What Are the Different Types of Electrolysis – Which Is Best?
There are three different types of electrolysis for hair removal, namely galvanic, thermolysis and a "blend" of the two.
in this article we look at how electrolysis hair removal works, how the three methods differ and how to decide on which is the best for you.
Electrolysis - how it works
Electrolysis (sometimes known as electrology) works by passing a small amount of energy into each hair follicle via a very fine needle, in order to disable the follicle, thus causing the hair to fall out.
The actual hair itself is a dead structure. It is the matrix, which is the name given to the actively dividing cells at the base of the hair follicle that produce the hair, which is the target for treatment.
In addition, there are germinating cells located below the sebaceous gland, which also need to be destroyed to achieve effective permanent hair removal.
The aim is for the hair follicle to be permanently disabled, so that regrowth does not occur - the hair itself merely indicates the location of the follicle and helps to determine the depth to which the needle should be inserted.
Electrolysis is currently the only form of permanent hair removal approved by the FDA (US Food and Dug Administration). The FDA is responsible for protecting and promoting public health and is the regulating body for medical devices.
Galvanic electrolysis has been in use for more than 150 years (first successfully used in 1875) and has a proven track record.
Galvanic electrolysis was further developed and in 1916, an additional 5 needles were added to the unit to reduce the time required for treatment. This is known as the multi-needle method.
This type of electrolysis uses a chemical reaction to destroy the hair follicle, brought about using direct electrical current.
The needle is inserted into the hair follicle and a small electric charge is administered. This reacts with the saline found at the base of the follicle, to produce sodium hydroxide (known as lye).
This natural chemical acts to destroy the cells around it, to effectively permanently disable the follicle and prevent hair from re-growing. The chemical continues its work for a period of time following removal of the needle.
Multi-needle galvanic electrolysis is a highly effective means of permanently removing unwanted hair, however it is time-consuming, requiring at least 3 minutes per hair.
This method is best suited to course, thick hair e.g. beards and all types of body hair.
Thermolysis (Shortwave Diathermy)
This is a newer method than galvanic, having been first established in 1923, which offers a quicker alternative solution.
It is performed in a very similar way to galvanic electrolysis, but instead of an electric current the needle delivers radio energy, at a designated high frequency.
The needle transmits the current which, due to its high frequency, vibrates the hair follicle, which in turn irritates the water molecules surrounding its base. Heat is produced and this thickens the fluid into a mass, destroying the target cell tissue.
Although the treatment time is quicker, taking just a few seconds per hair, this type of electrolysis is generally not as effective as galvanic and is typically used for fine hair.
In a nutshell, this is a combination of galvanic electrolysis and thermolysis, utilizing a double action method. It is the newest of the three, having been in use since 1945.
The galvanic current produces the acidic lye, whilst the high frequency current vibrates and heats it up. As it heats, the caustic strength of the lye increases still further
As the lye vibrates due to the thermolysis, it is dispersed and absorbed into every area of the hair follicle.
Whilst the blend method is not a quick as thermolysis, at around 7+ seconds per hair, it is still considerably quicker than the galvanic method.
This method is best suited to fine body and facial hair and individual or scattered coarse hair.
Pros and Cons of Each Method
- Proven track record of good results
- Has the flexibility to tread curved hair follicles effectively
- Provides the most effective method of the three - with minimal regrowth
- No heat is involved, therefore little or no effect on surrounding tissue
- Speed - only 1 - 3 seconds required per hair
- Results can be seen instantly
- Speed - 7+ seconds per hair
- Indications are that regrowth rates are less than for thermolysis
- Length of treatment time - minimum of 3 minutes per hair
- This method is not suitable for curved hair follicles
- Had a high regrowth rate
- The surrounding tissue is heated - limiting treatment
- Only effective on very light, fine, vellus hair
- Can only effectively treat hair in the anagen (growing) phase
- The surrounding tissue is heated - limiting treatment
- Hydrogen gas produced as a byproduct of galvanic process may cause blow-out when heated
It is important to realise that, with all methods of electrolysis, treatment of large and dense areas of hair will be very time-consuming and expensive.
A full, thick beard will likely require 3 - 6 hours of treatment each week for up to 5 years to finally achieve permanently smooth skin.
Although the treatment time will gradually decrease, this still represents a huge time commitment.
As for cost, it is unlikely to end up being less than $10,000 and could be considerably more.
For these reasons, electrolysis is commonly used for smaller areas such as facial hair, armpit (axillary) hair, bikini line etc. although it can be used on any part of the body.
In conclusion, of the three methods of electrolysis, it would appear that thermolysis is the quickest, with immediate results, but also the most limited i.e. suitable only for fine, vellus hair.
The blend method offers improved results on thermolysis, although taking slightly longer. It is still fairly limited, to vellus facial and body hair and scattered and individual coarse hair.
Multi-needle galvanic electrolysis offers the best results for coarse, dense hair and provides the least regrowth rates. However it is a lengthy process.
Whatever your decision it is most important that you carry out thorough research before embarking on any treatment programme to ensure that the device being used is FDA approved and that the operator is medically trained, fully qualified and experienced for the relevant method employed.