Permanent hair removal vs. reduction
Elecrolysis is the only method approved by FDA and the British Medical Council as PERMANENT HAIR REMOVAL. Fact! For comparison, Photoepilation (laser and IPL treatments) is only granted PERMANENT HAIR REDUCTION.
Most clients and even colleagues get confused by these terms, so I will try to put it in Layman’s terms. Both therapies deliver permanent results. The difference is in the number of hairs that will be removed permanently. Photoepilation relies on the pigment amount and density in the hair root to transform light energy into heat, which then radiates into the follicle walls coagulating them and thus preventing further hair growth. The problem is that hair pigment amount and density vary from person to person and from area to area. This means that some hairs will make enough heat and achieve the desired effect. Others will be too light coloured, thin or glossy to raise their temperature sufficiently, no matter how high the settings go. So, there will be a permanent reduction of the hairs in the treated area, but the degree of reduction will vary from person to person and from area to area.
On the other hand, in the electrolysis method the practitioner delivers the heat where it is needed, not leaving anything to chance. A pre-sterilised, disposable, fine metal probe is skilfully inserted in the hair follicle at the right depth. An electrical pulse is released, which causes heat to raise in the tissue immediately surrounding the tip of the probe, coagulating the follicle wall. This is how electrolysis can kill every single visible hair, therefore it is granted permanent hair removal status. You can find more detailed comparison of both treatments in my blog article here.
Why a course of treatments?
Another confusing thing is that, even though electrolysis is permanent hair removal, it is not a one-off treatment. A course of treatments is required to achieve it. This happens because our clever bodies split all active hair follicles in shifts or cycles which take turns. At any one time, we only see a percentage of the active follicles represented by hair above the skin surface. This percentage will vary from area to area and will also depend on the hair removal history of the area. This is why at your consultation I will ask you in detail what have you used as hair management in the past.
Some medical conditions and medications can have a strong impact on hair growth. PCOS, Addison’s Disease and the menopause are well-known for stimulating male-pattern hair growth in women. It is important for me to understand at what stage of the condition are you and if it is controlled by medication. I want to make it clear that these conditions do not make electrolysis less effective. They merely change the time scale at which we will pass corner stones in the treatment progress.
Common examples of prescription drugs causing hair growth are steroids, Tamoxifen (breast cancer treatment and prevention), Minoxidil.
Based on this knowledge, I can create your treatment plan and set realistic expectations of how the treatment is likely to progress.
Like every other job that needs to be done, we need to have a strategy of how we are going to achieve permanent hair removal in the target area. The strategy depends on a number of factors, but the most important one is whether the unwanted hair is on the face or on the body. Clients are usually reluctant to grow facial hair for long periods of time, so the only strategy we can follow in this case is frequent clearances. These can start as weekly, fortnightly or monthly appointments, depending on how quickly the hair grows. They tend to reduce in frequency as we reach the 6th month mark.
Clients with very dense facial hair will follow slightly different path in order to protect their skin from damage. We will initially be working towards achieving a clearance over several sessions and then keeping on top of any emerging hairs.
Body areas are much easier to work on as the hairs per square inch are less compared to the face. The quickest strategy is the three clearances strategy every 4 months after initial period of growing the hair for 4-6 months.
These strategies can be modified if we face budget or tolerance limitations. I’d rather do whatever we can within the limitations, than have clients not starting permanent hair removal because they cannot afford to stick to the best strategy.
Methods of electrolysis
There are two main methods of electrolysis, one combination of the two methods and numerous techniques within each one. I do not believe there is only one best method for treatment. Over the years I have seen excellent results delivered by different methods. Every practitioner has preference to a method or a technique and they can master it, so that they can achieve permanent hair removal for every client.
My preferred method is Thermolysis which uses high-frequency current to create heat in the follicle and disable it. When I was working with a Sterex epilator, I could only do “slow thermolysis”, which builds the heat over 1 sec. Now with my Elite Spectrum epilator I have the luxury of computerised super-quick pulse lasting 0.1 sec. This technique is called Flash Thermolysis, because it is fast like a flash.
To do the job in such a short time an epilator also needs to be very powerful and reliable. This was a problem for manufacturers until just a few decades ago and for that reason the other method of electrolysis, galvanic electrolysis, was more popular. It relies on a chemical that forms in the follicle from the salt and water found naturlly in living tissue when direct electric current is applied. This chemical decomposes the follicle walls. The downside of this super-effective treatment is speed as it takes 4 or more minutes of treatment per hair for sufficient amount of the chemical to be produced.
Luckily, in 1938 an electrologist and an engineer combined the two methods and documented the Blend method. This method uses both, high-frequency and direct currents and works faster than the galvanic electrolysis, because the heat created with thermolysis speeds up the formation and action of the chemical in the hair follicle. Still, treatment by blend can take a few seconds per hair. I only use this method if I am unable to achieve smooth release of the hairs with flash thermolysis. This can happen in cases with distorted due to plucking or naturally curly hairs.
I come across many discussions in our professional forums about which method is more effective. I am of the opinion that nowadays, armed with powerful, reliable and computerised epilators, electrologists achieve permanent hair removal with either method. It is our skill to insert correctly and recognise the skin’s feedback that matters more for the end result than the method that we use. I was effectively killing hair with my Sterex machine for 10 years and I was just as effectively killing hairs with an unbranded Thermolysis only machine at a salon where I worked for a few years. My clients’ progress was following approximately the same time line no matter what machine or method I used. The most difference was seen in client’s comfort, healing and session length.
You can read more on electrolysis and how it works in my blog articles.
Here is a nice video animation of electrolysis treatment courtesy of Dectro International, Canada.