Dark Skin? Be Wary of These Beauty Treatments
Because we live in a world that develops beauty products and cosmetic technologies primarily for light skin, you may not realize that not all beauty treatments are safe for dark skin. Certain treatments can actually lead to such problems as skin burn and hyperpigmentation.
To figure out exactly which beauty treatments people with darker skin should avoid, we interviewed Dr. Vikram "Vic" Khanna, the dermatologist behind Dermatology Specialists of Illinois and a clinical instructor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
What to Avoid If You Have Dark Skin
- Fractional ablative laser treatments
- IPL (intense pulsed light) photofacials
- Laser hair removal using certain lasers
- Moderate to deep chemical peels
These treatments can cause hyperpigmentation and blotchy, uneven skin. What's more, they can even burn your skin.
According to Dr. Khanna, if you perform one of the aforementioned treatments on a person with moderate to dark skin, "there is a strong chance that during their body's healing process, the inflammation [resulting from the treatment] is likely to overstimulate the pigment cells in the skin. This leads to hyperpigmentation."
Plus, the way a lot of lasers and IPL treatments work is by targeting and destroying dark pigment in the skin (that's why laser hair removal works best on people with light skin and dark hair). So when these procedures are used on people with dark skin, it "can result in acute skin burns, and these can also heal with hyperpigmentation."
But laser hair removal is safe with the right lasers?
Yes, laser hair removal for dark skin is possible with newer technologies that target the hair itself. Some of the newer hair-removal devices, like the Alma Soprano, gradually heat the skin until enough heat is delivered to the hair follicle to destroy it.
According to the Alma Soprano website, it's FDA-cleared to be used on skin types I–VI on the Fitzpatrick Scale (with type I being the palest skin and VI being the darkest skin). It can also be used on tanned skin.
"It actually hurts a lot less as well!" Dr. Khanna says, though he is a bit more cautious when it comes to his own patients and won't use it on the darkest skin tones.
"I believe that most people through skin type V have a good option for hair removal with the right laser," he explains. "The important thing to realize here is that the med spa must be aware of the capabilities and limitations of lasers that they own. Sometimes they may need to refer to another office that owns a laser with the right capabilities."
So in terms of celebrities, what's the darkest skin you would treat with lasers?
"Priyanka Chopra could be treated with laser hair removal, but I would not treat her wrinkles (when she gets any) with fractional ablative lasers," Dr. Khanna says. "Mindy Kaling's slightly darker skin type would not tolerate these treatments."
What other options are there for people with dark skin?
Dr. Khanna says that he usually will suggest other options for people with darker skin. The following treatments are good for all skin colors:
- Thermismoothe radio frequency for skin tightening
- Microneedling for acne scars, both with and without growth factors
- Thermiva radio frequency for vaginal rejuvenation
- Injectables: Botox, fillers, and Kybella
- Dermabrasion and less aggressive chemical peels
- Fat-freezing treatments for body contouring
"I think that skin of color still has many options to keep it looking younger, fresher and more rejuvenated." Dr. Khanna says. And even potent medical-grade skincare products "can do a world of good for patients of color."
What if I really need one of the treatments that I'm supposed to avoid?
"It is not to say that these procedures could never be attempted on a person with skin of color," Dr. Khanna says. "If a strong need is there for a treatment, and the treating physician is actively engaged in the med spa, a controlled test area may be tried."
Basically, if you go to a med spa, make sure that the medical director/supervising physician is hands-on and not just a figure head. And ask for a patch test to be performed on an unnoticeable area, like underneath the jaw, to see how the skin reacts.
If you are cleared for the treatment, know that it might take a bit longer to see results. For instance, with laser hair removal, "we tend to be a bit more conservative (less aggressive) with the settings for skin of color," Dr. Khanna says, adding that the more aggressive settings can lead to burns and discoloration.
"It is possible that this will require more treatments, with less energy per treatment," he says, though "this is not an absolute rule."
Anything else I need to know?
Keep in mind the perspective of Dr. Khanna, who is himself a person of color.
"I don't get frustrated with what I can't have. I am excited at all the options that I can have!" he says, pointing to the long list of dark-skin-approved treatments.
Plus, you might not even need the treatments you're supposed to avoid.
"One of the beauties of darker skin tones is that the increase in melanin pigmentation offers us a natural sunscreen. Notice that people of darker races usually don't wrinkle as easily as their fair-skinned counterparts. This works to delay the need for the aggressive treatments for wrinkling like fractional ablative lasers," Dr. Khanna says.
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Colleen is a makeup/skincare junkie who has a serious Sephora problem. She writes about all things beauty and occasionally does hand modeling for work. Her job is strange.