Everything You Need to Know About Electrolysis Hair Removal

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Everything You Need to Know About Electrolysiskatleho Seisa - Getty Images

If you love your body hair—great! If you want to remove it, either temporarily with at-home laser devices, hair removal creams, or something more permanent—that’s great too. Personally, I chose to get professional laser hair removal after years of teenage trauma, but was disappointed to find out the results weren’t permanent. Experts say the effectiveness of laser hair removal may vary depending on your hair and skin color, as well as hormonal fluctuations.

There is a more intense solution. Currently, electrolysis hair removal is the only method approved by the FDA for permanent hair removal. Read on for the expert verdict on everything you need to know, from how it works, the cost, to the level of discomfort you can expect.

What Is Electrolysis Hair Removal?

“Electrolysis is a procedure for permanent hair removal whereby an extremely fine needle or wire is inserted into the hair follicle without puncturing the skin,” explains board-certified dermatologist Michele Green. “An electric current travels down the probe to the follicle’s base, destroying it permanently and removing any existing hair.” The procedure can be done to any part of the body where unwanted hair is present, such as the face, legs, underarms, and bikini line.

How Electrolysis Works

When that electric current travels down to the hair follicle, it zaps it dead, preventing a hair from ever growing there again. Laser hair removal, by contrast, “can only target hair follicles in the growth phase, and dormant hair follicles will not be affected, which is why multiple sessions are needed to achieve the best results,” says Green. The procedure is typically done by a licensed and trained electrologist.

Does Electrolysis Hurt?

Electrolysis can cause some discomfort as the needle used during the treatment can sometimes produce a small pricking or pinching sensation. The level of discomfort varies greatly—it totally depends on your pain tolerance. Think of it this way—if you think waxing hurts like hell and laser hair removal is unbearable, electrolysis might not be for you. “It is advised to use a topical lidocaine cream before the appointment to numb the treatment area and minimize discomfort associated with the procedure,” says Green.

How Long Does Electrolysis Take?

The duration of the treatment varies depending on the size of the area being treated and the amount of hair present. A significant drawback when it comes to electrolysis is that each session can be quite time-consuming. A small area, such as the upper lip, may take only 15-30 minutes per session, whereas a larger area, like the legs or abdomen, may take several hours to complete, explains PA-C and cosmetic injection expert Sadyk Fayz.

It is difficult to predict the exact number of sessions of electrolysis needed, as it varies from person to person. A trained and experienced electrologist will determine how many electrolysis sessions you will need for permanent hair removal in a given area. “On average, between 10 and 14 treatments are needed for extensive electrolysis in a particular area,” says Green. Each electrolysis session is typically done every four to six weeks. Therefore, the completion of electrolysis treatments can take a minimum of one year.

How Much Does Electrolysis Cost?

The cost of electrolysis hair removal can vary depending on the size of the area being treated and the number of sessions needed. A one-hour session can range anywhere from $50 to $200, depending on the area being treated. Electrolysis hair removal is often more expensive compared to other methods, but it is more effective in the long run as the results are permanent.

What to Know Before Getting Electrolysis

Before booking an electrolysis appointment, make sure to find a certified and reputable electrologist and schedule a consultation. It’s also important to inform your electrologist of any medical conditions or medications that you're taking. The best bet? Bring it up to your dermatologist at your yearly skin screening.“You shouldn’t shave for at least a week and you should remove all makeup prior to your appointment,” says Fayz.

The treatment works best when the skin is well hydrated, Green adds. “Patients should avoid sun exposure and any retinoids for a week before their appointment. It is advised to use a topical lidocaine cream before the appointment to numb the treatment area and minimize discomfort associated with the procedure,” she says Compared to laser hair removal, electrolysis can cause more discomfort and require more treatment sessions.

How to Care For Skin After Electrolysis

According to our experts, it’s important to regularly apply sunscreen after the treatment and avoid direct sun exposure (you should be doing this anyway!). Doing so will help lower the chance of developing hyperpigmentation on the treated area. The area may be sore and swollen immediately after the treatment. Using a cool, damp compress can alleviate discomfort and decrease inflammation.

It is crucial to keep the treated area clean and hydrated. Do not touch, scratch, or rub the area during the healing process. You may also “be given an antibiotic ointment as your skin follicles will be open and the skin will be sensitive with the potential for bacteria to enter following your treatment,” says Fayz. “Do not apply any products such as lotions, deodorants, powders, body sprays, etc to the treated area for 24 hours as these will likely cause irritation.”

Green stresses consistency is key when it comes to electrolysis. “It’s important to keep a regular schedule for electrolysis appointments to get the best results,” she adds.

Meet the Experts

Dr. Michele Green, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist currently practicing in New York City. Dr. Sadyk Fayz, PA-C, is a cosmetic expert at Beso Aesthetics in New York City.

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