What Is Permanent Epilation?

S. Reynolds

Permanent epilation is a form of hair removal that takes out the hair at the root, which is just underneath the skin's surface, and prevents it from growing back. Unlike depilation, which only removes hair just above the skin's surface, epilation takes out the entire hair shaft so that it will not grow back for a week or longer. Tweezers and mechanical epilators are popular tools often used for unwanted hair removal, although they are not always permanent. Electrolysis and laser hair removal work by damaging or destroying the hair's root, and are usually more permanent.

A woman with hairless legs.
A woman with hairless legs.

Electrolysis is the oldest form of permanent epilation. Its practice dates back to the late 19th century, when Dr. Charles E. Michel first used the technology to remove ingrown eyelashes in his patients. Electrolysis is now typically used to remove hair from the face or other relatively small patches of growth. A professional must insert a very thin metal probe down into each hair follicle and send a current of electricity through it, thereby destroying the root so that hair will not grow back again.

Electrolysis uses electricity to remove hair permanently.
Electrolysis uses electricity to remove hair permanently.

Both men and women use electrolysis to remove small patches of hair, especially facial hair around the eyebrows, mouth, and cheeks. Bikini lines are other common areas for electrolysis treatment. It is not recommended for arms or legs, since the procedure would take too long.

Laser epilation is a more expensive, but quicker method of permanent epilation. It has only been available to the general public for less than 20 years. The results are often permanent, but there is no guarantee that the hair will not grow back. Laser hair removal devices work by heating the hair follicles so that they are permanently damaged. Many people only need a few treatments before they are hair-free for an extended period of time.

Hair removal lasers work better on people with pale skin and dark hair. The reason is that the laser beams target melanin while leaving lighter areas alone. Lasers for dark skin have been developed, although there is more risk involved with using lasers on dark-skinned patients. A technician must correctly pick the right laser and energy level for each patient to minimize the risk of scarring.

There are some risks associated with permanent epilation treatments involving electrolysis and hair removal lasers. Some people develop permanent darker or lighter spots on their skin. Infection is another risk, especially with electrolysis. If not performed correctly, these hair removal procedures can leave deep burns or scars.

Eyebrow hair may be removed with permanent epilation.
Eyebrow hair may be removed with permanent epilation.

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