What you’ll learn in this article:
- Why aren’t all laser & IPL devices safe for dark skin?
- What skin tone type do you have?
- Laser hair removal devices for dark skin
- Devices for Fitzpatrick type V
- Your choice for Fitzpatrick type VI
- Where to buy
First, let’s dig deeper into why not all machines are safe for dark and black skin. And then, which are the best safe and effective options for you to choose.
Why aren’t all laser & IPL devices safe for dark skin?
To answer this, here’s a quick summary of the science behind laser & IPL hair removal.
How does laser & IPL hair removal work?
Substances in our body absorb light at different wavelengths. We call these substances chromophores. They’re the dark pigment in hair and skin (called melanin), oxyhaemoglobin in blood, and water. For laser and IPL hair removal the target chromophore is melanin in your hair.
The powerful light energy from IPL and lasers targets melanin in your hair to slow and reduce hair growth on the body and face.
Certain cells in your hair follicle (the bit below the skin) contain melanin. This melanin absorbs the flashes of IPL and pulses of laser energy and converts to heat. It damages areas of the hair follicle. The hair then shuts down and enters a resting phase. So, your hair grows slower and weaker, and eventually stops growing at all.
Related: Home laser & IPL hair removal 101 for how it works in detail
There’s melanin in skin too
Our skin also contains melanin. In light and medium tones, there’s just small amounts of melanin. This means there’s a big contrast between the light skin and dark hair with lots of melanin. The light energy easily targets the melanin in your hair and leaves your skin untouched. That’s why laser and IPL work best on light skin tones and dark hair.
However, there’s concentrated melanin in darker skin. Therefore, there’s just a small contrast between your skin and hair. This means, without the appropriate technology and configuration, your skin also absorbs the light energy. It converts to heat and causes pain, blisters and burns. Your skin can also darken or lighten in colour. This side effect is either temporary or permanent.
So, how do you know if your skin tone is safe?
All home-use devices come with a clear, safe skin tone range. Most brands use the Fitzpatrick skin tone chart to show which skin tones can safely use their device.
What skin tone type do you have?
Thomas B. Fitzpatrick developed the Fitzpatrick scale in 1975. It’s used to estimate how different skin types react to ultraviolet (UV) light. The complete scale details skin tone, hair colour and skin response to the sun. But for home laser and IPL devices, we use the skin colours scale only. It helps clarify which tones can safely use a machine.
There are 6 Fitzpatrick types, measured from type I to VI. Type I is the lightest skin and type VI the darkest.
- I: Light, pale white skin
- II: White, fair skin
- III: Medium white to olive skin
- IV: Olive, mid-brown skin
- V: Brown, dark brown skin
- VI: Very dark brown to black skin
Use the scale to see which type you are closest to. Check different body areas because your tone can vary. And remember, your skin tone can deepen and darken in the Summer. So, try to base it on the tone your skin is during the Summer months.
- If you’re between type IV and V you can choose a device that’s safe for up to type V
- If you’re between types V and VI it’s best to choose a device safe for ALL tones
Home devices by safe skin tone
On the packaging and inside the user manuals for home-use devices, you’ll see the Fitzpatrick scale and which of the tones can safely use it. Some user manuals also advise which energy intensity levels to use on your specific skin tone.
TIP: Each review on this site clearly shows the safe skin tone range at the start of the review.
All home-use laser and IPL hair removal devices are safe for skin types I to IV. You can choose from all the best buy recommendations here.
But be careful if you have lots of dark moles or freckled skin. The increased pigment makes some devices unsuitable to use, so try a device that works with darker skin tones.
The Tria 4X is the only home laser hair removal device. Unfortunately, it’s safe for Fitzpatrick types I to IV only. It’s not safe for dark skin.
However, a few home IPL devices are safe for up to type V. And just one is safe for the darkest type VI. Learn more about your options for dark and black skin on the next section.
Choose your laser hair removal device for dark skin
Some home IPL devices are safe for type V skin. They have a broader intensity range starting low, additional filters and special configuration of the IPL flashes to make it gentle on darker skin.
