In recent years, laser hair removal has been promising the dream of smooth, stubble-free skin—a blissfully razor-free future! The benefits of laser hair removal are time-tested, consistent, and more universal than ever. This is a truly effective hair removal treatment, but the word "hair removal" doesn’t mean it will get rid of every hair.

While laser hair removal is popular for various body areas, facial treatment is common among women. Achieving lasting results typically requires six to eight sessions spaced over several weeks. Following these sessions, some maintenance may be necessary, but a significant reduction in hair growth—up to 90%—is achievable.

Breakthrough Innovations

Laser hair removal technology is, in fact, leaps and bounds ahead of where it was even just a few years back. Some of “the biggest innovations are in versatility, speed, and pain—meaning lack of pain,” says Dr. Frank. “It used to take an hour to treat each leg—and it wouldn’t be comfortable. Now we have technologies that allow us to do a leg in 15 minutes.” More monumental still, the latest cutting-edge devices allow practitioners to safely treat a truly inclusive range of skin tones—which has helped to mainstream laser hair removal for dark skin. 

Past limitations of laser hair removal for darker skin tones stemmed from the difficulty in distinguishing between hair follicle pigment and melanin in the skin. However, recent advancements have addressed these concerns, making laser hair removal safer for individuals with brown and black skin.

While technology has finally evolved to make laser hair removal for brown skin—and, yes, even laser hair removal for Black skin—infinitely safer, what remains off limits to those with darker complexions is intense pulsed light (IPL), which some doctor’s offices and medspas still rely on for “laser” hair removal (even though IPL is technically not a laser). That’s because it uses a wider, less targeted wavelength of light than a laser does, which means it’s less precise—and absolutely not safe for people with medium to dark skin. In general, IPL is best reserved for patients with fair skin and dark hair. Even so, lasers provide more efficient hair reduction with less discomfort.

Minimizing Risks for the Best Hair Removal Experience

While laser hair removal burns and side effects of laser hair removal, like skin lightening and darkening, are always possible, and dark skin types are most prone. To curtail laser hair removal risks, those with deep skin tones should seek a highly trained expert who fully understands the nuances of lasering skin of color and has the right tools for the job. A provider with multiple treatment options can offer access to safer, more effective, less painful devices.

Which brings us to a question: What is the best laser hair removal device? The answer is hardly straightforward, as different lasers cater to different skin colors. Some, like the diode, have shorter wavelengths that work well for fair skin. Those with longer wavelengths, like the Nd:YAG laser (aka YAG), penetrate deeper, bypassing the melanin-dense surface, making them safer for laser hair removal on dark skin.

Dermatologists classify skin color using the Fitzpatrick scale (type I is the fairest; type VI, the darkest), and use this schema to choose the safest and most effective course of treatment. Here, your guide to the best laser for hair removal on every skin tone.

Laser Hair Removal for Fair Skin

Fair Skin For Caucasians and certain Asians: alexandrite or diode lasers

Those with fair skin and dark hair are ideal candidates for laser hair removal, due to the inherently contrasting tones. There is very little competing pigment in the form of epidermal pigmentation. The more pigment that’s present in the hair follicle, the more effective the actual hair removal treatment will be. Within six to eight treatments, 90% of hair removal is possible with a low risk of side effects.

Caucasians and some northern Asians fall under the fair-skin umbrella; they’re classified as Fitzpatrick types I and II. Alexandrite laser hair removal devices are particularly effective and can lead to faster results for this group. Diode lasers are also good choices for fair folks.

Bear in mind, that these pro recommendations and safety assurances hold only when fair skin is truly fair. If you slip up and get sun-kissed, let your tan fade for at least a few months before booking appointments. While laser hair removal for fair skin and light hair—gray, white, blonde, or red—remains a challenge due to the lack of follicular melanin, hope is on the horizon.

For Brown Skin For light- to medium-brown skin: alexandrite, diode, or Nd:YAG lasers

Brown skin needs extra attention to ensure efficacy and safety. With someone who generally tans but is on the fairer side—a Fitzpatrick type III—we could potentially use an alexandrite or diode, but I’d select lower settings and longer pulse durations, to be safer.

With skin types III and IV, laser hair removal can get a little tricky. Choosing a lower fluence—meaning the energy of the laser pulse—minimizes the risk of complications. But among some ethnicities, particularly those of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent, doing so has up to a 10% chance of actually stimulating hair growth instead of destroying the follicle. Doctors aren’t entirely sure why this happens, but if it does, this doesn’t mean that a person isn’t a candidate. It just means that you have to use higher fluences with a safe device so you destroy the stem cells instead of stimulating them.

For those with medium-brown skin (type IV), the deep-reaching Nd:YAG laser is an appropriate choice, because “it’s the laser that absorbs the least melanin,” curbing the risk of burns.

For Dark-brown and Black Skin: Nd:YAG

While today’s lasers are decidedly more inclusive than their predecessors, folks with the darkest of skin (types V and VI) still face a very significant risk of side effects. She reiterates the importance of seeing a laser-trained dermatologist who has multiple devices, extensive experience performing laser hair removal on Black skin, and a willingness to try a test site on the body. Even then, she says, proceed with caution.

The Nd:YAG is very suitable for Fitzpatrick types V and VI because it goes deeper into the skin, protecting the epidermal melanin more. Plus certain Nd:YAG lasers can provide bonus benefits beyond hair reduction alone, further boosting the appeal of YAG laser hair removal for dark skin.

The Journal of Drugs in Dermatology described impressive results with the Nd:YAG device typically used for photorejuvenation. With the low-level light at a wavelength that is safe to use on dark skin, it calms down inflammation, stimulates collagen, and treats acne scars. It was also found its effective for African American patients. As we remove the hair, it cosmetically removes all the dark stains people have from shaving and ingrown.

Alexandrite laser hair removal, it’s worth noting, is typically a poor choice for patients with dark skin, which slowly delivers heat so that there is no burn related to skin color or hair. The handpiece has a sapphire tip that cools on contact, directing more energy to the hair instead of the skin. Doctors have been pleasantly surprised by its safety and efficacy when performing laser hair removal on dark skin.

As a conclusion, laser hair removal offers a reliable solution for hair reduction across diverse skin tones. With advancements in technology and proper guidance from experienced professionals, individuals can achieve smoother, hair-free skin safely and effectively.