Why Electrolysis?  

The selection below was published in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration magazine, FDA Consumer (September 1996). The article compares laser and electrolysis hair removal processes.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
by Marian Segal

Electrical Epilators

"Needle epilators introduce a very fine wire close to the hair shaft, under the skin, and into the hair follicle," explains Anthony Watson, a materials engineer in FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "An electric current travels down the wire and destroys the hair root at the bottom of the follicle. The loosened hair is then removed with tweezers. Every hair is treated individually."

Needle epilators are used in electrolysis. Because this technique destroys the hair follicle, it is considered a permanent hair removal method. The hair root may persist, however, if the needle misses the mark or if insufficient electricity is delivered to destroy it.

"Also," Watson adds, "the stimulus for hair growth in an area is never permanently removed. For instance, you can't control hormonal changes that cause new growth. Most people would probably define permanent as 'never comes back,' but from a medical standpoint that may not be practical."

"Electrolysis requires a series of treatments over a period of time. It's not just a one-, two- or three-time thing," she says. "For example, the process for a forearm takes a series of appointments once a week for about a year. You may have a first clearing of both forearms in about eight hours of treatment over two months. After that, you have to catch the hairs coming in on a different cycle of growth. For the best results, you want to treat each hair during its active growing stage."

Electrolysis may not always be the best approach, Wexler adds: "Some men who begin electrolysis to get rid of back hair soon stop, because it can be a huge, costly, and very time-consuming job, depending on the amount of hair."

More often, she says, men are treated for the area between the eyebrows, around the outside of the ears, and the shoulders."Women mostly come in for facial hair—the lip, chin, eyebrows, and neck, but I also do a tremendous amount of body work—bikini line, abdomen, breast, forearms, underarms," says Wexler.

Laser

Hair removal entered the "laser age" last year when FDA cleared the ThermoLase Softlight laser, manufactured by Thermotrex Corporation, based in San Diego.

"The Softlight is essentially a standard dermatological laser similar to others already on the market for treating skin lesions and removing tattoos," says Richard Felten, a senior reviewer in FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

With the ThermoLase method, a proprietary, topical, black-colored solution is applied to the treatment area before the laser is scanned across it.

"The solution penetrates the hair follicles, and the black material in it preferentially absorbs the laser wavelength, which heats and destroys the follicles," Felten explains.

Three-month clinical trials of the ThermoLase process showed at least a 30 percent reduction of hair on treated areas in 60 to 70 percent of people treated. Manufacturers must limit claims of laser treatment permanence to results substantiated by the clinical data. Thermotrex, therefore, can claim that its laser process causes hair reduction for up to three months after treatment.

Some side effects can be expected whenever a laser is used to treat the skin, Felten says. These include redness, caused by heating the tissue; possibly some darkening of light-complexioned skin and lightening of dark-complexioned skin; and a risk of some scarring in some patients.

"Usually the treated area is covered to prevent infection during the healing period, and then kept covered with a moist solution for a period of time," Felten says, adding that sunlight should be avoided during healing also, to avoid a change in pigment.


   
   
 

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