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Electrolysis has become a widely available treatment in many beauty salons for the permanent removal of unwanted hair for both men and women. Electrolysis is the removal of unwanted hair through the means of a probe or needle inserted into the hair follicle. There are three different methods available on the market, Galvanic electrolysis, Thermolysis/Diathermy/Short Wave Electrolysis and Blend Electrolysis. The aim of all the methods is to damage the base of the growing hair in order to cut off the blood supply and nutrition to the hair, preventing any new growth from developing. The technique when performed correctly is highly selective and no damage should occur to surrounding tissues. Private costs vary and are usually based between £1 - £2 per minute of treatment so range from around £60 - £120 per hour. It is impossible to give a estimate on clearance of an area as hair growth depends on hormonal and other factors but for complete permanent removal each hair has to be treated a number of times whilst it in the growing stage.
The first recorded use of electricity for epilation or hair removal was by the American eye specialist Charles E. Michel in 1875 when he used an electric current to treat a condition called trichiasis. This occurs when the eyelash grows in an abnormal way and begins to irritate the eyeball. In such cases, the root of the hair follicle is destroyed and the eyelash then ceases to grow, or at least grows at a much slower rate than previously. This is now known as the galvanic treatment method.
The use of electrolysis for hair removal continued through the early part of the 20th century. Its commercial popularity as a cosmetic treatment was briefly challenged by x-ray hair removal, which was advertised as both “painless” and “harmless”; (the latter claim was subsequently disproved).
More developments in the field of electrolysis followed, including the use of many needles and a different form of electricity treatment which uses heat damage to destroy the hair follicle. This method is called diathermy, thermolysis, or short wave.
Improvements in the equipment and techniques for performing electrolysis have come about in recent years. Now, diathermy and the galvanic method are combined to give the best possible results.
Electrolysis has become a widely available treatment in many beauty salons for the permanent removal of unwanted hair for both men and women.
Electrolysis, in experienced hands, can also be used to improve the appearance of thread veins.
Although there have been significant improvements in the equipment used, electrolysis remains highly dependent on the skill of the practitioner.
Currently, needle-type electrolysis is the only method which can guarantee permanent hair removal and can be used on all areas of the body and for all skin types.
Lasers and other light sources, although widely advertised as a method for hair removal, are still only legally permitted to claim a permanent reduction in hair growth, not permanent removal.
If you are considering electrolysis, the following information will give you a basic understanding of the procedure. It can't answer all your questions, since a lot depends on the individual and the practitioner. Please ask a practitioner about anything you don't understand.
How Does It Work?
Electrolysis is the removal of unwanted hair through the means of a probe or needle inserted into the hair follicle. There are three different methods available on the market, all of which are described below.
The aim of all the methods is to damage the base of the growing hair in order to cut off the blood supply and nutrition to the hair, preventing any new growth from developing. The technique is selective and minimal damage should occur to surrounding tissues.
The galvanic method works by using a Direct Current (DC) of electricity. When the needle is inserted, the electricity coming down the needle causes the salt and water in the skin around the probe to be chemically altered. Salt, water and electricity combine to produce a small amount of sodium hydroxide. If enough is produced, this solution can damage the cells that cause hair growth.
Thermolysis/Diathermy/Short Wave Electrolysis
The thermolysis method, also known as diathermy or short wave, works by using an Alternating Current (AC) of electricity. This electricity causes the water molecules in the skin around the needle to vibrate, which creates heat. If enough heat is produced, it can damage the cells that cause hair growth.
The Blend Method combines both the Short Wave and Galvanic procedures. Sodium hydroxide is created and is then heated by the electricity. This heat, plus the chemical solution, then destroys the hair tissue.
Properly used, all the methods described above are capable of the same result.
In your first appointment with a practitioner, you should clearly explain your expectations of the hair removal treatment. Your practitioner should then tell you whether this is the right treatment for you and whether it can achieve the results you’d like.
Make sure that you obtain as much information as necessary to enable you to make a fully informed decision about this procedure. You should also find out about other hair removal options before you decide to go ahead with any treatment.
The practitioner should also ask for your medical history to make sure that there are no reasons why you shouldn’t undergo electrolysis treatment. At this point, you would also normally be asked to sign a consent form which means that you have understood the future benefits and possible risks associated with the procedure.
