New lasers show good results, regardless of skin color, ethnic origin

September 1, 2005

National report — Today, nearly 50 percent of the world's inhabitants are people of color representing Fitzpatrick skin types IV to VI. So the recent advent of color-blind lasers that can safely and effectively treat patients of all skin colors and ethnic origins is good news for dermatologists and patients.

National report - Today, nearly 50 percent of the world's inhabitants are people of color representing Fitzpatrick skin types IV to VI. So the recent advent of color-blind lasers that can safely and effectively treat patients of all skin colors and ethnic origins is good news for dermatologists and patients.

New generation

"A person's skin pigment absorbs light over the visible wavelength range," Dr. Battle explains. "By using longer wavelengths, there is less absorption of the melanin in the skin, making it safer to treat darker skin types."

Thermal-induced side effects such as blistering, discoloration and scars can happen when the epidermis heats past 45 degrees. By combining these safer wavelengths with aggressive cooling, physicians can now safely and effectively treat darker skin types.

He cautions however, that the darker the skin, the higher the risk for thermal damage. When treating people of color with lasers we should avoid creating erythema because it can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. For this reason, physicians need to treat "under the erythema threshold."

Other treatments

Color-blind lasers are not only excellent options for cosmetic procedures in darker ethnic skin, but also in the treatment of pseudofolliculitis barbae, an ingrown hair medical condition that affects the vast majority of patients with curly hair who shave.

Overwhelmingly, patients of color are happy with the results of laser treatment.

"With hair removal for instance, most patients have tried the conventional methods - plucking, waxing, shaving or electrolysis," Dr. Battle says. "They are elated from the results of laser treatments. Many of them have also been harmed by laser novices who did not have enough experience or the right laser to treat them safely." Another benefit is that once the hair is removed, patients begin to see dramatic improvements in texture, tone and discoloration.

Dr. Battle suggests that cosmetic physicians gain experience not only with lasers but also in how to properly use the laser procedures on people of color.

"First, dermatologists should learn how to safely treat lighter skin types," he says. "As they gain experience and confidence, then they should slowly and cautiously treat darker and darker skin types. It's important to gain this experience outside of what the laser manufacturer teaches, because there is still a lot of biased information going around."

Dr. Battle, who also serves as assistant clinical professor in the department of dermatology at Howard University in Washington, D.C., has treated people of all skin colors and ethnic origins for eight years. In 1998, he began his research fellowship at Harvard's Wellman Laboratories of Photomedicine pioneering the use of cosmetic lasers on people of color. Through years of research and clinical experience with color-blind lasers, he is confident that the future is bright, no matter what a person's skin color or ethnic origin.

"Not only are we constantly improving ways to treat darker skin types," he says, "we are also researching how to more effectively use lasers to treat conditions that have a higher incidence in darker populations, such as melasma."