Have you noticed a shift in the demographics of your patients over the last few years? Many dermatologists and other skin care professionals have, and their testimony and national statistics alike have shown that it’s time for everyone in the business to prepare for a new group of patients.
More and more, patients of color are looking for cosmetic treatment options. In 2005 the New York Times reported that, “Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans and American Indians will represent almost half of the American population by the year 2050. But perhaps more important, consumers in those groups are getting more cosmetic treatments like laser hair removal…than ever before. Hispanic, Asian and African-American patients had 19 percent of all cosmetic procedures in 2004, an increase from 14 percent in 2000, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.”
Ten years later, this underreported demographic shift in cosmetic procedure demand remains important and relevant in the skin care industry. As more and more people of color become interested in the range of skin and hair treatments that medical lasers can offer, skin care professionals need to ensure that the tools they’re using are addressing their new patients’ needs safely and efficiently.
The Challenge: Treating Patients of Color
Do you hesitate to take on patients of color at your practice? If so, you’re not alone. As far back as the 1990s, many skin professionals didn’t consider patients of color “ideal” patients. And while new treatment technologies have opened doors for patients looking for cosmetic procedures, this label has still not completely disappeared due to the challenges associated with treating patients of color.
Patients with darker skin have a higher concentration of epidermal melanin in their skin cells. Historically, this concentration of pigmentation created complications during procedures that used an aesthetic laser, such as laser hair removal. This would happen because the higher pigmentation levels in these patients’ skin would absorb and hold onto the energy from medical lasers more easily, creating postinflammatory hyperpigmentation. This same absorption process also often made aesthetic laser treatments less effective in general, due to the absorbed energy’s inability to do its job throughout a patient’s’ skin tissues.
Using Medical Lasers To Treat Patients Of Color
As more patients of color begin to seek out laser hair removal and other cosmetic treatments, dermatologists and other skin care professionals need to continue to seek out treatment options for their new patients. Historically, a range of medical lasers featuring different wavelengths and strength settings were created to treat patients with different skin tones. However, in many cases it was found that improper and overaggressive treatments with these lasers had a negative effect on the patients.
The newest medical lasers, however, may be exactly what patients of color are looking for. The most recent aesthetic laser development is the use of microsecond pulse technology that has substantially increased the safety margin for treating skin of color. New medical lasers, such as those created by Aerolase, use targeted, short-burst micro-pulse technology that works more efficiently than other medical lasers. For example, a 650-microsecond pulse duration used by Aerolase products is 5 to 50 times shorter than 3-30 millisecond pulse durations used for hair removal with traditional long pulse Nd:YAG lasers.
When this micro-pulse technology is used properly, patients of color are less likely to suffer from the side effects caused by older aesthetic laser energy absorption. This is because the laser energy passes through the epidermis so quickly that it does not have time to overheat the epidermal melanocytes, thus avoiding the pigmentary risk associated with most laser systems.
Expanding Your Practice’s Options
While experience and a thorough knowledge of how different types of skin might react to different treatments is a necessary tool for any skin care professional, in today’s busy society it’s important to supplement this knowledge with the best tools available. This means that your practice needs to invest in modern technology that can offer a wide range of treatments to a variety of potential patients. Once this has happened, your practice can safely and efficaciously treat patients with any skin color – and can grow it’s clientele base in the process.