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What is Electrolysis hair removal?

Updated: Nov 6, 2023


Electrolysis for hair removal is a permanent solution to unwanted or superfluous hair growth on any part of the face or body. Including intimate areas and small areas such as the nose, eyebrows, and even in growing eyelashes. The removal of ingrowing eyelashes is how electrolysis came to be over 100 years ago when Dr. Charles Michel (ophthalmologist) invented it for the safe removal of bothersome hairs and encouraged its use for superfluous hair. Methods, modalities, and strategies for the target (in the follicle) have evolved as have the technology and the machines. Galvanic which uses a direct current flowing in one direction is how electrolysis for permanent hair removal was created. Galvanic works by changing the water and salt present naturally in the tissues and follicle into a chemical that is caustic and is (called) Lye. Removing a single hair successfully with Galvanic could take up to 20 seconds hence the introduction of short wave diathermy (SWD) AKA high frequency (HF), radio frequency (RF), and thermolysis. Thermolysis is used globally as the preferred choice as it is a much quicker option taking a few seconds (maximum) per hair and is an oscillating, alternating HF current. It is this agitation of the tissue that creates heat and coagulates the tissue which is unfavorable for tissue regeneration. Thermolysis has evolved into Flash which uses the current in 1/100th & 1/1000th of a second. You can see, that the speed and efficacy of a permanent solution with electrolysis have meant hairs on any part of the face and body can be permanently removed.

How does electrolysis differ from any other removal methods? Electrolysis is specific to the target. The currents/energy target the Bulge where the stem cells are housed and the triggers that kick start the follicle cycle. Cells responsible for growth and development are housed in the sheaths of the follicle, these too are targeted as is the blood supply (dermal papilla) responsible for follicle nourishment, and growth. After a shot of electrolysis, the follicle has no chance. Waxing, plucking and threading remove the hair by the root as does electrolysis and are considered epilation methods. The difference here is waxing, threading and plucking are not permanent and hairs will regrow as before and sometimes thicker than before if removed from hormonal face or body areas. Shaving, creams, Dermaplaning and trimming are depilation methods. Hairs are removed just to the skin level not from the root. Hairs will return with blunt ends giving the illusion of a thicker stronger hair when in fact, this is not possible. Only hairs removed by the root will affect the nature or thickness of the hair.

How does electrolysis work? Hair removal using electrolysis uses a tiny sterile probe generally the size of the hair, it is inserted into the follicle, a natural opening in the skin (from the hair). Once inserted the current or energy is applied, creating enough destruction to make a tiny wound in the follicle, the amount of energy is carefully calculated according to the hair size, depth, and face or body part. The hair is released and the follicle is deactivated or rendered inactive never to produce hair again. The follicle is dead and becomes a collagenous mass of new soft tissue and eventually returns as normal dermis and epidermis. Hairs or rather follicles, do not need multiple treatments to be permanently removed, a single treatment is all that is required provided your practitioner is skilled. The activity or the destructive processes from the currents are enough to destroy all growth potential. A good indication of success is if the hair slides out without a pluck, tug, or traction. Hairs that appear as regrowth ie in the same area are often follicles with hairs beginning their growth cycle, under the skin, and, not yet visible at the time of treatment.

For permanent results, it is the skill of the operator not the tools or machines though up-to-date equipment will enable speed and efficacy to reach the desired results. Electrolysis requires precision, timing, and accuracy. The whole follicle from the bulge to the bottom or base of the follicle must be effectively treated and all cells capable of producing hair must be de-natured. If just part of the follicle is treated, it is possible the hair will return in the same follicle it may take some months but it will return. How does electrolysis work? The right amount of energy, correct depth of probing, and enough time to affect the PSU (pilosebaceous unit) which is the sheaths, root, and blood servicing the follicle including the bulge housing the stem cells. As we are creating a tiny wound a small scab/crust may form on the epidermis which is flat and difficult to pick. This indicates destruction has taken place. Some swelling may occur, erythema (redness) is normal some tenderness where treatment took place is acceptable also.


IS ELECTROLYSIS SUCCESSFUL FOR LARGE BODY AREAS?

