Electrolysis hair removal

Electrolysis sounds a little bit like something that would have brought the Frankenstein monster to life. No panic, electrolysis is just a hair removal technique that involves inserting a fine probe into a hair follicle and subsequently destroying the hair follicle with an electrical current. While this probe goes into the follicle of the skin, it does not feel like an injection, because the skin barrier is not punctured, as the follicle is a natural opening of the skin.

Advantages

  • For all hair and skin types—Electrolysis can be used for all hair types and skin colours.
  • All body hair—Electrolysis can be used on any area of the body.
  • Permanent—Electrolysis is the only proven method of permanent hair removal. Electrolysis has by far the best and longest track record of results.
  • Safe—Electrolysis boasts over 125 years of clinically proven safety and effectiveness.

Disadvantages

  • Expensive—Electrolysis can be expensive.
  • Painful—Can be uncomfortable (painful). Our clinic offers a pain free method with a PCA (patient controlled analgesia) pump.
  • Time-consuming— Electrolysis removes the hair one by one. As not all of the hair is on the same stage at any given time, some hairs have to be removed more than once.

How does electrolysis work?

Electrolysis involves inserting a hair-thin probe into a hair follicle, and applying an electrical current. This current damages the living cells and blood supply at the root of the hair, thus destroying it. There are three types of electrolysis: Galvanic, Thermolysis, and Blend.

Galvanic Electrolysis

The galvanic method was the first method developed for removing superfluous hair. This method removes hair through chemical decomposition. Galvanic refers to galvanic cells (a battery). As does a battery, the galvanic method uses direct current (DC). It is long been understood that the application of direct electrical current to a solution of salt water (which our body is composed of) produces a reaction that causes the salt and the water to break into their constituent parts. This process is called electrolysis. These parts quickly rearrange themselves to form an entirely new substance. The new substances that are formed are sodium hydroxide or lye (NaOH), hydrogen gas (H2), and chlorine gas (Cl2). It is the sodium hydroxide (NaOH), or lye, which is the source of follicle destruction in the galvanic method. The galvanic method is basically a chemical process. The lye causes a chemical decomposition of the hair-growing cells. Two electrodes are required for this process to take place. One electrode is actually the electrology needle, the other electrode touches the patient’s body or treatment chair in some location. This process is very slow and requires about two minutes to generate enough lye to spread through the follicle of a course, deeply rooted hair. Galvanic epilation is rarely used in isolation nowadays as fewer hairs can be treated per treatment.

Thermolysis Electrolysis

The thermolysis method is no true electrolysis since no chemical action of electrolysis is involved. Thermolysis also is often referred to as electrolysis. In this everyday usage, electrolysis refers to all types of permanent hair removal. Thermolysis destroys the hair follicle by heat or electrocoagulation. With thermolysis treatment, high frequency radio energy is emitted from the tip of the electrolysis needle. The high frequency energy agitates the molecules making up the hair growing cells. This agitation causes the cells to heat, ideally to the point of permanent tissue destruction. This destruction is referred to as electrocoagulation. A microwave oven is another example of radio waves heating organic tissue. The thermolysis method does not require the use of the second patient electrode. Thermolysis is ideally suited for thin, shallowly rooted hairs. It is a straightforward approach, and requires a minimum of operator training. However, its usefulness greatly degrades with the larger, course and deeply rooted hairs that generally comprise the typical male beard. We find the incidence of treatment complications to be somewhat higher with thermolysis as compared to the multiple needle galvanic approach or the blend (described next). Additionally, treatment complications greatly increase with the use of flash (high intensity, short duration) thermolysis. We feel the adverse result of pitted scarring to be greatest with flash thermolysis.

