What Is Electrolysis? Dermatologists Explain the Hair Removal Method (2024)

If you're in the business of hair removal, you know that there are plenty of choices out there. There's shaving, waxing, tweezing, epilating, waxing, hair removal creams, etc. However, of all them, there's only one that will get rid of your hair for good—no matter your skin tone, skin condition, or cause of hair growth. Enter: Electrolysis hair removal. For those thinking it may be too good to be true, know that electrolysis is actually the only FDA-approved method for permanent hair removal. That's right, even the government signs off on it.

"Electrolysis is a technique for permanent hair removal that employs electrical currents to disable the hair follicle's capacity to generate new hair," explains Michelle Henry, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

The method sounds like a dream, so we tapped three electrolysis experts to break down everything there is to know about permanent hair removal. From how it works and how many sessions you need to what it feels like and how it compares to laser hair removal, read on below for their insight.

Meet the Expert

  • Michelle Henry, MD, is a Manhattan-based board-certified dermatologist at Skin Aesthetic Surgery.
  • Randa Thurman, LE, CPE, is the owner of Pacific Coast Electrology & Skin Care in Monterey, CA. She is a member of the northern chapter of Electrologists Association of California.
  • Dendy Engelman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Shafer Clinic in New York City.

How Electrolysis Works:

Essentially, electrolysis works by disrupting all hair growth, says Thurman: "This procedure damages your hair follicles to prevent growth and causes existing hairs to fall out."

There are three types of electrolysis: galvanic (which chemically dissolves the follicle), thermolysis (which uses localized heat), and blend (which utilizes both methods). "A thin wire is inserted under the surface of the skin that creates electrical currents, pulverizing hair follicles at the root and preventing further hair growth," furthers Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Manhattan.

Electrolysis yields permanent results, but it's important to note that it takes time. Hair grows in different stages: growing, resting and shedding. Because all of the hair isn't on the same stage at any given time, multiple sessions will be required.

Electrolysis vs. Laser Hair Removal

While both hair removal methods promise long-term hair reduction, they're very different. In the simplest terms, Engelman says that electrolysismay be more effective for those with little contrast between their skin and hair color (such as a deep skin tone with brown hair), as laser hair removal requires high color contrast to be effective. Furthermore, Henry says electrolysis targets individual follicles, making it effective for smaller regions and finer hair types. Plus, it's particularly suited for delicate areas or individuals with lighter hair. On the flip side, she says laser hair removal is better suited for larger areas as it employs concentrated light to target hair pigment. "It's primarily effective on [people with] darker hair and lighter skin," she adds.

How Long Does an Electrolysis Session Last?

Depending on the size of the treatment area and the hair density, Engelman says sessions can last anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour. However, Henry says there are general approximations you can take into account. See below for her estimates:

Small Area: "For instance, the upper lip or chin, the session might last approximately 15 to 30 minutes."

Medium Area: "Such as the bikini line or underarms, could take around 30 to 60 minutes."

Large Area: "Treating larger regions like the legs or back may require one to two hours."

Does Electrolysis Hurt?

Everyone has their own tolerance to pain. Electrolysis has been likened to a stinging and pricking sensation, and each follicle has to go through it. "You'll probably feel a momentary heat sensation or pinch," says Thurman. "Discomfort is minimal for most people, but individual tolerances vary greatly. Keep in mind that some areas of the body are much less sensitive than others. Many people read, listen to music, or even take a nap while being treated." If you have have low pain tolerance or want to alleviate discomfort as much as possible, Henry says you can request a numbing cream.

The Pros:

  1. It has the best track record. Electrolysis yields the best overall results compared to any other method when it comes to gettingrid of hair permanently.
  2. Many different hair types can benefit."In addition to producing more permanent results, electrolysis is exceptionally versatile," says Thurman. "It can help inhibit new hair growth for all skin and hair types and may be used anywhere on the body, including the eyebrows." People who aren't good candidates for laser may still get electrolysis.
  3. It's safe for all skin types: Henry confirms that electrolysis can be used on all skin tones, unlike some other hair removal methods: "Unlike laser hair removal, which may exhibit reduced effectiveness on lighter hair or darker skin,electrolysiscan be applied to hair of any color and skin tone."

The Cons

  1. Bent follicles can make electrolysis hair removal harder. Previous waxing or tweezing might make hair follicles bent or misshapen, which could make getting the needle to the root more difficult.
  2. Multiple treatments are needed. You have to truly be committed to electrolysis because Engelman says you will need to undergo anywhere from eight-12 sessions depending on the size of the area and hair density. And while laser hair removal also requires several sessions, she says that electrolysis needs more.

Electrolysis Hair Removal Costs:

"Electrolysis costs depend on a lot of factors, including how much hair needs to be removed, the size of the area being treated, and where you get your services performed," notes Thurman. "Generally, a large city is going to have higher rates than a small town. Overall, electrolysis cost compares very favorably to other hair removal methods, including laser." She says that on average, the cost per one-hour session of electrolysis typically ranges between $50 and $125 per hour.

FAQ

  • Can you shave during electrolysis?

    One study demonstrated that shaving one to five days before an electrolysis appointment greatly increased the efficacy of the treatment. Of course, it's best to check with your provider before picking up a razor.

  • How long after electrolysis can I shower?

    To try to help prevent irritation, refrain from washing the treated area for at least 24 hours after electrolysis.

  • Which is better, waxing or electrolysis?

    There's no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to hair removal. The key difference between waxing and electrolysis is how often you need treatments: While your hair will be permanently gone after a number of electrolysis sessions, you'll need to get waxes every three to six weeks since the hair will grow back.

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What Is Electrolysis? Dermatologists Explain the Hair Removal Method (2024)
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