Yes, it is. Areas such as legs, anywhere on the torso, bikini, under the arms, arms, and, anywhere on the face and hairline are successful. Technology and strategies for Electrolysis have evolved in line with the needs and wants of the client. Electrolysis is not just for the small facial areas and it doesn’t take years and years of treatments. Provided it is performed correctly. Laser used to be the solution for body areas though results are seldom permanent, treatments with laser or IPL sometimes lasting years resulting only in a reduction of growth. The 3 modalities of Electrolysis Thermolysis (AKA SWD, HF, or RF) Galvanic (AKA Direct current DC), and The Blend (combination of the two HF&DC) have evolved in line with the technology available from the machines to provide faster treatment, many clients find the variations in the modalities and the modern machines less painful. For large body areas, Flash (thermolysis) is preferred as the current/energy is administered in 100ths and 1/1000th of a second and used cleverly to pulse along the follicle to fully denature the cells responsible for the cycling of the hair and follicle. With these speeds or pulse durations, the sensation is more manageable. Body treatment strategies are used for large areas and require lengthy sessions spaced 3-4 months apart to allow skin recovery and time for the nonvisible hairs to emerge. These are called clearings and generally, there are 4 per area which means a section of hair is completely cleared with a time frame for the follicles under the skin's surface to grow a hair and be visible 3-4 months later. Each clearing takes half the amount of time as the first. (Explained at consultation).

HOW DO I KNOW I’M GETTING RESULTS?

There is a beginning and an end to Electrolysis treatment. We have had many clients coming to us at Parkside Beauty for years - they have started with treatment on their chin - have had success and moved on to other body areas. You will see results of permanency on body areas after the first clearing, there is less growth after the first and subsequent clearings. When it comes to the face, the areas are not often cleared in the same way, sessions vary in length and, treatment is spread out more. Facial hairs are denser and the facial skin needs to have enough supply of blood with minimal swelling for good healing. This is explained at consultation too. After around 3 months, permanent results can be apparent on the face and body and by this point, the problem will be well managed, the need or want to daily trim/shave will be less and of course no plucking! After roughly 3 months of treatment and adhering to your treatment plan, you should notice personal management has either reduced or there isn’t a need. Management is now in the hands of the practitioner – you are having the area of hair removed and leaving without any hairs with little need to manage between sessions. How long does it take? Typically permanent results will come from 12-18 months.


WILL I HAVE SCARRING?

Unlikely. Provided you have good treatment, and you do your aftercare as advised. There is temporary marking and some refer to this as scaring, which it is not. Red or dark dots post-treatment referred to as Petechiae are temporary, minor pitting after scabs have fallen off can give the illusion of scars but in fact, the epidermis is continually rejuvenating and will recover as it was before treatment. Refrain from the sun for (at the very least) 2 weeks and use a sunblock of SPF 50. No touching after treatment to prevent infection. PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation should be explained at the consultation, it is temporary though can last up to 18 months/2 years.


DOES IT HURT?

Pain is subjective though many find it bearable and ceases as soon as the session is over. The sensation itself feels like a sting, it’s manageable and although tiny, a wound is formed from the coagulation of the follicle tissue which feels hot, and comes from the agitation and heating up and or decomposing of the tissue depending on the modality chosen. Clients divert their focus with personal music, podcasts, etc… which help the sensation. Topical numbing products are often considered options for lessening the sensation and help though require pre-treatment preparation and commitment. It would be unusual to have a painless treatment when a lot is happening in that follicle to render it inactive…


HOW DO I FIND A GOOD PRACTITIONER?

Look on the BIAE (British Institute and Association of Electrolysis) website www.electrolysis.co.uk for a directory of members near you. A member of the association will give you a consultation and a test patch or short treatment. Costs will vary and some may provide the consultation free others charge. The important thing is that you are offered this consultation, don’t go to anyone who doesn’t offer this service first. The practitioner needs to know your hair-removing history, medications, and how your skin responds, even if you’ve had treatment for a while, machines vary and so do the treatments and chosen modality. For you, it’s important to feel comfortable and that the treatment is safe the sensation is manageable and you are happy with the hygiene standards and the information about the treatment and predicted treatment outcome.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LASER AND ELECTROLYSIS?

