Tanning and laser: careful!

Many bodybuilders also go to tanning salons or spend a lot of time outdoors. While a tan can help in competitions and can make your definition look better, it’s important to be careful if you’re considering laser hair removal

Lasers and tanned skin can be a bad combination sometimes. Many physicians recommend avoiding sun or tanning beds for at least two weeks before and after a laser treatment.

Laser sometimes reacts with tanned skin, causing dime-sized patches of discoloration. While this effect doesn’t happen to everyone, it can be a real pain when it does-- some tanned patients have had spots that lasted several months.

The medical literature has a couple of examples:

Hasan (1999)

To see what I’m talking about, take a look at this woman’s legs:

Laser spotting

Her legs look a lot like the photos from the Hasan article cited above.

So remember: tanning + laser = risky!

If you stay out of the sun for two weeks after the last laser treatment you should be OK. Or you could use SPF 30 on the laser treated areas.

Once you do go out in the sun take it slow. I go no more than 20-30 minutes the first few times. It seems like you burn more easily for about 2 weeks, even zafter waiting 2 weeks to go out in the sun. After that there should be no problems. Tan like you normally do and use the same sunscreens. It seems like my tan gets darker too, which I view as a plus.

I have never had any hypo- or hyperpigmentation problems from laser hair removal. Sometimes if you get scabs, the skin underneath them will be lighter after the scabs fall off. That is not the same as hypopigmentation. After a few times out in the sun the light spots are gone and my tan is even.

I tan very easily and retain it for a long time. I usually wait about 3 months after I was last in the sun to get laser treatments, but everyone is different. I tried waiting only two months but my practitioner said my skin was still too dark to use the laser. They were amazed that I had been out of the sun for two months and I was still so tan.

I can say the diode laser does seem to work better than the alexandrite on tanned skin. Less pain and redness with fewer scabs. I still wait 3 months though.

Has anyone had experience with the Nd:YAG long pulse laser on tanned skin?

RJC 2001