Blend electrolysis

The blend method, also called dual action method, is the combination and simultaneous use of galvanic and thermolysis techniques. This combination method alleviates the shortcomings of each of the individual techniques, while bolstering their advantages. By doing so, blend electrolysis incorporates the high kill rate associated with the galvanic method along with the swiftness found in thermolysis. Basically, most of the blend’s capacity for destroying the hair growing cells is accomplished by way of chemical decomposition. That destruction, as indicated previously, is through galvanically produced lye. But unlike galvanic on its own, this combination current reduces the normal two-minute duration down to about ten seconds. And just as important, the high kill rate is still maintained. The high frequency current that is used to produce a cooking action with thermolysis, is instead used with the blend mainly as an accelerant. The blend method of electrolysis is able to more successfully treat curved and distorted follicles along with near-miss insertions due to its spreading action.

This is attributed to:

Increased Causticity—Heated lye is considerably more caustic.

Agitation—Rather than working its way through the tissue by diffusion, the lye surrounding the needle is spread by agitation. This turbulence sends the hot lye solution into every area in the hair follicle and around the hair shaft. This spreading action is also very important when one considers the need for properly destroying the undifferentiated cells found slightly higher up in the follicle, called stem cells, that are responsible for new hair growth. Additionally, the blend is able to more successfully treat curved and distorted follicles along with near-miss insertions due to its spreading action.

Despite all of its technical advantages, blend electrolysis does have some circumstantial disadvantages. Typically, galvanic action tends to be somewhat more painful than thermolysis. Proper pain management, while certainly feasible, does prove to be more of an issue. Also, administering effective blend electrolysis is a more complicated and involved process, requiring more training and expertise along with more sophisticated equipment. In our clinic we use a state-of-the-art computerised blend epilator.

What can electrolysis do for you?

Permanent hair removal—It is the only proven method of permanent hair removal. It has the best track record. Electrolysis has the best overall results, versus any other method, in ridding hair for long periods of time- or even permanently. The FDA (American food and drug administration) recognises electrolysis as the only hair removal method providing permanent results. Only electrologists are allowed to claim permanent hair removal with their electrolysis epilators. No other hair removal devices, including lasers, have been able to achieve this definition.

Who is a good candidate for electrolysis?

  • Basically: Everybody with unwanted hair no matter where:
    • All skin types–The treatment can be performed on all skin types. Even tanned, Indian and dark African-American skins can receive the treatment.
    • Both genders–Both males and females. The treatment can even remove the fine vellus body hair of women. Normally the body hair of men is thicker, denser and darker.
    • All hair types–Coarse, fine, shallow, deep, ingrown, etc. No problem with grey, red or blond hair. That is because the treatment does not target hair pigment (colour) as laser treatments do, but attacks the follicle itself. People who are no good candidates for laser can still get electrolysis. If you have hair with little (grey, blond, red) or no (white) pigment, do not waste your time on laser and go immediately for electrolysis.
    • All body areas–Electrolysis works on all parts of the body: hairline, neckline, eyebrows, upper lip, sideburns, beard, chin, neck, ears, nose, breast, stomach, bikini line, pubic area, legs, arms, hands, fingers, back, shoulders, underarms and toes.
  • It is especially effective and most used for:
    • Unwanted facial hair
    • Beard—Especially for transgenders shifting from male to female
    • Eyebrows—Electrolysis is very effective for small areas that need detailed work like eyebrows. You can get rid of your unibrow or permanently shape your brows and never give it a second thought again.
    • Ingrown hairs
    • Pubic hair—It is very successful on normal pubic hair as well as ingrown pubic hair or razor bumps in the pubic area.

Who is not a good candidate for electrolysis?

  • Patients with an active infectious skin disease

How to prepare for electrolysis?

  • Initial consultation—The initial consultation will involve the therapist assessing the skin condition and the hair growth. The treatment plan will be identified and adopted to the client’s individual needs. The more hair you have present on the day of the treatment, the better we can visually estimate how long the treatment will take to achieve permanency, as well as an estimated cost.
  • No epilation for three months—You should stop all other forms of epilation, i.e. waxing, plucking, other electrolysis, or laser for at least three months prior to your first treatment.
  • Stop shaving three to four before electrolysis—Shaving is the only form of epilation you can keep on prior to this treatment but not during the last three to four days. The hairs must be long enough for the electrologist to grasp with a tweezer-like instrument.
  • Comfy clothes—Please dress comfortably, as you will be lying in a chair for a couple of hours, and perhaps several days.

