Definition & Overview

An electrolysis hair removal refers to the process of permanently removing unwanted hair from different parts of the body using electric current that destroys the roots of hair follicles. The method is FDA-approved and is proven to be highly effective particularly when compared to other hair removal procedures.

Since it attacks hair follicles instead of the hair pigment, the procedure is very versatile and can be performed on all hair and skin types, making it a better option for those who are not good candidates for laser hair removal.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

The procedure is recommended for those who wish to have unwanted hair removed permanently or for an extended period. It is particularly helpful for those suffering from hirsutism, a condition that causes excessive hair growth.

Electrolysis hair removal works by delivering electric energy straight to the hair’s growth centre or its roots using a fine needle-shaped metal probe. There are currently three types of electrolysis, namely thermolysis, galvanic, and a blend of both.

  • Thermolysis electrolysis – This procedure uses shortwave radio frequency, which produces heat by causing the hair’s water molecules to vibrate at top speed.

  • Galvanic electrolysis – Known as the oldest type of electrolysis hair removal, this procedure uses direct current to create a chemical change in the follicle as a way to destroy the root.

  • Blend electrolysis – This type combines thermolysis and galvanic electrolysis, so that if one type is not effective on certain hair strands, the other will serve as a backup method.


Unlike laser hair removal, which is only recommended for people with fair skin complexion as it tends to cause pigment changes in the skin, electrolysis is more versatile and can be performed on all hair and skin types. It removes unwanted hair not by attacking the pigment but by going straight to the hair follicle. It can be safely performed in all areas of the body including the face, eyebrows, abdomen, thighs, breasts, and legs.

How is the Procedure Performed?

During an electrolysis hair removal session, the patient will be asked to lie down on a treatment table. If necessary or if the patient requests for it, a topical anaesthetic will be applied. To begin the procedure, the electrolysis technician (also called an electrologist) applies a needle-shaped probe into the skin. The probe will then release a wire filament, which goes straight into the hair follicle, and this, in turn, will release minute amounts of electric current to destroy the root of the hair. The same process is performed until every hair follicle in the treatment area has been removed.

Hair grows in different stages, with different strands growing, resting, and shedding at any given time. These stages are also known as growth, rest, and replacement. To ensure that hair at various growth stages are all treated, the patient has to undergo multiple sessions to complete the procedure. The sessions can be anywhere between 15 and 30, with each session taking 15 minutes to an hour, which means the whole process can be time-consuming and requires commitment from the patient.

Possible Risks and Complications

Unlike laser hair removal, electrolysis is not associated with any permanent side effects, such as causing permanent skin colour changes. It is also not associated with complications that are associated with other hair removal methods such as waxing, threading, tweezing, and using hair depilatory creams, which include ingrown hair and skin irritation. So far, electrolysis is known to cause only a slight reddening of the skin in the treatment area, but this resolves after a few days.

As for pain, patients can expect a pricking sensation as each follicle is targeted. Due to a large number of follicles that has to be destroyed, this can be considered painful. Fortunately, modern electrolysis methods have reduced the pain level, and most patients report experiencing only a mild tingling feeling. For people with low pain tolerance levels, a topical anaesthetic cream can be applied to the treatment area before the procedure is performed.

However, one possible challenge in performing the procedure is that hair follicles have to be straight or must have the right shape so that the needle can get to the root more easily. Unfortunately, some hair follicles are bent or misshapen, which occurs as a side effect of frequent tweezing or waxing, and this makes it difficult to directly destroy the follicle.


References:

  • Dover JS reviewing Gorgu M at al. “Hair Removal: Laser vs. Electrolysis.” Dermatol Surg. 2000 Jan. http://www.jwatch.org/jd200002010000001/2000/02/01/hair-removal-laser-vs-electrolysis

  • Wagner R., Tornich J., Grande D. “Electrolysis and thermolysis for permanent hair removal.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(85)70062-X/abstract

  • Wagner R. “Medical and technical issues in office electrolysis and thermolysis.” American Society for Dermatology Surgery Inc. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1524-4725.1993.tb00391.x/abstract;jsessionid=AD3E09DBA8C5706006B83E7F4B0279EB.f01t03?userIsAuthenticated=false&deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=

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