When it comes to aesthetic treatments such as lasers and chemical peels, those with darker skin tones are more likely to experience unwanted side effects. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent or reduce adverse reactions. It is also worth knowing what makes darker skin at more risk and what treatments should be avoided. 

Aesthetic Treatments for Darker Skin Important Things to Know

Melanin and darker skin tone

Darker skin contains more melanin, which is the pigment responsible for determining your hair and skin color. Specialized skin cells called melanocytes (located on the skin’s top layer) produce and distribute melanin. According to The Cleveland Clinic, the amount of melanin in your body depends on genetics and how much sun exposure your ancestral population had.

While more melanin means darker skin, it is also important to remember that this pigment serves as a physical barrier, protecting the skin by absorbing UV rays. This then gives you a tan, which is a sign that your skin is trying to prevent the UV rays from doing serious damage. The melanin, however, cannot absorb all UV rays. 

Laser-/light-based procedures and side effects

Many aesthetic treatments, including laser and light-based procedures, cause micro-trauma or controlled injury to the skin. This then activates the healing process and stimulates new collagen. Some, on the other hand, like laser hair reduction and IPL treatments target the melanin to destroy the pigment and inhibit hair growth.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is one of the common side effects in dark-skinned patients. This is because the laser- or light-based devices could deliver heat energy onto the melanocytes, which can cause skin discoloration. Some may also cause hypopigmentation (or patches of lighter skin tone than the surrounding skin) when the melanocytes are damaged or destroyed.

Treating dark skin with the correct laser

While many lasers are safe and effective, some are not intended to be used on darker skin. Not all devices, furthermore, are created equally, as they vary in intensity and how they target the skin and its layers. Treating darker skin with the wrong device also worsens the issue or leads to more problems that will require more intensive treatments to correct.

The safe laser hair device for those with darker skin is an ND:YAG laser (1064 nm wavelength). This bypasses the melanin in the skin, targeting only the pigment hair follicles. It works on dark and tanned skin as it penetrates deep into the skin to target the blood supply connected to the hair. 

A Cutis, we use an ND:YAG laser to achieve permanent hair reduction. This doesn’t affect the melanin and penetrates enough to damage the follicles without destroying the melanocytes or pigments. We also have a device that relies on the same type of laser to target pigmentation or epidermal lesions.

For further reading: Laser Hair Reduction for Darker Skin: 7 Things to Know

Chemical peels and dark skin

Just like lasers, not all chemical peels are ideal for dark skin. This is because it responds differently to heat/temperature and chemical formulations than other skin types. Chemical peels that penetrate the skin deeply can cause heat that damages the skin-pigment cells and may cause PIH or dark marks, scarring, hypopigmentation, or erythema (redness caused by trauma or injury).  

Deep chemical peels should always be avoided, as they often cause hyperpigmentation. Light peels are usually recommended as they are gentler on the skin and won’t result in adverse reactions as often. A consultation with an aesthetic doctor will determine which type is ideal for your skin and concerns. 

At Cutis, we have VI Peel, which is a chemical peel safe for all skin types, including dark skin. It exfoliates the skin, promotes new tissue growth, and stimulates collagen production, resulting in clearer, more radiant skin. There are also different types of VI Peel for different skin concerns

For further reading: VI Peel: What to Expect Before, During, and After

Energy-based treatments and dark skin

These treatments use radiofrequency or ultrasound energy to treat the skin or tighten laxity and reduce signs of aging. Unlike some lasers and chemical peels, both RF and ultrasound are generally safe as they don’t use light waves or heat the melanin. They penetrate the deeper layer to stimulate the production of collagen.

At Cutis, we have Exilis Ultra 360, which combines radiofrequency heating and ultrasound to rejuvenate the face and body. It helps produce new collagen and can reduce wrinkles, improves cellulite and stretch marks. and tighten the skin. It can also eliminate stubborn fat cells to reduce fat layer thickness and contour the treated area.

We also have micro-focused ultrasound with visualization (MFU-V), which is safe for all skin types and colors. It is a US FDA-cleared procedure that can effectively lift and tighten skin on the face, neck, and decolletage, and improve lines and wrinkles on the upper chest. It can stimulate collagen, improve general laxity, and tighten the jawline without cuts or needles. 

Take note: Some energy-based treatments also use laser technology for a synergistic effect. These procedures such as photo facials may not be ideal for those with dark skin, as the process can cause skin darkening or discoloration. A consultation with an aesthetic doctor will let you know which treatments are safe and effective for your skin type and color.

How to reduce unwanted side effects from aesthetic procedures

Do take note that using the right devices or treatments for darker skin doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of PIH and other side effects. Below are a few tips that can help reduce negative side effects. 

  • Only see or go to an experienced aesthetic doctor or provider – Avoid local spas or salons or those who offer their services in a non-clinic setting. Your choice of provider should have aesthetic doctors on site to supervise or perform the treatment. 
  • Follow at-home pre- and post-care treatment – If the procedure requires prepping the skin at home, make sure to follow what your doctor recommends. The same is also true for the after-care following your treatment. 
  • Stay out of the sun – Many aesthetic treatments may require you to avoid sun exposure a few weeks before and after the procedure. This is because the sun’s UV rays can cause the pigment cells to produce more melanin and increase your risk of having PIH.

Book a consultation

If you have melanin-rich skin and are looking for safe aesthetic treatments that can effectively address your skin concerns, get in touch with us. Contact Cutis Medical Laser Clinics in Singapore and schedule a consultation with one of our aesthetic doctors.

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