How is electrolysis performed

The epilator is the electronic device that emits the treatment energy used in the destruction of the hair follicle. We use a computerized, auto-sensing blend epilator. Along with the epilator, the electrologist uses a probed instrument, called the needle holder, which holds a small needle in its tip. The needle holder is connected to the epilator via a thin electrical cable. A second electrical cable, the patient electrode, is in the hand of the patient in order to complete the electrical circuit.

  • You will be laying down in a comfortable treatment chair.
  • Insertion of IV-line—If you make use of the pain pump as we would suggest, see description below, an IV line is prepared.
  • The following sequence is repeated for every hair:
    • Probe insertion in the hair follicle—A hair-thin metal sterilized disposable probe is slid into a hair follicle. This is a natural opening of the skin, so proper insertion does not puncture the skin, and does not cause any pain. Care is given to insert the probe at the same angle as the hair is growing out of the skin. The probe is inserted to the depth of the root, which is the site of hair formation.
    • Electrolysing of the hair—Electricity is delivered to the follicle through the probe for about 8-12 seconds for large follicles, which causes localised damage to the areas that generate hairs. These 8-12 seconds may cause discomfort or even pain. The power and duration of the electricity are started at the lowest setting, then gradually increased until the hair comes out as easily as possible. If the patient experiences significant discomfort, the settings can be lowered or a PCA-pump can be used. For long-lasting sessions, we strongly recommend the use of the PCA-pump.
    • Removal of the hair—Once the hair detaches from its root, tweezers can be used to slide the hair easily and painlessly out of the skin.

Electrolysis and pain pump at o2 Clinic

Electrolysis can be a quite painful procedure. Everyone has their own tolerance to pain. Descriptions of the discomfort vary from “no worse than a mosquito bite,” to “like having a rubber band snapped against my bare skin powerfully.”  Electrolysis can give a stinging and pricking sensation, and each hair has to go through it. The degree of also relative to the area of treatment. Certain spots, such as the upper lip, are known to be more sensitive than spots like the brows.

In our clinic, we work with a patient controlled pain pump (PCA, patient controlled analgesia) which reduces the pain to zero. We are unique in the world to offer this pump for electrolysis. The computerised pump called the patient-controlled analgesia pump contains a strong pain killer that is also used in general anaesthesia (remifentanil) and is connected directly to the patient with an intravenous (IV) catheter line. To insert a venous catheter, a needle is inserted into a vein, most often near the wrist. A thin plastic tube called a catheter is then pushed over the needle. The needle is removed, and the tube remains.

The pump is set to deliver a small, constant flow of pain medication. Additional doses of medication can be self-administered as needed by having the patient press a button. PCA pumps have built-in safety features. The total amount of pain medication that the patient can self-administer is within a safe limit. The patient will be monitored using a pulse oximeter that indirectly measures the oxygen saturation of the patient’s blood. In case the patient does not breathe deep enough, a simple encouragement by the electrologist to concentrate on breathing will be enough to make the patient breathe well again. Therefore, this method of pain management is known to be very safe and is widely used e.g. during delivery. Compared to standard electrolysis, as client comfort is greatly enhanced this leads to faster electrolysis as there are fewer recovery pauses needed. Total treatment time is therefore shorter, thus maximising effectiveness.

What is the average treatment plan of the procedure?

Although electrolysis is classified as a permanent removal of hair, the result is achieved over a period of time. The hair cycle of growth involves three stages: Growth, Transitional (breaking down) and Resting. The active Growth stage is the ideal stage to be destroyed. Whilst the hair is in the Transitional or Resting phase, electrolysis is not so successful.

