How Are Laser and Electrolysis Different?

Laser hair reduction is different from and not electrolysis, both requiring a series of treatments over a period of time, partly due to the hair growth cycle.

Consistency in treating hairs in the active (anagen) phase of growth is one of the most important factors in achieving permanency with electrolysis or laser hair reduction.


  • Laser Facts

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    Medical lasers have been used for dermatology applications such as removal of port wine stains, dark spots, tattoos, acne scars and other blemishes for over a decade. Lasers are used for a growing number of cosmetic procedures including hair removal, treatment of wrinkles, and tooth whitening. For risk information on the specific laser treatment that you are considering, ask your physician or operator for the patient labeling for the laser device.

    HAIR REMOVAL

    The popularity of laser hair removal has increasingly grown, prompting many laser manufacturers to conduct research and seek FDA clearance for their lasers for this indication. The market is growing so quickly that FDA cannot maintain an up-to-date list of all laser manufacturers whose devices have been cleared for hair removal, as this list continues to change. To learn if a specific manufacturer has received FDA clearance, you can check FDA’s Website at Medical Device Databases under the 510(k) database. You will need to know the manufacturer or device name of the laser. You can also call FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Consumer Staff, at 240-276-3103, fax your request to 240-276-3151 or send an e-mail to: DSMICA@cdrh.fda.gov.

    Manufacturers should be aware that receiving an FDA clearance for general permission to market their devices does not permit them to advertise the lasers for either hair removal or wrinkle treatment, even though hair removal or wrinkle treatment may be a by-product of any cleared laser procedure. Further, manufacturers may not claim that laser hair removal is either painless or permanent unless the FDA determines that there are sufficient data to demonstrate such results. Several manufacturers received FDA permission to claim, “permanent reduction,” NOT “permanent removal” for their lasers. This means that although laser treatments with these devices will permanently reduce the total number of body hairs, they will not result in a permanent removal of all hair. The specific claim granted is “intended to effect stable, long-term, or permanent reduction” through selective targeting of melanin in hair follicles. Permanent hair reduction is defined as the long-term, stable reduction in the number of hairs re-growing after a treatment regime, which may include several sessions. The number of hairs regrowing must be stable over time greater than the duration of the complete growth cycle of hair follicles, which varies from four to twelve months according to body location. Permanent hair reduction does not necessarily imply the elimination of all hairs in the treatment area.

    FDA does not make comparisons between systems or how well or safely they work compared to another company’s system. FDA does not recommend one laser system over another.

    Lasers cleared for body hair removal are also cleared for facial hair removal. For more information on efficacy and/or advertising of laser hair removal (reduction) visit the FDA website for consumers.

Electrolysis Has Stood the Test of Time

Electrolysis was invented in St. Louis, MO in 1875, by Dr. Charles Michel, an opthalmologist who was experimenting with ways to remove painful ingrown eyelashes from his patients; he had been performing the procedure since 1869. Dr Michel’s work was published in St. Louis Clinical Record, October, 1875, 2:145-148.

A fine wire, attached to a wet cell battery was inserted into the hair follicle, which produced a small amount of current thus electrolysis was born; the term has become the generic word for permanent hair removal.

Neither electrolysis or laser hair reduction is a “quick-fix” for removing hair permanently. The hair growth did not occur overnight—it will take time and a commitment in patience.

Permanently removing unwanted hair in a specific area requires a series of treatments, lasting over a period of time. In part, because of the growth cycle of the hair, and also the fact that we are unable to see whether we have destroyed the blood supply and all of the growth (stem) cells.

Typically, facial hair growth returns to a growth cycle within 6-12 weeks and body hair within about 8-20 weeks.

Success of treatment and improvement is seen when patients notice less and less hair at the same time intervals, in the same areas, so that less frequency of treatments or session time is needed. Patients who have consistently come in for appointments will notice an improvement through several cycles of growth.

The number of treatments is determined by the amount of growth, whether areas have been previously tampered with (temporary methods), genetics, hormones, medications and other endocrine or medical disorders.

Although we inherit a genetic pattern of hair growth sometimes hair follicle receptor sites can be extra sensitive to free-floating testosterone not being used by our bodies. Medical intervention with oral and/or topical medications may be necessary if ongoing hair growth continues to be problem.


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