What is electrolysis and how is it different from other methods?
Electrolysis is the only treatment that is FDA approved for the permanent removal of unwanted hair and the only method that can permanently treat every hair, regardless of the color of your hair and skin. It works by inserting a probe into the follicle of a hair, and treating it to destroy the papilla, which supplies the hair with the nourishment it needs to grow. Once the papilla has been destroyed, hair can never grow in that follicle again.
True medical laser works by targeting the melanin, or pigment, inside the hair, generating an intense light that penetrates the skin which is absorbed by the pigment in the hair, causing heat that treats the papilla. Laser is fast and under ideal conditions, can be efficient for permanent reduction of hair. It is FDA approved for the permanent reduction of hair, rather than permanent removal like electrolysis, because laser simply cannot treat all hair. If the settings of the laser are improperly tuned, results can range from completely failing to treat the hair to causing severe burns.
IPL, or Intense Pulsed Light, is a similar to laser, but again, it can only be marketed for reduction of hair instead of permanent removal.
Does electrolysis hurt and is it safe?
Electrolysis for the purpose of permanent hair removal has been conducted since 1875 when Dr. Charles Michel invented it to treat a patient with ingrown eyelashes. Since then, the industry and our equipment has undergone several revolutionary changes, allowing us to use new faster methods.
Under professional conditions, electrolysis is generally very safe with only minor temporary effects after treatment, such as some redness and swelling that should abate after a couple of hours.
Although the pain of electrolysis is subjective, generally speaking, the process will hurt less than tweezing, threading or waxing. It will hurt significantly less than laser. Most of the pain is caused by a disruption to the moisture in the skin and, in thermolysis, is generally over in an instant. Usually, you won’t feel much pain when removing the treated hair afterward.
Due to increased skin moisture content, younger clients tend to be more susceptible to the pain caused by the heat generated during the process of electrolysis. To reduce the pain for our more sensitive clients, we carry a line of insulated probes that reduce the amount of heat transferred to the skin. Regardless of moisture content, some areas where the epidermis, the outer layer of skin where hair grows, is significantly thinner, such as the upper lip and eyebrows, which can lead to more pain. We usually treat these areas for a shorter period of time and on a lower setting for your comfort. We also have several non-prescription topical solutions available.
If pain is a significant problem, we recommend that you see your doctor to obtain an EMLA prescription. Some people that are extremely sensitive to work on the upper lip choose to go to the dentist for novocaine immediately prior to treatment. We cannot provide analgesics, though you may find them helpful. Be sure to administer pain treatments adequate time to work prior to your appointment.
If you are concerned about how your skin will react to treatment or whether the pain is tolerable, we can do a trial in a discrete place during your free complimentary consultation.
Are there areas you can’t treat? What if I have medical conditions? Am I too young or old?
For your safety, the only areas we cannot treat are the hairs inside the nose and the ear canal.
We also do not treat any raised skin defects, like warts, hair in moles or possible melanomas. For these skin conditions, we highly recommend you see a dermatologist.
Generally speaking, electrolysis is safe for most medical conditions. However, if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, hemophilia, any artificial joints or implants like a pacemaker, are on Accutane, or are pregnant, be sure to let us know. Usually, we can treat you regardless of these conditions, but we may have to take special precautions and/or may require a note from your doctor declaring that it is safe to treat you. If you have an infectious disease like HIV or Hepatitus we will treat you, and we always take precautions with every client to protect our clinicians and clients, but we ask that you alert us out of courtesy – it will remain confidential. As we do not use hollow needles, but rather, solid probes, electrolysis has never been indicated to transfer HIV in the event of accidental exposure.
Generally, we start treating clients as young as 15-16 for facial hair and 13-14 for body hair (we are happy to accommodate guardians, regardless of age, whether a minor or an adult). Although we can treat clients younger than that, in terms of being able to reasonably tolerate that treatment and remain relaxed, we have found these are the most appropriate ages to begin. There is NO upper limit on age.
Is it expensive and how long is a typical appointment?
