When I attended a neighbourhood event last month and I mentioned I was a professional Electrologist, the first comment was, “Oh. You mean it’s like the laser?” The power of marketing is so prevalent that even when people hear electrolysis, they think laser hair removal! But there are some very big differences. There is so much misinformation out there that it is impossible to get a clear answer on which methods of permanent hair removal are best and why.
I’m routinely contacted by prospective new clients asking some of the most fundamentally important questions: What’s the difference between electrolysis and laser and what’s right for me?
To help get a clearer picture, understanding how the two technologies work is a good start.
Electrolysis has been around for over 130 years and is the only officially approved method by the US Federal Drug Administration for complete permanent removal; it stays a fierce competitor to laser and IPL industry. It has been proven to be safe and effective both short and long term as there is enough history and follow up research over time. It can treat any skin or hair colour and has a high kill rate as each hair is individually treated. It remains very popular because of its versatility and effectiveness.
In Canada, there is no federal or provincial definition for permanent hair removal as there is in the United States. LASER or IPL in the US has been labeled by the FDA as permanent reduction since 1999. This is important, because even though electrolysis has been proven for a long time to be completely permanent in other countries, the lack of definition for permanent hair removal federally and provincially in Canada has allowed laser businesses to claim they can do complete permanent removal and mislead many clients both in its effectiveness and its safety.
Lasers emit specific wavelengths of light that are absorbed by the pigment in the hair. Therefore, there needs to be enough hair pigment and contrast between the skin and the hair colour for the laser to be very effective at reducing the quantity of follicles. Also there needs to be enough follicle density for the laser beam to be drawn to. Please note that there are a variety of different laser and IPL's on the market. The higher end lasers (such as the ND: YAG) of which there are only a few in Ottawa area are the most effective machines. IPL's (Intense Pulsed Light) are not lasers. They use intense pulses of non-coherent light that burns the hair shaft. IPL's tend to heat up the surrounding tissue making it less effective at disabling hair and put darker skinned individuals at higher risk of burning.
Permanency with electrolysis is created because small amounts of electrical current produce heat into the single probe that targets individual follicles. An effective electrologist will have a high follicle kill rate per session so electrolysis treatments are much faster overall than laser treatments. There is a large misconception that laser treatments are faster simply because more area can be treated per session vs electrolysis. However, 6-8 laser treatments spread over 6 week intervals will still take at least a year, and if you're a good candidate, you'll have upwards of 70-90% reduction. But, if you're not an ideal candidate ( your hair is too light or the area isn’t dense enough) then you could be doing sessions for a year, only getting 40% reduction for example and wasting a lot of your money and time and on top of that you'll have been shaving the area for laser treatments. If clients are choosing to do laser, I encourage them to watch closely the reduction received session to session. Once clients get to 6 or so sessions, I suggest switching to electrolysis. This allows them the majority of whatever reduction the laser will give them, and then switch to electrolysis to finish it off completely. This saves a lot of time and money. For examples of specific cost comparisons you can visit my site here
Laser hair stimulation
This is a very critical issue and one that I’m seeing over and over again in both male and female clients especially on female faces but also on many body areas. When a laser is passed over an area in which the hair isn’t coarse, dense and dark it can stimulate finer hair to grow. The heat will pass directly into the skin because there is little pigment for the heat to be drawn to. This is why laser should NOT be done on the face, most especially with women who have hormonal challenges.
Other considerations must be made to the suitability of the technologies with regards to the work to be done on the client. Laser can cover large areas quickly but it cannot thin or feather an area which makes electrolysis much more suitable for facial work such as eyebrows or any area where you want a very natural look. Laser is a technology that, when it works, can reduce the hair growth in large areas on the body but because of how the energy is delivered, its strength is not in the fine detail work that can be achieved through electrolysis.
A consultation: An absolute must!
Going for consultations with both kinds of professionals is an important final step to evaluating what’s right for you. Ask questions and make sure you get test patches. Understanding that laser reduces hair in an area and knowing that electrolysis will create a permanent natural look are important facts to remember. Armed with proper knowledge, you can decide what the right course is for you.
About the author:
Guest Author Veronica Allenger is a Certified Professional Electrologist practicing in her private clinic Time For You Electrolysis in Ottawa Ontario