthy skin. It’s offered in two treatment settings, a 1927 nanometer wavelength best suited for correcting skin texture and tone, and a 1550 nanometer targeting acne scars and deep lines. “Since this laser uses fractional laser technology it treats only a fraction of tissue at a time, leaving surrounding tissue intact. This allows for faster healing. In darker skin tones, lower energy settings and good clinician technique are necessary to avoid unwanted side effects (like blistering, burns, and discoloration),” Dr. Ingleton shares. With all skin care treatments, patience is a virtue. For both scarring and wrinkles, multiple sessions (three to five) are required for up to six months to see bouncy, smoother, firmer skin.

The Best Laser For Acne

One of the best lasers for treating acne in skin of color is NeoClear. Developed by Aerolase, it’s a contactless 1064 nanometer laser that emits 650-microsecond therapy to gently treat various types of acne ranging from mild to cystic. Dr. Ingleton explains, “it utilizes wavelengths of laser light that penetrate deep into the dermis and targets the causative factors underlying acne, without damaging the melanin-producing cells in darker skin.” NeoClear kills acne-inducing bacteria, quells inflammation, shrinks pores, and reduces sebum production to keep future breakouts at bay. After one thirty-minute session, anticipate smoother, calmer skin. However, it can take anywhere from three to six treatments to see the best results.

The Best Lasers For Hyperpigmentation

Whether it be from sun spots, melasma, or a gnarly breakout (that you may have admittedly picked at) the blemishes left behind, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can be a mighty task to tackle. To be clear, hyperpigmentation occurs on anyone but is very common in melanated skin. Since darker skin tones have more melanin cells, when the skin is injured or irritated the cells increase melanin production to the surrounding skin, resulting in pronounced spots that appear brown or black. When topical treatments aren’t cutting it sometimes you have to step it up a notch. Dr. Chaneve Jeanniton, M.D., a Brooklyn-based board-certified oculofacial plastic surgeon, founder of Brooklyn Face and Eye, and skin care line Epi.Logic, highly recommends Clear & Brilliant. Nicknamed “baby Fraxel”, Clear and Brilliant is a non-ablative fractional laser that targets the skin’s upper layers to address early signs of aging, sun damage, texture, and tone. Considered one of the milder lasers on the market, “it's basically dialed down energy — which makes it a little bit safer for skin of color,” Dr. Jeanniton shares.

Three sessions are suggested but to amplify the results, Dr. Jeanniton likes cocktailing it with potent serums for additional benefits. “I love doing Clear and Brilliant and pairing it with vitamin C and tranexamic acid for my patients who are experiencing stubborn dark spots. I feel really good that I'm sort of maximizing what I can do for them and keeping them at a low-risk profile.”

She’s also a fan of integrating exosomes, which when applied post-treatment help speed up the body’s natural healing process and reduce pigment production. Lasers are essentially creating portals in the skin, so it's an optimal moment to integrate topicals on a deeper level. “The reason that’s relevant is because most of the issues that happen to skin of color aside from improper treatment is inflammation that happens during recovery,” Dr. Jeanniton explains. “So if you're making that recovery process shorter and more concise with less inflammation it's a win-win.”

Another pro favorite is the Pico Laser. It administers short pulses of energy with minimal heat to selectively target pigment cells, breaking them down and allowing the body to eliminate the pigment naturally. “These devices are safe on darker skin types because, although they deliver highly concentrated laser energy to the skin they produce very little heat and are gentle to the outer layers of the skin,” says Dr. Ingleton.

The Best Laser For Hair Removal

If you’re tired of waxing, shaving, and the constant cycle of pesky ingrown hairs, laser hair removal is a game-changer. This treatment uses a combo of light energy to target pigment and heat to destroy the hair follicles without damaging the skin surrounding it. Historically, the challenge has been that the light beams cannot distinguish between dark hair on dark skin versus light skin. However, sophisticated machines can detect these nuances. Vanessa Marc, a New York City-based esthetician and founder of Vanessa Marc Spa, whose clients include Zendaya, Cardi B, and Winnie Harlow, opts for the Gentle Max Pro Laser. Offered in two wavelengths: 755 nm or 1064nm, it has the range to treat even the deepest of complexions. “There’d always been a fear for those of us with melanated skin to get laser hair removal. Companies weren’t investing in the machinery or knew how to treat our skin, says Marc. “That's why I decided to open my spa, where people of color can feel safe and trusted.” Women aren’t the only ones investing in laser hair removal — men are increasingly integrating laser treatment into their grooming routines. Many of Marc’s clients include NBA players who come in regularly to help with stubborn ingrown hairs and irritation caused by shaving.

Not to be missed, another option for hair removal is the cutting-edge Nd:YAG laser, which uses a mechanism to cool the skin as it delivers high-energy laser beams. “This type of laser is designed to specifically target the melanin in the hairs in the follicle and not the melanin in the skin," Dr. Ingleton notes. To permanently suppress the hair, typically six to ten sessions are required every five to six weeks, plus occasional annual touch-ups for any sporadic new growth.