A really good question. Laser and electrolysis use heat to damage stem cells responsible for hair and follicle growth. Laser light is absorbed by melanin (pigment in our skin and hair) and transformed into heat energy which radiates from the hair into the skin. Here is why laser is best suited to those with considerably dark, deep-rooted hairs and much paler skin tones. Electrolysis is specific in the target areas for destruction, the energy/heat only affects the follicle structures and stem cells not the surrounding skin therefore any skin colour, hair colour, and any face or body part is successful with electrolysis. Provided the practitioner is skilled enough, ears, nose, brows, and genitals can be treated. Electrolysis is 100% permanent, once the follicle has been thoroughly coagulated by the currents… it can't regrow a hair. Laser is considered a reduction for hair growth and isn't an option for blonde, red hair, or those prone to pigmentation either hyper or hypo-pigmentation. Fitzpatrick type V-VI is not recommended for Laser and areas of the face and body prone to hormonal stimulation such as the torso, upper arms, face, often upper legs, and buttocks. Using a Laser on these areas may cause paradoxical hypertrichosis which is an increase in hair growth stimulating vellus (hairs without blood supply and tiny) to become accelerated and terminal.


WHY IS LASER SO POPULAR AND ELECTROLYSIS ISN’T?

Many electrolysis practitioners are sole traders or operate small businesses whilst Laser clinics have massive advertising budgets with multimillion companies selling machines and products on Google and social media platforms. The marketing and draw for the consumer is the promise and speed in the result, it sells as a quick fix. Initially, reduction and results are apparent and attractive to the consumer. Only to find a year or so later the hairs return and a lot financially has been wasted and no results. The education for laser practitioners may vary and differ from that of the electrolysis practitioner. Where electrolysis is specific in its target areas, a lot of study and knowledge is required to fully understand the follicle anatomy and the growth cycle and patterns and the varied treatment strategies for success. Both Laser and Electrolysis remove hair and both can give a permanent result, electrolysis is guaranteed to give a permanent result whereas laser may be less predictable in the outcome due to the skin/hair not being entirely suitable or not enough energy administered causing paradoxical hypertrichosis for example. I have seen good results on the lower limbs, underarms, and bikini areas from a laser. These body parts are not often prone to stimulation by laser/mechanical means as other body parts are due to hormone regulation. A bonus with laser is areas are simply removed in less time, a bikini area can be removed in a few sessions whereas with electrolysis individual hairs are removed and sessions may be 1 or more hours to clear the unwanted hairs. However, with electrolysis, these hairs seldom return and will not need re-treating – provided the practitioner is skilled.

Laser technicians (thankfully) are identifying more clients who are just not suitable for laser and are avoiding the face (for example) for treatment. For some trans-women laser may be successful if the hair is significantly darker than the skin, electrolysis can fit in and finish if or when the hairs left are sporadic and need a specific option for removal. If the area isn’t generally affected by hormones, a laser may work and my suggestion here is just the lower limbs, inner bikini, and underarms again if the hair is significantly darker than the skin. The right amount of energy must be used to be effective – for both laser and electrolysis. Larger areas in shorter time frames can be treated and this makes Laser attractive and popular too.


WHAT IS ELECTROLYSIS HAIR REMOVAL?

It is the only proven method of permanent hair removal as endorsed by the FDA and BMA. It has been around for over 100 years, electrolysis can be used to treat: black, brown, red, blonde, grey hairs and black, brown, tanned pigmented, and pale skin types. Electrolysis can treat any hairs visible on any face or body part including brows, in-grown eyelashes, large body parts, and genital areas. Electrolysis can treat curly, straight, curved hairs in Anagen, Catagen, or Telogen (these are the terms used for the growth phases of the follicle cycle). Electrolysis works. One last thing, Electrolysis is successful in the permanent removal/reduction of skin and unwanted vascular blemishes.


Sharon Reid MBIAE









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