If you’re looking for a permanent hair removal solution, electrolysis is the answer. In fact, electrolysis is the only proven, permanent method of hair removal.
In the United States, only electrolysis is backed by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a solution for permanent hair removal. Despite popular misconceptions, laser hair removal is not a form of truly permanent hair removal and it is not recognized by the FDA. While laser treatments reduce the amount of hair in an area, only electrolysis can eliminate the stubborn hairs that laser treatments won’t permanently eliminate.
In Canada, as with many esthetics, electrolysis is not regulated. However, those who practice electrolysis diligently obtain the CCE or CPE designation to demonstrate to their clients that they have the professional ability to perform electrolysis according to the highest Canadian health and safety standards. In Canada, you can find a certified member of the Federation of Canadian Electrolysis Associations – Ontario Chapter in the FCEA Ontario members directory here. For other provinces, click here.
What Is Electrolysis?
Electrolysis is the practice of inserting an extremely thin metal probe into an individual hair follicle and using either a small electrical current and/or radio frequency energy to permanently destroy the hair follicle cell at the root. Electrolysis is performed by a professional electrologist.
Electrolysis has been used safely since 1875. It’s an effective procedure that can be used for all skin and hair types and can be safely used on any part of the body to eliminate unwanted hair.
How Does Electrolysis Work?
In order to understand how electrolysis works, it’s important to understand the science of your hair and skin.
Hair is made up of a tough protein called keratin. There is no hair without a hair follicle, which is a tube-like opening in the skin’s epidermis and dermis through which the hair grows. At birth, your skin has approximately 5 million follicles. You do not generate new hair follicles after birth.
- The hair follicle extends from the epidermis down to the lower layers of the dermis. The visible part of the hair rises above the surface of the skin and is called the hair shaft.
- The lower part of the hair, which is anchored to the hair follicles and grows below the skin surface, is called the hair root.
- The part of the hair root that is situated deep in the dermis is called the hair bulb.
- The hair bulb contains a layer of basal cells crucial for hair growth, called the hair matrix.
- Each hair bulb sits on top of the hair papilla, which consists of connective tissue, tiny capillaries, and vein and nerve endings from the dermis.
There are three recognized methods of electrolysis, all with equal effectiveness:
Galvanic – The original method of electrolysis is galvanic electrolysis. This uses an electrical current to stimulate a chemical reaction in the hair follicle, creating a tiny amount of lye that destroys the hair follicle cells.
Thermolysis – Another method of permanent hair removal is thermolysis electrolysis, which involves using radiofrequency energy to generate a tiny burst of heat that destroys the follicle cells.
The Blend – Both galvanic and thermolysis methods of hair removal can also be blended to work together. The RF energy of the thermolysis method heats the lye generated by the galvanic method, destroying the follicle cells.
Let’s take a look at the three methods in more detail.
The Galvanic method of electrolysis uses a Galvanic direct current to produce a chemical reaction to eliminate unwanted hair. The needle is inserted into the hair follicle and a small amount of electric current is administered. Electrons flow continuously in the same direction from the negative (-) pole (in the needle) through the hair follicle and back to the epilator machine by use of a positive (+) pole, which is a metal plate or electrode.
This Galvanic process reacts with the saline body fluid found at the base of the follicle, causing the production of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye. Lye dissolves and decomposes the cells of the bulbous area around the tip of the inserted needle, which permanently disables the follicle and prevents hair from re-growing. The chemical continues to work for a period of time following the removal of the needle.
The amount of lye produced in the follicle is proportional to the amount of current introduced and the time the current flows. This is known scientifically as Faraday’s Law. The Galvanic method of electrolysis is well suited for coarse, thick hair.
Thermolysis electrolysis was introduced in the early 1920s and uses alternating currents. These alternating currents pass down the needle creating a high-frequency electromagnetic field, causing a vibration of the tissue molecules surrounding the tip of the inserted needle. The vibration produces heat, coagulating the bulbous area of the hair. It disconnects the papilla and capillaries and vein from the hair root and enables the electrologist to slide the hair out.
The Blend method of electrolysis combines the speed of Thermolysis with the effectiveness of the Galvanic method.
More Information About Electrolysis
The electrolysis needle does not have a sharp point—that would pierce the follicle’s wall during the procedure. Instead, the needle has a rounded point to slide easily down the hair shaft to the root or papilla of the treated hair follicle.
No matter which of the three methods are being used, a sufficient intensity of electrical current must be applied to reach the depth of the bulbous area of the treated hair. Higher intensities are used for treatments of more stubborn, deep, or “terminal” hairs while lower intensities are used for shallow hairs.
