How Does Electrolysis Work?


Simply put, electrolysis permanent hair removal works by using the application of a slight current through a needle, inserted into the hair follicle, which causes a heat and/or chemical reaction, destroying the blood supply and surrounding growth cells (stem cells) in the process.

In technical terms, a trained electrologist inserts a small metal probe (needle) into the hair follicle alongside the hair. A small amount of electrical current is then delivered to the probe by a sensitive electronic device called an epilator. Depending on the technique used, the electric current destroys the hair root either by heat or chemical action and in some cases by both at the same time.

  • Electrolysis for Unwanted Hair Removal


    Electrolysis for Unwanted Hair Removal

    What causes unwanted hair growth?
    How many treatments will I need?
    Myths about electrolysis
    Facts about electrolysis
    How do I choose an electrologist?

    Electrolysis is a way of removing individual hairs from the face or body. Today’s medical electrolysis devices destroy the growth center of the hair with chemical or heat energy. A very fine probe is inserted into the hair follicle at the surface of the skin. The hair is then removed with tweezers.

    What Causes Unwanted Hair Growth?

    Hair growth is the result of heredity and hormonal levels. Also, some drugs, temporary methods of hair removal, and some illnesses can stimulate hair growth. Usually, hair growth is desirable. But when the hair is on the wrong part of your body — a woman’s upper lip or chin or bikini line, for example — you may be considering electrolysis.

    How Many Electrolysis Treatments Will I Need?

    Since many factors influence hair growth, you will need to return for several electrolysis visits. The total number of sessions needed to remove hair permanently from a particular area will vary from person to person. Most clients return once a week or every other week, as necessary. But the unwanted hair will be gone forever once the series of treatments have been completed. Each treatment lasts between 15 minutes and one hour.

    Myths About Electrolysis

    Electrolysis is painful. The truth is, electrolysis usually does not cause much discomfort. Modern electrolysis methods have reduced the discomfort to a mere tingling. A topical anesthetic may be used in some cases.

    The electric tweezer method is permanent. The truth is, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association recognize only electrolysis as a permanent method of removing hair. In fact, some states prohibit those who use the electric tweezer — which can also be purchased for consumer use — from claiming it provides permanent hair removal.

    Temporary methods of hair removal can be better. Chemical depilatories (liquids or creams) are often used to remove body hair. These products contain irritating chemicals, and can be time-consuming and messy. Likewise, bleaches contain harsh chemicals and do little to disguise dark hair. They may also discolor the skin. Waxing is another temporary method of hair removal and is usually done in salons. A hot wax is applied to the skin and removed once it has dried over the hair. The hair is stripped off when the wax is removed. Waxing can be painful and costly. Home waxing kits are available, but they can be difficult to use and messy. There are electrical electrolysis devices available for home use that try to copy the devices used by professionals. These devices are often unsafe for use by anyone who is not trained in electrolysis.

    Facts About Electrolysis

    Electrolysis is a time-tested method that was invented more than 100 years ago to remove irritating, in-grown eyelash hairs. Most areas of the body can be treated with electrolysis, including the eyebrows, face, thighs, abdomen, breasts, and legs.

    There are no permanent side effects. Sometimes, a slight reddening of the skin occurs during or immediately after treatment, but this will only last for a short time. Electrolysis is very safe and, unlike depilatories or bleaches, no harsh chemicals are used.

    How Do I Choose an Electrologist?

    Electrologists are people who have undergone training to professionally administer the electrolysis procedure. If you are considering undergoing electrolysis, it is very important that you do your research before committing to an appointment. The wrong decision can mean extra sessions and cost and unnecessary discomfort. By following the guidelines listed below, you can take comfort in knowing that you will be making an educated and informed decision when choosing an electrologist.

    Know their qualifications. Many states require that electrologists be licensed or certified within the state in order to practice electrolysis. If you live in those states, be sure the practitioner’s certificate is current and fully on display. For states that do not regulate electrolysis, look for electrologists who have a certification from an accredited electrology school.

    Ask around. One of the best ways to find any good service is to ask friends and family for recommendations. If you know anybody who has undergone electrolysis, ask for his or her input.

    Get a consultation. Many places will give you a free consultation. During the consultation, be sure that any and all of your questions about the procedure are answered. Some of the questions you can ask include: how the procedure will feel; an estimate on the number of visits you will likely need; the cost of each visit (this will vary from place to place, and it is best to call around); the length of each session; how long they have been in business; and the number of clients they have treated.