This means on the lower levels, only longer wavelengths travel through your skin. This jumps past the epidermis of your skin where your cells contain melanin. Therefore, it keeps darker skin safe. Keep reading to the next section to see these devices.
There’s one device safe for type VI. It has gentle IPL like that above, and it’s combined with Galvanic energy. This makes it more efficient, so it needs only much gentler IPL to work. Galvanic energy is a small current sent into your skin which causes your pores to dilate. With wide open pores, this helps the IPL reach down into the follicle and target the melanin-rich cells there.
First, we’ll see which devices are safe for up to type V, and then for the darkest skin type VI.
Devices for Fitzpatrick type V
The Prestige, Muse and Braun Pro 5 are all premium, top spec devices. Let’s start with them.
Prestige, Muse & Braun Pro 5 IPL
All feel solid with quality materials and build (especially the Prestige). And all are ergonomic and comfortable to use, albeit with different shapes and motions. They’re fast too so you can finish a full body in one sitting before getting bored (the Braun Pro 5 is the fastest).
There’s loads more you can learn about them in the detailed reviews. But what makes them top choices for type V skin is their clever skin tone sensors. These are crucial for darker skin tones where you could accidentally select too high an intensity level.
The sensors won’t flash on skin that’s too dark, so they protect you from pain and side effects. But they also adapt the intensity level to suit your skin tone.
With the Prestige, you manually activate this feature and can then manually adjust the level down if it’s too intense.
But the Braun and the Muse are the safest for darker skin up to type V. And especially convenient if you have varied tones up to type V across your body.
They both share the same sensor technology created by Cyden Ltd. It automatically scans your skin and tweaks the intensity before every flash. And they have 10 increments of power vs 5 with the Prestige. There’s even a gentle mode to lessen the intensity if it smarts. So, you always get the perfect balance of power and safety for your skin tone. This reduces the risk of side effects from choosing a level that’s too high.
And it’s especially important with these devices because they’re powerful. Their highest intensity levels are around 6 J/cm2. This is far too high for darker skin tones. Darker tones must use the lower intensity levels.
And that’s why I think the Smoothskin Bare is a fantastic choice for type V skin. It has just one low intensity level safe for skin tones I to V. And it’s fast and affordable.
True, it doesn’t look as fancy or premium and the Prestige, Muse and Braun Pro 5. But don’t be fooled by the compact, simple design of the Bare. It could be your perfect match.
This affordable home IPL is lightweight, incredibly comfortable to hold and effortless to manoeuvre. It’s mains-powered, feels solid and looks great. And it’s ultra-fast too. You can flash a full leg in around 5 minutes. The flashes come every 0.5 seconds. This is the perfect speed to glide smoothly across your skin and cover it accurately in flashes.
There’s an automatic sensor to check your skin’s not too dark. And importantly, the IPL flashes are of just one lower intensity level of 3 J/cm2. That intensity is safe for tones I to V, and because darker skin tones need lower intensities it’s the perfect match for type V skin. This means you needn’t pay more for a high-power device when you can’t use the highest intensities anyway.
The Smoothskin Bare is my top recommendation for type V dark skin.
Finally, all these choices come with a money back guarantee.
Philips and Braun give a 100-day guarantee. The Muse and Bare both have a 90-day money back guarantee from Smoothskin. It’s a very reassuring thing to have. You can choose a device and test it out. If you don’t like it, return it within the returns period for a refund.
Your choice for Fitzpatrick type VI
There’s only one home IPL device that’s safe for the darkest skin tones. It’s the Silk’n Infinity.
However, it’s a bit confusing. In the UK and Europe, Silk’n promote it safe for types I to VI. But in the USA the range is I to V. So, why the difference?
Silk’n Infinity & FDA
There is clinical data supporting safety and effect on dark skin tones type V to VI. This is sufficient to market it as such in the UK and Europe. But it works differently in the US. There, Silk’n need FDA-clearance to market the Infinity safe for type VI.
