Are you tired of shaving and waxing? Annoyed by side effects like an ingrown hair or itchy stubble? New technologies like laser and electrolysis can make it much easier to get rid of body hair. But these treatments have their own pros and cons, and since they’re permanent, you must think if this is what you want really. Here is everything you need to know about permanent body hair removal.
Laser Hair Removal
What is Laser Hair Removal?
Laser hair removal is one of the most commonly done cosmetic procedures in the U.S. Concentrated beams of light are directed at the hair follicle. The pigments absorb this energy and break down, and the body flushes out the fragments naturally. The damaged hair follicle will have significantly slower hair growth. In layman’s terms, it is like you have burned down or shut down the body’s hair factory.
The lasers don’t damage surrounding skin cells because the energy is “pulsed” (very short and targeted to a small area) and set to a frequency that is absorbed only by pigmented cells.
What Results Can I Expect from a Laser Hair Removal Treatment?
Laser treatments can target approximately 80% of the hair follicles in a body part. So, you will not be completely hairless; you will have significantly reduced hair that grows back at a fraction of its usual speed. Depending on your case, your body hair will not appear anytime between six months to several years. For some people, the hair removal is permanent.
How Many Sessions Will I Need?
Hair growth has 3 stages: anagen (growing), catagen (mature) and telogen (shedding). Laser treatments will only work on hair in the anagen phase. That’s why you’ll need multiple visits to get the results you want. This can range from 5 to 7 treatments, depending on your case and the part of the body. The appointments are usually scheduled every 4 to 6 weeks.
How Long Will the Treatment Take?
The length of the session depends on the area you want to treat. Very small and fine hairs like those found around the mouth will take a few minutes. Larger areas such as the legs may need up to an hour.
What Usually Happens at a Treatment?
Your hair will be trimmed, so it is only a few millimeters long. The doctor then adjusts the laser’s settings to specifications: the color of your hair, thickness (hair on the face is much thinner than the hair on the legs) and skin color.
Then, you and your doctor will put on protective eyeshields. A light, the cold gel will be spread on the body part. It serves two purposes: To conduct the light waves so it can reach the hair follicle, and help cool the skin, so you are more comfortable during the treatment.
The doctor will then begin the laser hair removal process. You will feel little pricks against your skin as the light hits the hair follicles. Your skin may also feel warm. Some laser machines will have cooling mechanisms that help keep you more comfortable.
After the treatment, you will be given ice packs and creams that will help control inflammation or irritation.
Will Laser Hair Removal Hurt?
Pain tolerance varies among people. Some people describe it as tiny pricks, others say it is more like rubber bands are snapping against your skin. If you are very uncomfortable, your dermatologist can give you a numbing cream.
What are the Side Effects and Risks?
It is normal or skin to look red and feel sensitive like you have just had a mild sunburn. This only lasts a few days. Use cold compresses and the prescribed creams until it subsides. If you had the laser treatment on your face, avoid makeup for 1 to 2 days. If you had it done on your body, wear loose clothing and continue to avoid sun exposure.
Your hair will fall out over a period of 4 to 5 weeks. Protect your skin with sunscreen and report any blisters or persistent itchiness to your dermatologist.
How Do I Prepare for a Laser Treatment?
While laser treatments are, safe and will not damage surrounding skin cells, you need to take precautions, so your skin isn’t predisposed to irritation or reactions.
- Stop any other hair removal treatments like plucking, waxing, and electrolysis about 6 weeks before you go in for a laser session.
- Don’t schedule any beach vacations and tanning sessions for at least six weeks before the treatment. Sun exposure can make your skin more sensitive, and increase your risk for reactions and complications. Never have a laser treatment done on sunburnt skin.
- Avoid even indoor pools, since the chlorine and other chemicals can also irritate your skin.
- Stop using skincare products that contain retinol or AHAs. These ingredients can make your skin feel very sensitive to light, and lasers are essentially concentrated beams of heat energy. Ask your dermatologist about creams or lotions you can safely use while preparing for your treatment.
What is Electrolysis?
Electrolysis uses electric currents from a metal probe to destroy the hair root. There are 2 different kinds:
Galvanic Electrolysis. This uses currents that work with your body’s natural water and salt to produce sodium hydroxide. This is a natural form of lye, which kills the cells in your hair follicle. This is one of the first forms of permanent body hair removal and has been practiced since 1875.
Thermolysis. This uses vibrations or waves to break down the hair follicle cells. The needle sends a current through a water conductor. As the water molecules vibrate, they create heat energy that destroys the root.
