Electrolysis is the only method of permanent hair removal recognized by the Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association. This type of hair removal requires a highly skilled, licensed technician and the use of an electrolysis machine. It is a delicate process, requiring a technician with training and experience, and should not be attempted at home.
An electrolysis machine helps get rid of unwanted hair by using chemical or heat energy to destroy the hair’s growth center, preventing re-growth from occurring. The process usually requires several sessions and results vary. Although it is considered a permanent hair removal process, about 7% to 10% of those receiving the treatment report that they are not satisfied.
Hair is eliminated by an electrolysis machine via the insertion of a thin probe into the hair follicle. Electricity is then transmitted down into the follicle through the probe, resulting in a localized destruction of the hair’s growth center. If done correctly, the probe will not penetrate the skin. Hair follicles are small and proper probe insertion requires experience and training. Penetration of the skin through error can be painful and carries the risk of infection.
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Some electrolysis machines use a slightly different method. Instead of inserting a probe into the hair follicle, they work with a tweezer attachment that grabs and holds the hair as the electrical current is administered. This type of electrolysis can be safer and more comfortable.
An electrolysis machine works because the hair follicle environment below the skin is moist. At the base of a hair follicle is the papilla, the part of the follicle containing the blood supply. An electrolysis machine utilizes this watery area, rich in mineral content, to conduct a chemical reaction which destroys the papilla. This consequently destroys the follicle’s ability to re-grow hair.
The electrical current triggers the chemical reaction, changing the water and salt in the hair follicle into highly corrosive sodium hydroxide (NaOH). This compound is so acidic that it dissolves the follicle and papilla entirely. Without a functioning papilla, the hair follicle is unable to grow hair.
Some level of discomfort is associated with electrolysis, so a local anesthetic is frequently used during the process. Because a skilled professional is required to safely and effectively operate an electrolysis machine, the cost of the procedures can be high. Other, less expensive, options exist for removing unwanted hair but the results will not be permanent.