We get lots of questions about the treatments of different types of skin; particularly those of various ethnicities. Some of those questions include, “Can African Americans have laser hair removal?” or “Can and Hispanic skin type have brown spot treatments?” As with many issues, the answer is it depends.
What’s your shade?
Not very African American, Indian, Middle Eastern or Hispanic patient has the same shade of skin color. Some Indian patients are actually darker than some African Americans for example. What’s more important than your actual ethnic background is what your actual COLOR is. Doctors grade skin color on a scale of 1 to 6 called the Fitzpatrick scale. Patients who are dark complected will fall into the 4-5 range and must be treated by someone who has a lot of experience with treating ethnic skin types. Most Indian, Hispanic and light complected or bi-racial African Americans will fall into this range. Patients who are the darkest skin types, such as the darkest African Americans, will be graded a Fitzpatrick Type 6 and may not be able to be safely treated with lasers at all.
How does skin tone affect treatment?
The reason all of this is important is that lasers are attracted to color. Just like with sunlight, the darker something is, the hotter is gets. Think of a black car and a white car sitting in the sun. The same amount of sun comes down on both of them but the black car gets hotter. In the same way, an ethnic patient’s skin will get hotter than a lighter colored persons skin. This can increase the risk of side effects unless the person operating the laser knows which adjustments to make to treat that patient. I have rarely had to turn away a patent from having laser hair removal because their skin was too dark. The laser we use is FDA approved up to a Fitzpatrick skin type 5. Using lasers for other treatment such as tattoo removal and brown spot removal have similar concerns and each patient needs to be evaluated individually. We may also recommend a test spot for our darker patients to make sure there is no over-reaction to the laser.
What treatments work for everyone?
The good news is is that most procedures such as micro-dermabrasion, Vaser Shape, Ultherapy, Botox and Spider Vein treatments are completely skin type neutral.
What are the side effects of a laser treatment?
So what happens if an ethic patient does get a too aggressive laser treatment? Once again, more good news. Typically the worst case scenario is that the patient will get a few small dime-sized areas of irritation like those you see if you touch yourself with a curling iron. The area turn brown and sloughs off and rarely leaves any long term sign that there was an over treatment and can be covered with makeup while it heals.