    Make sure they use the right technique. Make sure the practitioner uses needle electrolysis, which is the only permanent form of hair removal. Some places may advertise electrolysis, but in reality they use electronic tweezers or photoepilators. These are not permanent hair removal procedures.

    Use common sense. When you go to your consultation, look around. Does the place look clean? Do the workers look clean? Do they use disposable gloves or probes? Ask to meet the person who will be performing the electrolysis for you. Does he or she strike you as professional? If you are not personally comfortable with somebody, do not go to him or her. Personal comfort is essential to knowing you have made the right decision in choosing an electrologist. See

  • Electrolysis Successful Where Laser Hair Removal Fails

    Dermatology Times

    Publish date: SEP 01, 2011

    By: John Jesitus

    Mount Pleasant, S.C. — Electrolysis provides a safe, permanent alternative for patients who don’t want or are not appropriate for laser treatments.

    “Lasers have gotten very popular, but they don’t fulfill all a dermatologist’s needs for hair removal. When lasers came along, many dermatologists didn’t understand that they can’t do everything that electrolysis does,” says Lesly Davidson, M.D., a dermatologist in private practice in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

    Electrolysis, which uses current passed through a needle inserted down the hair follicle, has existed since the late 1800s, Dr. Davidson says. And it’s the only method approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for permanent hair removal. In contrast, she says that FDA-approved lasers are approved for permanent hair reduction only.

    Because lasers work by destroying pigment, Dr. Davidson says, “Lasers are great for removing dark hair on white skin, but they’re not great for removing other colors of hair — particularly white or vellus hair.”

    Electrolysis works on these hairs because its mechanism of action has nothing to do with pigment, she says. However, it’s more time-consuming than lasers because it must be done hair by hair.

    No direct comparison

    Establishing direct comparisons between laser treatments and electrolysis is difficult because prices in both arenas vary depending on factors such as the body area being treated and how much and what kind of hair is present, Dr. Davidson says.

    “The average electrolysis treatment costs between $35 and $52 for a half-hour,” she says.

    In one case, treating an average patient’s bikini line required about 20 treatments (averaging 24 minutes each) over two years.

    “The total cost was $601,” Dr. Davidson says.

    In contrast, Dr. Davidson says dermatologists typically charge in the neighborhood of $300 to $500 per laser treatment session.

    “According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average price of a laser treatment is $429,” she says.

    A typical bikini line treatment requires three to six sessions. At a rate of $500 per treatment, “That’s up to five times as expensive as electrolysis. But it’s a lot more convenient,” although patients also will require ongoing maintenance laser treatments to keep the hair away, she says.

    “It’s not that one treatment is better than the other. Each has advantages in different situations,” Dr. Davidson says. If a patient is concerned about predominantly white facial hair, “Laser is not going to treat that at all,” she says.

    If an African-American patient with very dark skin wants to remove dark hairs, “You can’t do a treatment that’s going to be effective in that scenario” because patients would experience burning, Dr. Davidson says.

    Additionally, many physicians will not treat certain body locations such as the eyebrows and between the eyes with lasers. “There have been many reports of eye damage caused by lasers in these areas,” Dr. Davidson says. “In fact, the French Society of Dermatology recommends not ablating eyebrows with lasers.

  • Electrolysis Medical Data

    Electrolysis medical data

    Electrolysis has been clinically proven permanent since 1875. I have included selected articles from the past 125 years, as well as selected books by practitioners. Almost all articles from the past 20 years are represented.

    = recommended only for in-depth researchers
    = may be worth ordering
    = strongly recommended

    Human clinical studies

    Michel (1875): First published report of permanent hair removal with galvanic electrolysis. By the widely-accepted inventor of the modality (but see Wagner (1997).

    Bordier (1924): First published report of permanent hair removal with thermolysis, by the inventor of the modality.

    Niedelman (1945): Fifteen-year clinical observation of galvanic and thermolysis leads to his preference for thermolysis.

    Ellis (1947): Clinical and histological data showing galvanic is more effective than thermolysis.

    Peereboom-Wynia (1975): Clinical report of 11 women with hirsutism, with positive outcomes.

    McKinstry (1979): Makes a case for destroying the upper follicle to improve electrolysis efficacy.

