African-Americans have some skin problems unique to darker pigmentation, and their skin responds differently to laser treatment than paler skin, says Dr. George Cohen of the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of South Florida in Tampa. If you're interested in laser treatment, find a doctor who is familiar with the treatment of African-American skin who has the skill and the equipment to treat the problems of darker skin.
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Laser treatments use concentrated beams of light -- lasers -- instead of a knife to remove layers of skin, fade discoloration or tattoos or destroy hair follicles. According to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, your skin may reflect laser light, absorb it or pass it through to deeper levels of skin. The response depends on the type of laser and the type of skin. Lasers used for skin treatments may deliver a continuous beam of light, or pulses of light. A skilled practitioner can focus the laser on a very small area without damaging surrounding tissue.
Scientists classify lasers based on the primary element used in creating the laser. Some of the most frequently used types of lasers in cosmetic surgery include the yttrium aluminum garnet, or YAG, laser; carbon dioxide laser and the argon laser. Lasers may be further classified by the job they do. Fraxel lasers work by damaging the top layer of skin in a pattern, or fraxel, leaving untouched columns of skin in between. According to the University of Texas Medical Branch Department of Dermatology, leaving healthy skin between the lasered areas prompts faster recovery while realizing the benefits of laser skin resurfacing. Doctors may also use excision lasers to cut out keloid scars, moles or other skin growths.
Some African-American skin is prone to keloids -- raised, discolored scars that can develop from any injury to the skin, from ear piercings to acne to more serious cuts. Doctors can use lasers to excise the scars, but care must be taken while the area is healing to avoid the development of a new keloid. Some African-Americans are also prone to a loss of skin pigment called vitiglio. Dr. Cohen reports that lasers are sometimes helpful in treating vitiglio. Although lasers are often used to permanently remove unwanted hair, they work best on pale skin. But the American Academy of Dermatology reports that doctors have had success using YAG lasers for hair removal on African-American patients.
Because the approach to treating African-American skin with lasers can be very different from treating Caucasian skin, Dr. Cohen advises finding a practitioner who specializes in treating skin of color. Even then, lasers may not successfully treat all conditions. Potential side effects of laser treatment include scarring, loss of pigmentation and pain. In addition, the American Academy of Dermatology notes that laser surgery patients are more prone to outbreaks of herpes simplex, also known as cold sores or fever blisters, immediately following a laser treatment.
Laser surgery may not be the best treatment for your skin condition. Skin bleaching, hair removal by electrolysis, UV light therapy and traditional surgery are alternatives for some skin conditions. You may need several laser treatments to realize the best result. Insurance may not pay for procedures considered cosmetic.