The heating pattern is created around the tip of the needle, where the high-frequency current is the strongest, and gradually builds up around the needle while the needle is inserted into the follicle.
The heating pattern radiates from the inserted epilation needle, which is connected to the high-frequency epilator machine. It starts at the tip of the needle and progresses slowly up the follicle at a steady rate, expanding in width the longer the current is applied.
After the current has passed through the hair follicle, the hair should slide smoothly out of the hair shaft. If the hair does not slide out of the follicle after treatment, it means its root is still attached to the papilla and was not adequately treated.
Does Electrolysis Hurt?
This can depend on your pain tolerance level. When the electrical current is passed through the probe, you may feel a hot, pinching sensation. There should be minimal discomfort throughout the procedure, depending on the area of the skin being treated. Some areas may be more sensitive than others, but the experience should never be painful. If you are experiencing any major pain or discomfort, inform the practitioner and cease the treatment immediately.
After treatment, you may experience some skin sensitivity and redness. This should fade within a few hours.
Professional Hair Removal by an Electrologist
A certified electrologist has trained to deal with a variety of challenges while performing electrolysis. These challenges might include dry skin, acne, scar tissue, sun damage, ingrown hairs, and enlarged, small, or tight pores. A certified electrologist is also equipped to deal with scabbing, brown spotting, and bruising. They also know how to avoid over-treatment.
How Many Treatments Will Be Necessary?
Electrolysis is a proven method of permanent hair removal, however, it does take time and repeated treatments to achieve the desired permanency.
The number of treatments can depend on the amount of hair in the areas treated.
Generally, it can take a few appointments over the course of a couple of months to clear a larger area of all hair growth. Over the course of your electrolysis treatments, the hair should thin and become lighter until, finally, the hair vanishes completely. You’ll experience the most positive results by seeing a certified electrologist regularly.
Before you begin treatment, you should always have a consultation with your electrologist to come up with a long-term plan that will give you the results you desire in the least amount of time possible.
There are a variety of factors that your electrologist will take into account during your initial consultation and throughout the course of your treatments:
- Skin type
- Skin sensitivity
- Dry skin (moisture is required for the electrical current to be conducted effectively)
- Thickness of the hair
- Quantity of hair
- Hair growth cycles
- Hormonal influence
- Pain threshold
- Previous hair removal methods (tweezing and waxing can cause the hair follicle to become deformed or curved)
- The skill of the electrologist
Hair can regrow for a variety of reasons:
New hairs often emerge naturally because they were not visible and therefore weren’t treated in prior treatments. This occurs naturally when new hair replaces hair shedding. (New anagen hair replacing shedding telogen hair.)
New growth from new hair follicles may not be visible at the time of your first treatment and may only appear a few months later.
Regrowth can appear as a result of hormonal changes; fine hair may become coarser with hormonal shifts.
Twin-pili may occur. This is a deformity of a hair where multiple, divided hairs appear within an individual hair follicle. Often, one hair will emerge above the surface of the skin and when treated, the other hair remaining under the skin will die. Additional treatment(s) may be required to reach all of the hairs in that follicle.
Tombstone hairs may emerge four to six months after treatment. These are dead hairs that were never shed. Tombstone hair often looks thick, dark, and dried out with no root or inflammation.
Distorted hair is when the follicle and root are curved or in a circular formation. It can take several electrolysis treatments to remove this hair permanently. This is more commonly found in people with higher skin pigmentation, ie. in the skin of People of Colour.
When you choose to see an electrologist who is a member of the FCEA, you can feel confident about their training and abilities to conduct electrolysis permanent hair removal.
Electrolysis After Care
For the first 24-48 hours after an electrolysis treatment, your electrologist will recommend that you take extra care of the treated area.
- Apply Witch Hazel to the treated area but avoid rich night creams for up to 48 hours.
- Never pluck, wax, or use cream remover between electrolysis treatments. If you have any noticeable hairs between treatments, you can cut or trim them using scissors.
- Ideally, you should wait up to 48 hours before applying makeup to the treated area. Always use gentle, non-perfumed makeup and makeup removal products that are suited for sensitive skin. Lotions are less prone to promote infections than cream products.
- Do not expose the treated area to direct sunlight or to sunbed treatments.
Permanent Hair Removal in Canada with Electrolysis
If you’re bothered by unwanted hair, especially facial hair, electrolysis is a convenient and cost-effective way to achieve the smooth, hairless look you desire with lasting, permanent results. If you’re looking for an electrologist in Ontario click here to browse the directory of certified members of the FCEA Ontario chapter.
Borojevic, Boba. (2019). Hairless. Self-published.
Print: ISBN 978-1-77136-784-4
Digital: ISBN 978-1-77136-785-1