    Verdich (1979): Of 56 women treated, 90% were satisfied, but most found it expensive and slow.

    Avnstorp (1982): Describes high regrowth in 11 women with hirsutism after thermolysis. Shows why hirsute women should also have hormone levels checked.

    Kligman (1984): A good overview of histologic changes following thermolysis, but comparison to galvanic is considered flawed. The co-author sells a thermolysis machine, which may explain the biased comparison.

    Peereboom-Wynia (1985): In a small sample of 9 hirsute women, they found blend faster and slightly more effective (differences not statistically significant).

    Richards (1986): Based on 35,000 hours of observation, this clinic found 93% of electrolysis patients improved. See also the 10-year follow-up Richards (1995).

    Kobayashi (1987): In 73 patients given 3 to 8 treatments at 2- to 12-week intervals, almost no regrowth was observed in observations 6 to 36 months after final treatment with Kobayashi-Yamada thermolysis.

    Richards (1995): A follow-up to the Richards (1986) study cited above. Now with 140,000 hours of observations, the original observations were further confirmed.

    Urushibata (1995): Compared blend with plucking in 14 women, with armpits as test site. Plucking did not decrease hairs; blend took an average of 10 sessions over 27 weeks to achieve permanent hair removal.

    Gorgu (2000): 12 patients had one armpit treated with electrolysis and the other with alexandrite laser. 14 weeks after final treatment, they reported electrolysis had 35% clearance and laser had 74% clearance.


    Lerner (1942): Review of 18 years of thermolysis medical papers. States approximately 200 hairs an hour can be treated with thermolysis.

    Goldberg (1965): Recommends thermolysis for hirsutism. See the Goldberg 1985 letter.

    Hinkel (1968): Book with first published report of permanent hair removal with blend, by the developer of the modality. Makes case for use of his blend method.

    Chernosky (1971): A positive report on thermolysis. See also Chernosky (1987), a letter recommending electrolysis for hirsutism.

    Caldwell (1972): A negative report on home electrolysis kits (called electronic pencils in Britain).

    Caldwell (1972): A short review on referring patients for electrolysis.

    Johnson (1975): Observed epilated follicles regrow for less time at a slower rate.

    Mahoney (1976): A brief letter on electrolysis referrals.

    Rydahl (1981); This Danish article discusses electrolysis in hospital for hirsutism.

    Ridley (1985): A brief comment on the use of electrolysis.

    Kobayashi (1985): An overview of the Kobayashi-Yamada thermolysis system with special insulated needles.

    Wagner (1985): An excellent overview of electrolysis.

    Hobbs (1987): A very good overview of electrolysis.

    Kobayashi (1987): Tests showing the effectiveness of insulation used on needles in the Kobayashi-Yamada thermolysis method.

    Fogh (1989): Recommends electrolysis to treat hirsutism, noted significant decrease in hair at six months. See also a Danish version of the same article at Fogh 1989

    Richards (1991): By far the most thorough and useful book on electrolysis. Essential reading for practitioners and consumers seeking in-depth information.

    Wagner (1993): This paper outlines their successful university-sponsored electrolysis clinic as a guide for other institutions.

    Bono (1994): A very good practice manual that makes a compelling argument for the blend method.

    Lasker (1996): Suggests a method for establishing a baseline for evaluation of treatment efficacy.

    Wagner (1997): This article looks at the claims that du Villards used electrolysis before Michel.

    Wagner (1998): Looks at dermatologist attitudes toward independent non-physician electrologists and laser practitioners.

    Richards (1999): A point-counterpoint discussing electrolysis, accompanied by a laser article Bargman (1999)

    Gior (2000): A very good book for practitioners summarizing electrolysis basics.

    Side effects

    Vogt (1973): Reports on the formation of keloid scars following electrolysis.

    Blackwell (1977): Instructions on releasing ingrown hairs and subsequent electrolysis treatment.

    Petrozzi (1980): Describes a patient in whom flat warts were spread by electrolysis. Shows why abnormal skin should not be treated.

    Unknown (1989): This letter discusses electrolysis and blood-borne infections.

    Cookson (1981): Claims a woman contracted a heart infection from electrolysis.

    Ditmars (1998): Looks at a case of sporotrichosis (a fungal infection) following electrolysis on a patient’s neck.

    Dumesic (1997): This well-designed study estimates 1.7% of women under 50 seeking electrolysis have undiagnosed glucose intolerance.


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