Electrolysis Hair Removal – The Facts & Guidebook
Electrolysis hair removal works by sending electrical pulses into the the root of the hair in order to permanently damage the follicle and prevent regrowth. It's the only form of hair removal that is considered "permanent" by the FDA and is suitable for smaller surface areas.
At a very high level, the galvanic method of electrolysis hair removal involves applying a direct electrical current to the root of the hair. The practitioner does this by placing a very thin needle inside the follicle of the hair and applying a short burst of electrical current.
The electrical current stimulates a reaction in the salt water solution found at the root of the follicle that causes a decomposition of the hair growing follicles.
Electrolysis involves treating each hair individually, which is why the process is usually time consuming especially for larger treatment areas with a dense amount of hair.
With an 80 percent success rate (80% of the hairs treated through this method are killed), galvanic electrolysis is one of the most effective forms of hair removal available today and one of the few methods that have been approved as "permanent" by the FDA.
Also referred to as diathermy, radio wave, short wave, or high frequency, the process is similar to Galvanic Electrolysis in that a needle is also inserted into the base of the hair follicle. Alternating current is then applied to the base of the hair follicle thus causing the cells to heat up to the point of permanent cell destruction (electro-coagulation).
The main limitation of thermolysis is that it's not suitable for all types of hair as it is mainly suited for shallow rooted hairs. Typically it provides a 10 - 15% success rate for killing hair follicles against the 80% success rate of galvanic electrolysis.
Safety & Potential Risks
While electrolysis comes with some risks, it should be mentioned that as long as you take the time to find an approved and experienced electrologist, then these risks are highly unlikely to ever occur.
Post Treatment Side Effects
In the hour or so after an electrolysis session you may notice slight discomfort, localised swelling and mild redness that usually disappears within a day so that there is no lasting sign of treatment.
Possible side effects include:-
- Redness of skin around treated area
- Darkened spots around the pores
- A change in texture of the skin
- Mild discomfort
- Localised, minor swelling
In some instances you may find tiny scabs have formed - these fall off within a certain time period (usually within a few days to a week) and aren't severe.
You should expect temporary redness and swelling because the electrolysis procedure involves destroying tissues that makes hair grow. The question is how severe the side effects are and how long they last for.
Danger of Permanent Scarring
If electrolysis treatment is carried out correctly (read: make sure you use an experienced electrologist) then there is no risk of permanent scarring. However, if the correct after care protocol is not performed then there is a very small risk of temporary marking.
Over treatment is one of the main causes for problems. An experienced electrologist will often take a number of sessions to remove hair, especially if the surface area of the target area is reasonably large. It's far better to have short treatments in sensitive areas and wait long enough for the skin to heal in between rather than to try and rush through in one session.
How can over treatment cause scarring?
Correct electrolysis should aim to only damage the hair follicle and not the inter-follicular tissue.
Over treatment increases the chance that the electrical / thermal energy will not only damage the hair follicle but irritate and denature the cells that surround them.
Pregnancy and Electrolysis
There are no studies directly looking at the safety of electrolysis during pregnancy. There also haven't been any reported cases where electrolysis has been proven to cause harm to the foetus.
Thermolysis does not use electrical current and is therefore believed to be the safest form of electrolysis to undertake during pregnancy. There is believed to be no risk to mother or unborn child using this method, however treatment of the breast and abdominal areas should be avoided.
It is not recommended to undertake Galvanic or Blend electrolysis because of the use of direct current during the procedure. The foetus is surrounded by a conductor (amniotic fluid) which could potentially pass the electrical current to the foetus. Here's what the British Institute & Association of Electrolysis mentions about this potential risk on their highly informative site:-
If, by chance, you have been having ‘Blend’, please do not worry, it too can be used during pregnancy and should not pose any problem, especially if treatment has been to the facial area. Many clients have treatment before they know that they are pregnant, without any ill effects whatsoever. If you are at all concerned, please discuss this issue with your therapist/practitioner or GP. (Please note some members may choose not to offer treatment during pregnancy.)
It's always highly advisable to talk to your practitioner / GP prior to treatment if you have any concerns or questions.
Electrolysis and Blood Donation
If you're a regular blood donor, then you should wait six months before donating blood. This is merely a safety precaution to prevent the spread of blood-borne infections such as hepatitis B.
Which parts of the body can be treated?
The only restrictions to which body parts can be treated with electrolysis are the the inner ear and nose. Some areas, like the face, can be more sensitive than others (also considering the visibility of the area) and should be treated carefully with greater time between sessions to avoid the possibility of over treatment.