Although electrolysis can seem expensive, it will result in the permanent removal of the treated hair. For example, over a period of several visits, we can permanently remove your excess eyebrow hair giving you the shape you desire. Compare that to the cost of a lifetime of paying for waxing or hour many hours you will waste tweezing. Imagine simply never having to worry about your unwanted hair again. In the long run, in terms of cost and anxiety, electrolysis is relatively inexpensive.
The length of your appointment depends on how much hair we will be treating. Eyebrow and female chin appointments can typically be done in 15 minute sessions, whereas a large area like the legs or a dense area like a male beard often benefit from longer sessions. We are able to accommodate sessions from 15 minutes to 8 hours in length depending on your desire. If you are unsure of how much time your sessions will take, feel free to book a free consultation and we’ll be happy to discuss it with you.
How long will it take to notice results?
Usually, you will notice permanent results in six months. Hair grows in cycles and, depending on the area of the body to be treated, sometimes the majority of the hair is dormant and cannot be treated until it begins its growth phase. Terminal hairs, the thick, tough hairs, can sometimes require several treatments to fully kill the papilla, particularly if you have distorted or curved follicles or are treating a heavy beard.
To maximize the effectiveness of your treatments, we recommend that you come in as soon as you see new hair beginning to grow. Typically this is about two weeks for most areas of the body, although some areas, like beards, can return much more quickly. The hair doesn’t have to be very long, just a couple millimeters so that we can see it, enter the follicle and remove the treated hair. Likewise, if you are concerned about treating as much hair as possible in a session, we recommend trimming longer hair to a reasonable length – anywhere from a quarter to a half inch – you can do this ahead of time, we can do it for you or we can treat the hair regardless at a slightly slower rate.
We recommend that you do not tweeze, thread or wax any hair. The process of removing hair below the skin by force causes trauma to the area and the body will respond with increased blood flow to facilitate healing. This excess blood supply can stimulate completely new hair growth, thicken existing hair, convert fine vellus hair into thick terminal hair, and distort the follicle, making it harder to treat with electrolysis. In effect, these methods will cause hair problems in the long run even if they may temporarily relieve some. Instead, if you are concerned about your hair between sessions, we recommend shaving, cutting, bleaching (only if in a safe area) or depilatories (again, only in safe areas).
For patients with particularly tough problems, like dense, ingrown hair, we have a line of products which can help your treatment while in the office or while at home shaving.
I’ve had electrolysis before but my hair grew back?
Once properly treated, hair can never grow back in a treated follicle. What you are seeing, is either the result of poorly done electrolysis or, more likely, growth from follicles that were previously inactive.
I want to remove the hair near my tattoo, is that safe?
Depending on the tattoo, it is possible for electrolysis to remove the hair from the area without creating any significant damage, whereas the intense light of a laser should not be used at all, as it will cause the tattoo to fade. Please discuss your concerns with your electrologist prior to working on a tattoo.
What modalities do you offer and what is the process like?
There are three general modalities offered in electrolysis:
- Galvanic, the original method – the client holds an electrode, a probe is inserted into the follicle and a direct current of electricity is emitted from the probe, passing through the body to the electrode. Inside the follicle, the current causes the water and salt to undergo a chemical reaction, forming a chemical base called sodium hydroxide, better known as lye. Through chemical decomposition, the sodium hydroxide attempts to dissolve the papilla, hopefully resulting in total destruction. This method takes a long time to treat a single hair, often 30-60 seconds, even longer if undergoing multiple needle galvanic, where as many as a dozen or more probes will be inserted into follicles at one time. After treatment, we use a process called cataphoresis, reversing the current to neutralize the base and return the skin to a more natural pH. Due to the duration of treatment, it is generally not very popular today. Further because it involves passing a current through the body, any clients with a pacemaker or any other implants should consult their doctor and obtain written approval prior to treatment.
