From Laser to Laser Hair Removal, Let’s Talk About Skin Treatments for Darker Skin Tones

Shilpa Bhim
Adore Beauty

Raise your hand if you’ve ever looked into getting a skin treatment only to back out because you have no idea if it’s suitable for your darker skin tone.

We hear you! Skin of colour needs to be treated with the care and respect it deserves.

So, we caught up with Dr Michelle Rodrigues, founder and director of Chroma Dermatology and expert in coloured skin tones, to get the low down on skin treatments for darker skin tones.

Keep scrolling to find out what treatments will and won’t work on your gorgeous coloured skin.

What Gives Skin Its Colour?

First things first, it’s important to understand what causes the beautiful, broad range of skin tones that exist.

Dr Rodrigues breaks down the science behind skin tone by explaining it all comes down to melanocytes, which are small cells that make melanin (aka pigment). Within a melanocyte there is a structure called a melanosome – and this is where the magic happens.

“Melanosomes store and transport the pigment. It is the size, density and distribution of melanin within the melanosomes that give skin its colour,” says Dr Rodrigues.

Genetics ultimately determine a person’s skin colour and melanin level, and darker skin tones generally have more melanin than lighter skin tones. So, you can thank your parents for blessing you with your skin tone.

Does Skin Tone Matter When It Comes to Skin Treatments?

“Absolutely,” says Dr Rodrigues.

She notes a person’s skin type and genetic mix (which impacts skin tone) play a huge role in how the skin reacts to skin treatments ranging from creams and lotions through to peels and laser device treatments.

You can listen to our interview with Dr Michelle Rodrigues on this episode of the Beauty IQ Uncensored podcast below!

Is There a Particular Skin Concern for Darker Skin Tones?

One of the most common skin concerns for darker skin tones is hyperpigmentation. But just because it is a common skin concern, doesn’t mean it affects everyone in the same way.

Dr Rodrigues added, “The most important thing is to get a diagnosis first as there are over 40 causes of pigment changes on the face alone!”

With that being said, there are two common causes of hyperpigmentation: post inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma. But what does this actually mean?

Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation often occurs after skin inflammation like acne, eczema or even skin trauma.

“The pigment changes after such inflammation are not as prominent in those with lighter skin types and can often look slightly pink or red instead.”

Melasma is caused by genetic and environmental factors, such as exposure to the sun, and requires an individually tailored treatment plan.

“It is believed that these pigment changes are more likely to occur in those with darker skin types because of the larger amount of melanin contained in melanosomes."

Content Creator Nkisu Machona shares the products she uses to treat dark spots for her oily skin type in the YouTube video below!

What Are the Treatment Options for Hyperpigmentation in Darker Skin Tones?

You might have heard that treatments such as peels  and picosecond laser treatments can assist with hyperpigmentation. These treatments can help to lighten the skin, leading to a refreshed, rejuvenated look.

But are they safe for darker skin tones?

Generally, it is safe for darker skin tones to use these treatments, but be sure to seek advice from a professional, because you want to make sure the right devices and parameters are applied for each treatment.

For example, when it comes to laser treatments, Dr Rodrigues notes it is possible for darker skin tones but special treatment parameters are needed.

“For pigmentation, the safest laser thus far, based on clinical research, is the 755nm picosecond laser … special settings are required to get the best results.”

Skincare ingredients such as Vitamin C or topical retinoids can also assist with hyperpigmentation by breaking up the pigment and reducing skin inflammation.

But speak to a professional first, because as Dr Rodrigues highlights, skin treatments and skincare products should be “tailored to the individual's problem and skin type.”

Speaking of Lasers, Can Darker Skin Tones Get Laser Hair Removal?

Every person with a darker skin tone has probably heard a laser hair removal horror story or two featuring a side of burns, scars and pigmentation.

Fortunately, times have changed and laser hair removal is possible for darker skin tones.

However, as with all forms of laser, “specially selected lasers are required in those with darker skin types.”

Be sure to consult with a professional as you need to make sure the right type of laser is used so it’s compatible with your skin tone and hair colour and type.

What Skincare Products Should Darker Skin Tones Be Using Regularly?

Ultra Violette Supreme Screen SPF 50+ Hydrating Facial Sunscreen

“The one thing that is essential for all patients with darker skin is daily use of a good broad-spectrum sunscreen to prevent pigment and ageing,” says Dr Rodrigues.

She recommends using one with a tint – you want to avoid that white cast that sunscreen can leave on darker skin. Let’s be real, it’s not a good look!

Beyond daily SPF, Dr Rodrigues reiterates a person’s skin type, skin colour and other skin issues determine what products and active ingredients they should use.

Are There Any Skin Treatments Darker Skin Tones Should Avoid?

Dr Rodrigues cautions against using intense pulsed light (IPL) and broadband light treatments for those that have darker skin tones "because it can cause pigmentation and scarring!"

In addition to IPL devices potentially causing pigmentation and scarring, she says at-home laser hair removal IPL devices are not going to be as powerful or effective as those used in dermatology clinics.

Finally, Dr Rodrigues wants you to remember to see your doctor or dermatologist early to nip a skin problem (such as acne or eczema) in the bud so they don’t leave pigment and scarring behind.