Common treatment areas
While pretty much any area of the human body is suitable for electrolysis, there are some parts that are prime candidates for electrolysis hair removal:-
Facial areas such as lips, neck, breasts, abdomen, underarms, bikini line, fingers, toes, legs, chin
Eyebrows, back (especially upper back), cheeks above beard, upper arms, top of the nose
Chest, beard, genital hair removal (pre surgery for sexual reassignment surgery)
Does Electrolysis Hurt?
The skills of your electrologist, the equipment that they are using, personal sensitivity, the area of the body being treated and the method of electrolysis are all factors that determine how painful the process is.
Generally speaking, electrolysis is not too bad and numbing cream can be used to decrease the pain.
Reducing the pain
Some patients take painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet to help ease the pain, whilst some practitioners will offer you some local anaesthetic numbing cream.
You should always talk to your practitioner about taking any sort of painkillers before your treatment. Experienced practitioners will be able to advise you how to make the process as pain free as possible for you.
A lot of patients also report that they can reduce pain levels by cutting down on caffeine, hydrating and replacing electrolytes.
How many Treatments are Needed?
This is variable depending on the area that you're having treated and your genetics. The density of hair growth plays an important factor and varies greatly from person to person.
Generally speaking, you are likely to require treatments for at least 12 months for the best results. This is because, in most people, it takes at least that period of time for all hairs to reveal themselves.
Each hair goes through a face of growing (anagen), resting (catagen) and shedding (telogen) - electrolysis is only effective when the hair is in the growing phase. Therefore you often have to wait to "catch" the hairs at the right point in their life cycle.
Other factors that determine the number of treatments that you will need are hair thickness and skin sensitivity.
Can I Cut my Hair in-between Sessions?
Yes, one of the common misconceptions about electrolysis is that you have to let the hair grow in-between sessions. In actual fact, you can treat the hair as you would do usually, even shaving if on the legs or face. The hair doesn't have to be any longer that this for electrolysis to be effective.
"Electrolysis will ALWAYS work when performed correctly by skilled and experienced practitioners." - British Institute & Association of Electrolysis
Electrolysis is a very effective form of hair removal, however, in order to get the best results, patients will often need to follow a regular treatment plan that may last for a number of months.
Assuming that the patient follows through with the treatment by an experienced practitioner then electrolysis is highly effective and predictable.
Permanent Hair Removal
"Electrolysis is considered a permanent hair removal method, since it destroys the hair follicle. It requires a series of appointments over a period of time."
The US Food and Drug Administration have deemed that electrolysis is the only method of hair removal that can be considered permanent on their Removing Hair Safely page.
Why is it important that the FDA have approved electrolysis?
The FDA is an agency of the US government that regulates a broad range of consumer products, services and drugs in order to ensure not only the efficacy of the product, but also the safety of the consumer.
?This means that the FDA have scrutinised the electrolysis technique and have expressed that it's safe and that it permanently removes hair.
Laser hair removal, on the other hand, cannot be marketed as permanent hair removal since the effects are only temporary, and whilst laser hair removal can result in permanent reduction in growth, it can't permanently stop future hair growth, unlike electrolysis.
To read more about the FDA and what they regulate, click here.?
How to Avoid Scams
In the 1970's, there were a lot of tweezer type devices being advertised as permanent hair removal. Unfortunately, these claims were not substantiated by any governing bodies and, of course, were false and led to many consumers being scammed.
?Agencies such as the FDA and the International Guild of Hair Removal Specialists have since cracked down on such scams. However, this example underlines the importance of doing your homework by making sure that your practitioner is credible.
Finding an Electrologist in your Area
There are a number of steps that you can take to make sure that you find a reputable electrologist in your area and avoid the rogue practitioners. We've added the rules below are there to protect you:-
License Regulated States
There are currently 34 states in the USA that regulate the practice of electrolysis. ?In these states you should be able to view the license of the practitioner.
If, for whatever reason, the practitioner can't produce a valid, in-date license, then find another service provider.
In some states, such as Pennsylvania, there are no regulations, requirements or inspections regarding the practice of electrolysis.
This essentially means that anyone can legally perform the procedure despite not having any qualifications or knowledge of the treatment.
If you're going to have treatments done in an unlicensed state, you must make sure that your electrologist is proficient.
List of all 34 License Regulated States
District of Columbia
Electrology Organisation Membership
It's highly advisable that you choose a practitioner that is a member of at least one electrology professional association.
Get a Sample Session Done
It's highly recommended that you take a sample session with a potential electrologist practitioner before paying for a long term agreement. The session need only be 15 minutes long.
During the session you should look to see how easily the hair is removed from the follicle. The hair should slide out without any resistance - this is a good indication that the electrologist understands and has configured the machine correctly for your skin and hair combination.
You should definitely not feel any kind of tugging sensation (like you would with a tweezer, for instance) because this means that the electrolysis procedure isn't fully detaching the hair.