While electrolysis has been used for over a hundred years, its technology has improved significantly. Today’s treatments are empowered with computer technology that can help the electrologist choose to administer the currents with greater precision. They can control speed, timing, and intensity to adjust the kind of hair that you want to be removed.
What Results Can I Expect from Electrolysis?
Electrolysis has been used for decades and is the only permanent hair removal treatment approved by the FDA. In most cases, hair will not grow back. It is also safer for people who have skin pigmentation issues or have darker skin tones since electrolysis does not target melanin.
However, the efficiency of this method depends on the ability of the needle to reach the root. If hair follicles are bent because of previous waxing or tweezing, you may see limited results or need to a repeat session.
How Many Sessions Will I Need?
Like laser hair removal, electrolysis will require several sessions to reach hair in different stages of growth. While it is cheaper than lasers, you will need more sessions (approximately 10 – 12 treatments), depending on the thickness and amount of the hair). It is also safer to treat densely packed hair such as those on the face or bikini area over several sessions, to avoid skin irritation.
On the average, patients can take several months to complete a course of electrolysis treatments, but the results are permanent. Laser treatments are faster, but hair will regrow after a few years.
What Will Happen During the Treatment?
At the start of your electrolysis session, you will be asked to sit or lie down. The electrologist will disinfect the area you want to be treated, then inserts very thin needles into the hair root. You will feel a short electric current. Then, the hair is pulled out with tweezers. Each hair follicle takes an average of 15 seconds to treat.
This must be repeated with every follicle so the length of your session will depend on a case to case basis. At the end of the treatment, your electrologist will apply a soothing lotion.
Is Electrolysis Painful?
It has the same discomfort levels of laser hair removal. Patients describe it as stinging or pricking. You may be given a numbing cream to help minimize the sensation. If you are very sensitive to pain, you can try taking over-the-counter pain relief.
What are the Risks and Side Effects?
It is normal for the area that is treated to be red or tender (like a mild sunburn) right after the treatment. This usually subsides within a few days and can be managed with creams and cold compresses.
There are some reports of small cabbing, but this usually happens with galvanic electrolysis in areas like the bikini line. The scabs fall off after a few days.
How Do I Prepare for an Electrolysis Treatment?
Unlike lasers, electrolysis will not make your skin sensitive to the sun, so you don’t have to take as many precautions with staying outdoors or swimming. However, the currents will make your skin feel tender and red.
To prevent any irritation, switch to a gentler skincare regimen just before and in the first days after your session. Always inform your electrologist if you have recently taken any strong skin treatments such as lasers or chemical peels, especially if you are having hair removed from the face.
Laser Hair Removal vs. Electrolysis: Which is Better
Each permanent hair removal treatment has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you decide which one you’re more comfortable with. For both electrolysis and laser treatments, it’s important to stop plucking or waxing a few weeks before your first session. This keeps the hair root intact, so it’s easier for the machines to target them. Here are the most important factors to consider.
How much hair do you want to remove? Laser treatments can treat large, densely packed hair very quickly. Electrolysis, on the other hand, involves treating each hair follicle one at a time. If you are only removing a small amount of hair, electrolysis may be a more cost-effective choice.
What is the color of your hair and skin? Lasers work by targeting dark pigments called melanin. It is very effective for dark hair, but it has less success with blonde or red hair. People with darker skin tones or skin pigmentation issues may also not be good candidates for laser hair removal.
Where is the hair you want to remove? Electrolysis is generally recommended for hair in difficult-to-access places like behind the ear or nose.
Are you able to stay out of the sun? You will need to take some precautions when you do laser treatments, like avoiding the beach or tanning for at least 6 weeks before your treatment. If you work outdoors or are unable to reschedule a trip, electrolysis may be a safer option.
Are you scared of needles? Electrolysis does require the insertion of a probe, while lasers are completely non-invasive – the light energy penetrates your skin without damaging the skin surface in any way.
How quickly do you need the side effects to subside? While both treatments have minimal side effects, lasers do not produce scabs, and the redness usually subsides much faster than those from electrolysis.
How permanent do you want the results to be? Lasers can only delay or stunt hair growth for several months or years, while electrolysis gives more permanent results.
Now that you have everything you need to know about permanent body hair removal, you can decide whether you’re ready for electrolysis or laser, or prefer to stick to waxing and shaving. Weigh the pros and cons, look at your budget, and go for what works for you. It’s your body and your choice.
Just remember that if you do decide to have a permanent hair removal treatment, always to go to an experienced, skilled and trusted clinic. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or request for previous case studies, and get estimates on how much time and money it will cost for you to get the results you expect. That way, you can avoid any “hair-raising” experiences and surprises.