Hyperpigmentation has been the bane of my existence since puberty and the onset of teenage acne. And so it goes for many of us who are blessed with melanin-rich skin — we get a pimple, it leaves a scar, and we’re left with a spot that takes forever to go away.
You can use over-the-counter treatments, but products containing hydroquinone are now banned from over the counter products in the US, and some of the products that claim to be possessed of “brightening” agents either take forever to work, or don’t work at all. Through the years I’ve had to learn tips and tricks to manage my hyperpigmentation. I have gotten chemical peels in the past and they definitely helped for a while. I have used a number of under and over the counter treatments and ointments, available in the Caribbean and in the US. I have taught myself to leave my skin at peace when I have an eruption, and I use a good moisturizer with high SPF in it to reduce my skin’s exposure to UV rays throughout the year. All this and I’m still not hyperpigmentation free.
So what about laser treatment therapy?
Nowadays there are lasers for hair removal, skin resurgacing, acne scarring — you name a condition and there’s a laser than can zap it. When the technology was brand new, lasers were bad news for deeper skin tones — laser hair removal was known for causing blistering and burning in darker skin. Even now, it’s best to proceed with caution if you’ve got dark skin and want to seek laser therapy. For further answers, I asked the experts.
Dr. Amy Taub is the founder of Advanced Dermatology, an assistant clinical professor at Northwestern University Medical School, and is a member of many acclaimed skin care foundations, academies and societies. She offered very helpful information in a recent interview. “My favorite laser treatment for dyspigmentation issues in women of color is called the Genesis procedure (long-pulsed Nd:YAG laser in a defocused mode). It is completely non-invasive and has no downtime – anywhere from 3-5 treatments are needed depending on the severity,” says Dr. Taub.
Harvard-trained cosmetic and laser surgeon and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Carolyn I. Jacob of Chicago Dermatology breaks down the facts about lasers in this very helpful video.
What about other forms of hyperpigmentation? Proceed with even more caution. Dr. Jacob offered some additional warnings about the use of lasers for darker skin. “Lasers cause heat which can worsen hyperpigmentation such as melasma. However, several work for freckles, including a q switched Nd:YAG laser and a long pulsed KTP laser. If you have melasma there are fractionated ablative lasers or a thulium laser that might help, but you’d need to use topical hydroquinone as well,” Dr. Jacob suggested, when reached via e mail.
So, OK. What if you decide to proceed with getting laser treatments for your hyperpigmentation using the aforementioned Nd:YAG laser, and getting this treatment from a licensed and professional dermatologist? Even afterwards you need to maintain the effects by taking sun protection more seriously.
“It is critical when treating skin for pigmentation issues not only during the treatment but also before to use at least a SPF 30 sunscreen which contains at least 5% zinc oxide and preferably more (she recommends Intellishade by Revision). It does tend to be whitish so that you could use some with some tint to hide the white or to simply apply makeup or mix the right colored powder with the sunscreen. The laser simply cannot repair the skin if the UV light continues to urge the skin to make more pigment. UV light comes through window glass and is present ALL YEAR ROUND. Also, it would be good to be using a lightener or a brightener and an exfoliating agent, usually a retinol or tretinoin, although only using one to keep below the level where the skin could be irritated which can worsen pigmentation,” says Dr. Taub.
Now that I feel more informed, I think I want to try laser skin therapy using the Nd:YAG laser on my back, to see if I can rock a backless dress without fear next summer. I’ll keep you posted on how it works if I eventually do try it!
Have you ever used lasers for skin issues or hair removal? How did it work for you? Please share your experience!