- Thermolysis – there is no electrical current passed through the body so there is no electrode to hold, although it uses the same probe in the follicle as galvanic. Instead, an intense, very short burst, often just a tenth of second, of a high frequency radio signal is emitted from the probe. This radio wave causes an excitement of the water molecules in the follicle, generating an intense flash of heat that causes the destruction of the papilla through electrocoagulation.
- Blend – a combination of both galvanic and thermolysis. Like galvanic, the client will hold an electrode and DC current will be used to create sodium hydroxide, causing chemical decomposition of the hair, while also emitting a radio frequency, causing heat and the electrocoagulation of the hair. While it may seem enticing, like galvanic, it means it will take several second to treat each follicle.
What method is best for you? To be perfectly frank, nobody has done a rigorous study of which method is more effective than the others. Today, thermolysis and blend are the most frequently used methods, as traditional galvanic, even multiple needle galvanic, can be slow and cumbersome. For most people, thermolysis is perfectly adequate and is the fastest method of treatment, so we recommend it as a first option. Blend tends to be more useful for particularly tough to treat hair and we may recommend it if thermolysis is not producing the efficacy we would like to see. Regardless, if you want to be treated with a specific method, we are glad to accommodate your wishes, although we do not have multiple needle galvanic available at our office.
Regardless of the method we use, the following occurs before, during and after a typical treatment
Before you arrive:
- All equipment is properly cleaned and sterilized or sanitized, just like at the dentist office
After you arrive, but before treatment:
- If you have never been seen before or if it has been a while, we will conduct a brief consultation regarding your hair problem, medical history, and a brief explanation of the methodologies we will use
- As you move onto the treatment table, we will thoroughly wash our hands and put on fresh gloves while obtaining sterilized tweezers and a sanitized probe cap
- We will examine the hair you wish to have treated so that we may pick the appropriate probe and settings customized just for you
- We will remove a brand new, never used, probe out of its sterile packaging and insert it into the probe holder, securing it with the sanitized cap
- We will clean the area to be treated with isopropyl alcohol and possibly a numbing agent – this removes any dirt and makeup, lowering the risk of skin complications, as well as any excess water to minimize the amount of heat, and thus pain, generated in the skin during treatment
- At this point, we will begin treatment according to the modality we are using
- From time to time, we may clean the area again to remove any new moisture or dead hair that is interfering with our view or the treatment
- The probe we used on you will be disposed of in a sharps container while the tweezers and probe cap will go into a disinfectant bath in preparation being more thoroughly sterilized and sanitized at the end of the day and will not be used again until they have undergone their appropriate FDA approved cleaning
- A topical agent will be applied to help soothe the skin and prevent infection
- Aftercare instructions will be given and if you’d like, we can book your next session
- All equipment will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized in preparation for the next client
After you leave (aftercare instructions):
- Refrain from touching the treated area, avoid direct sunlight, warm baths or long showers, hot, humid air or anything which may irritate the skin
- If you do touch the treated area, be sure to wash the treated area with a mild soap and then dry it to prevent infection
- Feel free to apply an antiseptic product or an icepack to cool the skin, avoiding alcohol or oil based products
- Do not shave the area or apply makeup or deodorant to the treated area for 24-48 hours
- After the redness subsides, you may moisturize the area and resume any exfoliation routines
- If you haven’t scheduled your next appointment, be sure to call us as soon as you see new hair emerging so we can treat it when it is at its weakest stage
- Avoid caffeine and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
Is it true that you can also treat skin tags and spider veins?
Yes. Our equipment allows us to treat skin tags as well as spider veins (small purplish veins and red blemishes in the skin, not to be confused with the larger varicose veins, which require more powerful treatment) and we can do so as part of a regular electrolysis appointment or as a standalone service.
What are your credentials and are you insured for malpractice?
Our clinicians have undergone professional training at the Berkowits School of Electrolysis, an accredited school licensed by the New York State Department of Education, and the longest existing electrolysis training school currently running. We are insured by Penn-Star Insurance Company and maintain a membership with Allied Beauty Experts, an industry leader in hair, skin and spa professions.