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Image of banana with dark spots representing laser for hyperpigmantation

Can lasers really treat hyperpigmentation?

Written by
Chloë James

We live in a world determined to give us hyperpigmentation. Whether it’s the sun, acne, hormones, genetics, or the general aging process, our day-to-day life is brimming with causes for dark spots or patches of uneven skin tone. But not all hyperpigmentation is made equal.

The most common is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation – AKA those red or brownish marks that stick around after a breakout. Then there are sunspots, cropping up in unprotected areas exposed to the sun. And there’s melasma, triggered by a combo of hormonal factors usually found in pregnant women. Whatever the specifics, all hyperpigmentation comes down to an excess of melanin in your skin – all of which can be tackled with the right laser.

Find a clinic or practitioner near you and enjoy a risk-free booking process thanks to free in-clinic consultations and the option to pay in-clinic. Also, you can now split the cost of your treatment into four equal, interest-free instalments using Tabby.

What is laser resurfacing?

In short, laser resurfacing is the solution to pretty much any skin concern – hyperpigmentation included. Laser resurfacing – also known as a laser peel – uses the heat of (surprise) a laser to improve the appearance of your skin. How, exactly, depends on the type of laser in question…

Ablative lasers

How do ablative lasers work?

Ablative lasers are the most intensive – which means they deliver the most dramatic results. Whether it’s a CO2 or Erbium laser, ablative lasers all work the same way. The heat of the laser removes the thin outer layer of skin. As the skin heals, new cells grow to take its place

Every time this happens, your skin tone improves. It may not totally even out with one session – unless your hyperpigmentation is really, really mild – but each session leaves you with a more even complexion.

As it works by removing skin, you should expect some downtime after ablative laser treatment. Depending on the depth of your hyperpigmentation, skin may be red, irritated, or scabbed for two to three weeks. You don’t need to stay at home for all this time, but you should be prepared to avoid direct sunlight for a while (and to wear even more sunscreen than usual).

Is an ablative laser treatment right for me?

As ablative lasers are so powerful, they’re a reliable choice for pretty much any kind of hyperpigmentation – especially the stubborn or deep patches of hyperpigmentation that just won’t seem to fade.

However, some people are better suited to this treatment than others. The ideal patient has relatively fair skin because the contrast between the hyperpigmentation and your natural skin tone makes it easier to treat.

Non-ablative lasers

How do non-ablative lasers work?

If ‘ablative’ means a laser takes off a layer of skin, ‘non-ablative’ means it doesn’t. Non-ablative lasers have a longer wavelength, so they penetrate deeper – leaving the skin’s surface undamaged.

Instead of manually sloughing off the cells to reveal a brighter, more even skin tone, a non-ablative laser does all the hard work beneath the surface. It gradually reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation by heating up the cells and encouraging the growth of new ones.

Is a non-ablative laser treatment right for me?

The long wavelength of non-ablative lasers doesn’t just mean they’re gentler on the skin. It also means they’re the safer option for those with darker skin tones or sensitive skin types, as it minimises the risk of further discolouration or scarring.

For a gentler experience, you can opt for fractional laser treatment – most known as Fraxel. This breaks up the laser, so it only targets small areas of skin at a time. Fraxel can be both ablative and non-ablative, but a lot of dermatologists prefer to use the latter to treat specific types of hyperpigmentation, such as melasma.

IPL

How does IPL work?

Surprise! There’s a bonus third option. IPL – or, to call it by its full name, intense-pulsed light therapy – isn’t technically a laser treatment. Instead, it uses light to break up melanin. The damaged particles are then naturally removed from the body, or form scabs which later fall off on their own.

The results are like laser treatments. What separates IPL from laser is that it’s gentler and tends to come with fewer side-effects. You may experience a little redness post-treatment, but that’s usually the extent of it.

Is IPL right for me?

The downside to IPL being gentler than laser is that it doesn’t deliver the same dramatic results. It’s great at tackling mild hyperpigmentation – especially if it’s affecting a large area of skin.

However, it’s less effective for darker skin tones, as it struggles to differentiate the melanin you want to treat and the melanin you don’t. This leaves you at risk of post-inflammatory pigmentation (which kind of defeats the whole purpose of hyperpigmentation treatment).

Tackling hyperpigmentation with laser

Hyperpigmentation is a tricky thing – and so is tackling it with laser. Every case is different, which is why it’s so important to use the right laser. A consultation with an expert can clear up any questions and make sure you’re on the right track with your laser pigmentation treatment. And once you are, it’s only a matter of time until you can enjoy brighter, clearer skin.

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