FDA-clearance is given to home IPL and laser devices when a manufacturer can prove their device is similar to a previously cleared device, (called a predicate device). In the case of the Infinity, this is difficult because it’s the first of its kind to use IPL and Galvanic energies. It’s this combination which makes it safe for type VI.
Because it’s the first, Silk’n must get approval from the FDA to market the Infinity as safe for type VI. This is a much longer and expensive process compared to clearance. So, for now at least, Silk’n US promote it as safe for types I to V only.
If you live in the US, you can buy it from silkn.com and test it. If it’s not for you, return it within 60 days for a refund.
Unfortunately, there’s no money back guarantee in the UK and Europe.
IPL & Galvanic energy
The Infinity is a top choice. It’s affordable, compact, lightweight and fast. You get a neat storage case and 400,000 flashes. That’s enough to last 15+ years of monthly full body sessions. Way more than you’ll ever need.
But how is it safe on dark skin?
The Galvanic energy opens your pores making it easier for your hair follicle to absorb the IPL. It can then use less intense IPL safe and effective on the darkest skin tones. Even on the highest intensity it’s just 4 J/cm2. However, it’s very efficient and painless.
TIP: The Galvanic energy also means your skin’s extra absorbent so apply moisturisers afterwards for extra soft and hydrated skin!
Because it has 5 intensity levels, there’s a sensor which scans your skin. It activates only the safe intensity levels for your tone. That’s levels 1 and 2 only for darker skin. Therefore, you can’t accidentally use a level that’s too high.
The Silk’n Infinity is a super choice for face, small and large areas. You can zap your full body in well under an hour.
WHAT ABOUT THE ILUMINAGE TOUCH, PRECISE TOUCH & elos devices?
You may have heard of these. Models are called Me Elos, My My Elos, Me Sleek and Iluminage.
These devices from Iluminage Beauty Ltd and Iluminage Beauty Inc are both clinically proven and FDA-cleared effective on fair dark and black skin. They use a combination of IPL and Radio Frequency which makes them safe and effective on all skin tones. But unfortunately, Iluminage Beauty ceased trading in 2018.
You may find final stock available through some retailers. However, before you buy check if the retailer honours the manufacturer warranty. (Iluminage won’t because they don’t exist anymore). Get confirmation in writing. This is your peace of mind so if anything breaks within the warranty period the retailer will either replace it or give you a refund. Otherwise there’s no one to help if anything goes wrong and you may be out of pocket!
You can check prices and buy using the links below.
Where to buy
Found this review helpful? Please support future reviews and shop via these links.
Smoothskin Bare for body & face, skin types I to V. Buy from:
Philips Lumea Prestige models for body & face, skin types I to V. Buy from:
Braun Silk expert Pro 5 IPL models for body & face,
skin types I to V. Buy from:
Compare the silk’n Infinity and the Smoothskin Bare in the table below.
|Silk'n Infinity 400,000||Smoothskin Bare|
|Price||£140 to £220||£150 to £190|
|Type||IPL & Galvanic energies||IPL|
UK & Europe: Safe for ALL skin tones (but US & Canada for I to V only)
|Safe for skin tones I to V|
|Hair colours||Black to dark blonde, may work on lighter hair||Black to dark blonde|
|Skin tone sensor||Skin tone sensor activates safe intensities for your skin tone||Protects too dark skin|
|Operation||Mains-power, 180 cm cord||Mains-power, 200 cm cord|
|Attachments||x1 multi-use flash window||x1 multi-use flash window|
|Lifespan / Total body area:||
|For dark skin||Levels 1 and 2 are safe for Fitzpatrick types V and VI||Safe for skin tones I to V|
|Proven?||Clinically proven, & small study for V & VI tones||Clinically proven, FDA-cleared|
|Speed per leg||
|Warranty||2 year (UK & Europe)||2 years|
|Money back guarantee||in UK & Europe 60-day guarantee in US||90-day guarantee|
Fair skin and dark hair?
Lucky you! Because you can choose from all home IPL and laser devices! To narrow it down, try my Best IPL and laser hair removal guide. These are the top devices available for home hair removal. All are tried and tested by myself and my small team of testers. All are safe for light skin and dark hair.