Photographs of the area to be treated may also be taken by the practitioner for a “before and after” comparison later.
An anaesthetic cream is usually first applied to the area to be treated to help reduce pain. The electrologist then inserts a wire/filament called a probe and sometimes referred to as a needle into the hair follicle. The patient will not feel the probe going in and there is no pain associated with this. Once the probe is in the hair follicle, the electrologist delivers the electric current to destroy the cells around the hair follicle. This is the part that can be painful for a few seconds.
Treatment sessions can last from 30 minutes to over 2 hours depending upon the area treated, and your tolerance to the discomfort of the treatment.
All hairs have differing cycles of growth and are not all visible on the surface of the skin at the same time. Also, hair removed using electrolysis may not necessarily destroy the hair follicles’ capability of producing new hair. Therefore, it is necessary to have some repeat treatments and your practitioner will calculate how often you need them based on the area treated, the technique he or she has used, and how hairy you normally are!
The amount of treatment time that may be required for different areas is extremely variable, but could be:
upper Lip: 4 – 10 hours;
chin: 2 - 12 hours;
underarms: 4 - 12 hours;
arms: 5 - 10 hours;
bikini line: 8 - 16 hours.
No recovery time is necessary. You can return to work and normal activities immediately after a treatment.
Side Effects and Risks
Electrolysis is generally considered the most painful method of hair removal available, but the advantage of it is that it is the most effective and long-lasting treatment you can have.
Patients variously describe the sensation of electrolysis as being like a "bee-sting”, a "twinge" or a "zap". Most people find along the lip line and under the nostrils to be especially sensitive. With electrolysis, you must work as close to your pain threshold as possible for the most effective treatment. If your settings are too low, treatment will be ineffective. This means that you’ll have to have more sessions and thus more pain! The best advice is to grit your teeth and just let the practitioner get on with it. It will hurt, but the pain won’t last for too long!
Some patients find the Blend treatment unbearable; others can't stand thermolysis. Experiment and see what you prefer. Some electrologists are just better than others. However, don't pick someone whose session hurts less just because they turned down the machine. The only thing you're hurting then are your chances for getting treated effectively in the least number of sessions and at the lowest cost.
Immediately following treatment, there may be a slight redness and/or swelling which usually disappears within a few hours. Occasionally, small whiteheads or tiny scabs may occur.
It is important to remember that scabs are a part of the normal healing process in some people. If scabbing does occur, the patient is advised to not pick them off, otherwise they run the risk of scarring the area.
It is very important that you follow the advice of your practitioner carefully after electrolysis for hair removal to reduce the risk of complications.
Post-treatment advice may include:
As long as you are generally healthy and don’t have any skin diseases or infections in the area treated, there are few medical reasons why patients should not undergo this treatment.
Although there is no evidence that this treatment is harmful for pregnant women, you may be advised to wait until after you have given birth before embarking upon a course of treatment.
Who Can Do It
All members of the medical profession, and suitably trained beauty therapists, can perform this procedure.
It is highly unlikely that anyone considering electrolysis would be able to access this free of charge on the National Health Service.
However, depending upon your situation, it may be worth visiting your General Practitioner before embarking upon a course of hair removal to exclude any medical reasons for excessive hair growth.
Private costs vary and are usually based between £1 - £2 per minute of treatment so range from around £60 - £120 per hour. It is impossible to give a estimate on clearance of an area as hair growth depends on hormonal and other factors but for complete permanent removal each hair has to be treated a number of times whilst it in the growing stage.
Electrolysis is a useful technique for treating small areas quickly and efficiently, giving good and usually permanent results. Both men and women can use it.
These results are best for fine hair that has not previously been plucked or waxed. Deep, coarse hairs cannot always be removed with one treatment; thus, breaking down these hair germ cells may require further treatments. This can be a particular concern for some male patients.
For larger areas, such as legs or back, the pain associated with this treatment and the time taken makes it a less suitable treatment option than for smaller parts of the body.
Electrolysis is also sometimes used by experienced electrologists for the treatment of thread veins and skin tags.
Before and After Pictures
Please note that results of non-surgical treatments vary enormously, depending upon both the patient and the skill of the individual practitioner.
We currently have no before and after images available for the use of electrolysis.