It seems that while great strides are being made in the cosmetics industry for women of color year after year, there is one segment of the beauty industry that continues to lag. For the most part, dermatological treatments still appear to cater to lighter skin. And while there are a slew of treatments that dermatologists can offer for that peaches and cream-like perfection, many of these treatments are off-limits to women of color.
Of course, when innovative beauty treatments are introduced, women are eager to see what the latest and greatest can do for them and their complexion. They flock to their dermatologists seeking to do everything from evening out their skin tone and texture to improving radiance and collagen production.
However, for women of color, the common denominator for all of these treatments is that when performed on dark skin, the procedures themselves can often cause skin burns, and the healing process can come with a healthy dose of hyperpigmentation. As many of us know, hyperpigmentation can take months to a few years to undo, if it can be undone at all.
While there are a few dermatological procedures that can be beneficial for deeper skin tones, women of color should do their best to avoid the following treatments:
Fractional Ablative Laser Treatments
Ablative laser treatments remove the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) while heating the second layer of skin (dermis), all in an effort to stimulate collagen production. Essentially, ablative lasers wound the skin, forcing it to heal and regrow. For fair skin, this procedure results in tighter, smoother skin, on darker skin tones, not so much. Even for lighter skin tones, ablative laser treatments can cause treated skin to become darker (or even lighter), and for dark skin tones, those changes can be permanent.
Intense Pulsed Light Photofacials (IPL)
Often used for wrinkles, uneven skin tone, and hair removal, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments focus light of varying wavelengths directly onto your skin. Without harming the top layer of skin, IPL penetrates down into the second layer of skin. When IPL is used for laser hair removal, pigment cells (melanin) in your skin absorb the light from the IPL. That light is then converted into heat which destroys the follicle, and boom, no more hair. However, with darker skin tones, the IPL light cannot discern between melanin in a hair follicle or melanin in the skin. When dark skin absorbs that light, the resulting heat can lead to blisters and burns on otherwise healthy skin. While the damage to lighter skin tones is fairly minimal, IPl is not recommended for darker skin, particularly for those that are prone to keloid scarring.
Used by dermatologists or plastic surgeons to even out skin tone, treat sun damage, pitted acne scars, pox marks and the like, dermabrasion is an exfoliation technique that essentially sands off the skin’s outer layer and removes it. While fairer skin tones can tolerate this treatment quite well, deeper skin tones should steer clear, as dermabrasion can lead to scarring and discoloration. In some cases, those after-effects can be both devastating and irreversible.
While there is a wealth of cosmetic procedures to choose from and the results of which can be quite stunning, just like any medical procedure, doing your due diligence is crucial. Be sure to research all procedures thoroughly, and above all else, choose a skilled board-certified dermatologist, preferably one who has plenty of experience working with deeper skin tones.