  • Different cycle durations for different areas of the body—The active growth phase continues for a time lasting for as little as several weeks (like the moustache area) or lasting as long as several years (like the scalp area).
  • Factors influencing hair cycle—The life cycle is also influenced by gender, hormonal and other factors.
  • Same area has hairs in different cycles—Follicles in the same area are in different stages of the life cycle at any given time. You cannot see from the outside in which stage of the cycle a hair is.
  • The number of follicles you have is fixed—No new hair follicles are produced after birth.

The therapist cannot change the cycle of growth. As a result, a number of removals will automatically have to be repeated. You can compare the behaviour of the hairs treated in the wrong stages with that of those trick birthday candles, the ones that act like they have gone out but then light up again. Regular treatments are needed to electrolyse all the hair in the growth phase for permanent hair removal. As the treatment progresses and hair growth decreases, sessions become less and less frequent and shorter in duration. The number and length of these treatments will vary from patient to patient.

Factors affecting time to complete the treatment

The hours of treatment time and number of treatments required will vary from person to person. Some contributing factors are:

  • Patient’s compliance—It is important that treatment is performed upon any detection of regrowth. Regrowth is finer and more vulnerable to treatment. If left untreated, the hair will rebuild itself back to its original depth and diameter. Consistency in maintaining a prescribed course of treatment will significantly influence the progress.
  • Skin type and sensitivity—Skin sensitivity must also be considered. Sometimes thicker hair is destroyed in stages ensuring the skin does not suffer any unnecessary trauma.
  • Density of the hair— The amount of hair with which you start the treatment, e.g. sparse vs dense growth, will directly affect the length of the treatment time.
  • Coarseness the hair—Some people have thicker hairs than others. Thicker hairs take averagely more time to remove.
  • Patient tolerance—The more comfortable the patient feels, the faster the procedure can progress.
  • Previous removal methods— All hair removal methods may lead to distorted follicles. Success rates with virgin hair are very high. Bent follicles can make electrolysis hair removal harder. Previous waxing or tweezing can make hair follicles bent or misshapen, making it more difficult to get the needle to the root and destroy the follicle.
  • Hormone status—Any hormone imbalance resulting in abnormal hair growth must first be treated by a physician. An example of this is female hirsutism. The gender of the patient also has an influence on the hormonal status.
  • The site that is being treated

What to expect and do during the recovery period after electrolysis?

The day of the electrolysis

  • Redness—Following treatment, there may be a slight redness and inflammation. This will vary from person to person and is temporary. It disappears after a short time.
  • Pinpoint lesions—Sometimes, due to sensitivity of the skin, or the duration of the treatment, a patient may experience tiny red pinpoint lesions after the treatment. This is a normal healing process. Do not touch the crusts as this may cause infection and subsequent scarring.
  • Swelling—Since the face swells the most and the upper lip even more, please be prepared to spend the first evening applying a cold pack to the face for 15 minutes followed by a 10-minute break throughout the evening. During the night, you can put an extra pillow under your head.

The first week after electrolysis

  • It is important to apply an aftercare lotion.
  • We recommend that you do not apply any make-up, sun block, astringents, other creams, alcohol, harsh soaps or cleansers or deep scrubs for at least three days.
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure for several days and refrain from scratching or irritating the treated area. This may all cause infection of the follicle.
  • Swelling—The first clearings will cause the most swelling. If you take care as we ask, you can expect the swelling to last about three to four days after the first clearing, and even less after the others. Some people experience more swelling than others.

What are the risks of electrolysis?

Electrolysis boasts over 125 years of clinically proven safety and effectiveness. The following complications have been reported in literature. These complications have probably occurred because the electrolysis was performed improperly.

  • Skin discoloration
  • Lasting skin damage
  • Spread of infection

How long can I expect the results of electrolysis to last?

Forever. Once the follicle has been destroyed completely, the hair will never return.

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