Electrolysis vs. Laser Hair Removal: What's the Difference?
Electrolysis and laser hair removal are two popular hair removal methods, which leads us to wonder: what is the difference between them, and how can you determine which one is better for your skin? To find out, we tapped board-certified dermatologist, SkinCeuticals ambassador, and Skincare.com consultant Dr. Craig Teller below.
Spring and summer are right around the corner, and you know what that means. Yes, more beach days and backyard barbecues, but also shorter hemlines and more exposed skin. After a long winter covering up beneath cozy knit sweaters and long pants, it’s time to bid all that farewell. For most people it’s a welcomed change, but others are less than excited for the increased attention to hair removal the warmer seasons often bring. If you’re tired of relying on shaving to remove unwanted hair, perhaps you’ve considered electrolysis or laser hair removal. The popularity of these two hair reduction methods have a few similarities, but also some noteworthy differences. To determine the difference between electrolysis and laser hair removal, and which method is best for your skin, keep reading!
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ELECTROLYSIS AND LASER HAIR REMOVAL
You can’t pick between electrolysis or laser hair removal without first knowing what both are and what they can (and can’t do) for you. Let’s start with electrolysis. “Electrolysis is currently the only form of permanent hair removal approved by the FDA,” says Dr. Teller. “It works by inserting a probe into the hair follicle and having an electric current run through it.” According to the FDA, medical electrolysis devices destroy the hair follicle. Laser hair removal, is a method for long-term hair reduction. “Lasers works by utilizing laser frequency to kill the stem cells feeding the hair follicles,” Dr. Teller says.
The key differences between electrolysis and laser hair removal are as follows:
- Electrolysis utilizes electric energy to destroy hair follicles, whereas laser hair removal utilizes high-heat lasers.
- Electrolysis is the only form of permanent hair removal approved by the FDA. Some lasers have been cleared by the FDA to permanently reduce the total number of body hairs but will not result in the permanent removal of all hair.
WHICH ONE IS BEST FOR YOUR SKIN?
If you have white or blonde hair you’re looking to remove, electrolysis may be a better fit for you, according to Teller. “Laser focuses on pigment so it is not incredibly effective on lighter hair,” he says. But keep in mind that one electrolysis treatment won’t give you immediate results. “Electrolysis is very tedious,” Dr. Teller says. “It can take 1-4 years to achieve the permanent results you are looking for.” If you have a lot of hair you’re looking to target (like your legs for example), laser may be a better option since it can take much less time to target the hairs. “Laser is usually very quick but multiple treatments are required,” Dr. Teller says. “Generally, 2-6 treatments are needed but some areas may require up to 10 treatments, depending on the body surface area.” Laser is also a better option for those with dark hair, since the laser targets pigment in the hair follicles.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR APPOINTMENT
Interested in taking the plunge? Dr. Teller recommends shaving up to seven days before your electrolysis appointment. You’re also free to tweeze hairs around two to three weeks before the appointment, but not any closer. “Once electrolysis treatments have begun, other treatments should be discontinued,” advises Dr. Teller. “If for some reason you find you have to use a temporary treatment this should be discussed with your technician first.”
Editor’s note: According to the FDA, risks associated with include infection from an unsterile needle and scarring from improper technique.
Laser Hair Removal
If you’re going in for laser hair removal, it’s perfectly fine to shave the day before or the day of your treatment. Although, Dr. Teller advises against waxing for two weeks prior to the treatment. As always, keep your skin adequately protected from the sun’s harmful UV rays with broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen following the procedure. If you plan to be outdoors exposed to the sun, take precautionary measures to avoid a sunburn like wearing protective clothing and avoiding peak sun hours. If your skin does get some color in between appointments, be sure to let your laser technician know as this may affect the setting of the laser machine.
Editor’s note: According to the FDA, side effects of laser hair removal can include blistering, discoloration after treatment, swelling, redness, and scarring. Dr. Teller expresses caution for those who have conditions that affect their healing or take medications that make their skin more sensitive to light. Additionally, “darker-skinned patients should have a consultation with their laser technician to ensure that their skin is properly prepped,” he says. It’s also very important to visit a licensed technician for these hair removal procedures, so do your research! They will know which settings to use on your skin which can lead to successful results.