The Difference between Laser Hair Removal and Electrolysis

When  looking into a more permanent form of hair removal, the main choice will be between electrolysis and laser hair removal.

Each type of treatment has its pros and cons.  This article will give you a clear picture of the different procedures, the possible results, potential side effects and what you can expect in terms of cost and length of time for each.

Laser Hair Removal & Electrolysis Treatments

Overview

Electrolysis is currently the only form of permanent hair removal approved by the FDA. Laser hair removal is currently approved as a form of semi-permanent to permanent hair reduction.

Professional or Home

Both treatments can be done by a certified practitioner or via the use of an at-home machine. We don’t however advise the use of at-home electrolysis machines and only advise using laser hair removal devices at home if they are FDA-approved. 

At-home procedures are cheaper but likely to be less effective than professional treatments.

Procedures

​Electrolysis

Electrolysis is performed by inserting a hair-thin needle or probe into a hair follicle and then applying an electric current to the follicle to destroy it. The procedure works on a hair-by-hair basis.

Electrolysis is an invasive procedure and can be painful, most likely on the level of continuous plucking or stinging. Topical anaesthetic cream can be applied before treatment to reduce the pain.

Electrolysis can be performed on any type of hair or skin colour combinations.

Laser treatment

The laser technique uses Selective Photothermolysis (SPTL) to target dark matter within the hair follicle (the melanin). The pulses of laser light aim to damage the hair follicle enough to stop the hair from growing back.

The procedure works on the localized area where you would like hair to be removed, attacking multiple hairs at a time. As the laser is aimed towards dark matter, this treatment does not work well on lighter hairs.

Whilst it is non-invasive, laser therapy can also be painful, often compared to the feeling of snapping an elastic band against the skin with heat. Topical anaesthetic cream can also be applied before treatment.

What is Meant by Permanent Hair Removal/Reduction?

Before proceeding with either of these treatments it is important to understand what “permanent” hair removal and hair reduction really mean. While both procedures aim to destroy the hair follicle and reduce the risk of the hair growing back again, it is only possible to destroy a hair permanently during the anagen (growing) phase of its life cycle.

As it is impossible to know which stage each hair is at during the treatment, it will always be necessary to have repeat sessions on the same area to catch all hairs during their anagen phase.

A Word of Caution

It is also important to be aware that while it is possible to achieve permanent, or at least semi-permanent, results, the hair may come back at some point in time.   Examples may be if your body goes through hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause, or even certain illnesses.

Results

Electrolysis

As the treatment calls for each hair to be treated separately, electrolysis is a time-consuming endeavour, and most often contained to smaller areas such as the face or neck for this reason.

Close up of hair growth

Sessions can last from 15 minutes to an hour, and in order to see results you may need to have between 15 and 30 sessions spaced out over a year or two. However, electrolysis is the most likely provide you with permanent results.

Laser Treatments

Laser sessions tend to last between 10 to 30 minutes and you will usually have an average of 7-8 sessions to see some kind of results. The highest expectations can be no hair regrowth at all (or permanent removal), however this would be fortunate.

There is an 80% chance that you will see some form of hair reduction or slower regrowth, with the lowest expectation being no change, or even the possible growth of more hair (see side effects below).

A certified professional will guide you through the possible results for each procedure, based on your skin type, hair colour and growth. Results vary based on a case by case basis, and while we can give you an overview of the expected results, they may be better or worse than predicted.

3 women with different hair and skin types

A certified professional will be able to evaluate your case once you have been through several sessions and will be able to give you a well-informed opinion on what you can expect.

Possible Side Effects

While with both procedures it is normal to experience some slight redness and swelling immediately after the treatment, this should subside within a couple of hours. If the treatments are not carried out correctly by a certified professional the risk of having one or more of the side effects below is significantly heightened.

If any of the side effects appear post-treatment (apart from a slight redness and swelling) consult a doctor and do not undergo any further treatments until your skin has cleared up and/or you have the go ahead from your doctor.

Electrolysis

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Increase in ingrown hairs
  • Scarring

Laser Treatment

It is very important to choose your laser physician or electrologist wisely in order to minimize the risk of side effects.

Likely Cost

Electrolysis

Electrolysis is likely to cost between $65 and $90 a session (average). If you assume you will need between 15 and 30 sessions to see permanent results, the entire procedure could set you back between $975 and $2,700 over the space of a year or two.

Laser Treatment

Laser hair removal will cost between $150 and $200 a session (average). With an average of 7 sessions per treatment, the total cost could be between $1,050 and $1,400.

Please note that these are strictly averages, and while some people may not need to spend that much (treatment on a couple of hairs on the chin for example), other people may spend a lot more (complete back hair treatment for example).

Conclusion

While electrolysis is currently the only form of permanent hair removal approved by the FDA, it is possible to obtain semi-permanent to permanent hair reduction with laser hair removal treatments.

Electrolysis is invasive and time consuming and not ideal for larger areas of the body, which can easily be handled by laser treatments.

While laser treatments do not work well on light hairs, electrolysis does.

Both treatments come with a list of possible side effects and risks, but if the treatments are undertaken by a certified professional in a professional setting, these risks are minimized.

The expense of the treatments, or a combination of the treatments, may seem a little high at first glance, but the end result may be well worth it in the long run.

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