Electrolysis VS Laser/IPL-What’s The Difference?


You may have seen ads for laser hair removal that read something like “Virtually Painless Permanent Laser Hair Removal! – 100% Guaranteed!!! If these ads set off your alarms bells, you’re absolutely right to be skeptical.

I’ve heard people say that “electrolysis is archaic” and “that laser can treat everybody”. Neither statement is true however, the beauty industry is a billion dollar arena and this unfortunately lends itself to businesses and marketing that are far from moral due to lack of government regulation. In fact, laser services are so heavily marketed that a lot of people are not aware of electrolysis. Professionals, like myself, are aware of the most current valid information and are determined to help educate people properly.

In addition to the comparison on the previous article: Electrolysis vs Laser/IPL, I’ve laid out other factual evidence of the nature of both of these hair removal methods to help people make the best educated decisions that they can.

For your information and for the purpose of this blog post

LASER is the abbreviation for Light Amplified by Stimulated Emission Radiation. It is a monochromatic and specific wavelength beam of light that targets melanin (hair pigment). This is considered a medical device.

IPL is the abbreviation for Intense Pulsed Light and used intense pulses of non-coherent light at various wavelengths. It is commonly mistaken for laser hair removal. This is considered a medical device.

 

THE IMPORTANT FACTS

Electrolysis has been around for over 135 years and is the only method officially approved by the US Federal Drug administration for complete permanent removal. It stays a fierce competitor to laser and IPL industry. It has been proven to be safe and effective both short term and long term.  It can treat any skin or hair colour and has a high kill rate as each hair is individually treated. It remains very popular because of its versatility and effectiveness.

In Canada there is no federal or provincial definition for permanent hair removal as there is in the United States. LASER or IPL in the US has been labeled by the FDA as permanent reduction since 1999. This is important, because even though electrolysis has been proven for a long time to be completely permanent in other countries, the lack of definition for permanent hair removal federally and provincially in Canada has allowed laser businesses to claim they can do complete permanent removal and mislead many clients both in its effectiveness and it’s safety.

Electrolysis is permanent because small amounts of electrical current create heat into the single probe that targets follicles individually. With a high kill rate and an effective electrologist, in most clients, electrolysis treatments are much faster overall than laser treatments. Lasers emit specific wavelengths of light that are absorbed by the pigment in the hair. Therefore, there needs to be enough hair pigment and contrast between the skin and the hair colour for the laser to be even somewhat effective at reducing the quantity of follicles. There also needs to be enough follicle density for the laser beam to be effective.

Please note that there are a variety of different laser and IPL’s on the market. The higher end lasers  (such as the ND: YAG) of which there are only a few in Ottawa are the most effective machines. IPL’s are not lasers. They use intense pulses of non-coherent light that burns the hair shaft. IPL’s tend to heat up the surrounding tissue making it less effective at disabling hair and put darker skinned individuals at higher risk of burning.

 

WHAT’S THE BEST ROUTE FOR YOU?

This graph helps to illustrate some of the basic differences. Furthermore, electrolysis can thin, shape or feather ie. eyebrows, hairlines and sideburns for a more natural look.

Electrolysis Laser
Permanent YES NO
FDA approved YES YES (as permanent reduction only)
Safe for all skin types YES NO
Can treat all hair types YES NO (cannot treat blonde, grey, and red hairs)
Targets the “root” cause of hair growth i.e. dermal papilla YES NO (only targets melanin)

 

fitzpatrick_scale

The Fitzpatrick scale helps categorize skin types and helps determine whether it’s safe for laser or IPL hair removal. Remember, Laser works best on the contrast between the skin colour and the hair colour.  The darker your skin gets (categories IV and V) or if you tan (naturally or artificially) occasionally or continuously, you are NOT a good laser candidate and you could be at serious risk of burning, scarring and/or permanent hyper pigmentation.

There are many different kinds of lasers. Some are more appropriate for light skin types like Alexandrite lasers and other lasers such as the ND:YAG can treat some darker tones. No one laser is appropriate for all skin types. IPL’s are generally cheaper per session, aren’t as painful but aren’t nearly as effective and cannot treat a wide range of skin types safely.

 

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Speed:

There is a large misconception that laser treatments are faster simply because more area can be treated per session vs electrolysis. However, 6-8 laser treatments spread over 6 week intervals will still take at least a year, and if you’re a good candidate, you’ll have upwards of 70-90% reduction. But, if you’re not an ideal candidate or you’re in too much of a grey area (Type 4 on the Fitzpatrick scale with light brown hair on your arms for example) then you could be doing sessions for a year, only getting 40% reduction for example and wasting a lot of your money and time. On top of that, you’ll have been shaving the area for laser treatments. If clients are choosing to do laser, I encourage them to watch closely the reduction received session to session. Once clients get to 6 or so sessions, I suggest switching to electrolysis. This allows them the majority of whatever reduction the laser will give them, and then switch to electrolysis to finish it off completely. This saves a lot of time and money.

Cost:

This is a difficult comparison because laser and electrolysis achieve different results. Keep this in mind.

Electrolysis treatments are tailored specifically to the individual. This allows specific hairs to be removed and/or all hairs in one area to be removed permanently. Cost of doing smaller areas such as face is almost always cheaper than laser and much safer. Cost of doing electrolysis on large areas to permanent completion (Legs, for example) is slightly more than the cost of reducing by a standard number of laser sessions. Cost per session is anywhere between $20 to $85 (by my pricing).

Laser treatments are always done in blocks and everyone is lumped in by area. Ie. Bikini is 6 sessions, Legs are 10 sessions etc. Sessions are much more expensive per shot $80 to $500. Laser will reduce the number of follicles in an area, some individuals will get better results than others.

Example:

Bikini Line: Light brown, coarse hair, Fair skin

Electrolysis: Approximately 3 hours to remove original growth (in 2-6 sessions), 2 1/2 hours over 13 months to get all regrowth at all stages.$475 over 14 months permanent completion.

Laser (ND:Yag): Standard 6 treatments $129 per treatment, $774 total for permanent reduction after one year. Could be anywhere from 40% to 90% reduced.

Example:

Bottom Legs: Dense growth, fair skin, dark coarse hair

Electrolysis: Approximately 10  hours to clear original growth (done over 4 sessions of 2 hours) than another 10 hours spread out over 14-16 months for regrowth. Permanent completion. Total cost $1700

Laser: 6 original treatments $219 a session, 6 sessions minimum over a year: $1,374 for permanent reduction. Could be anywhere from 40% to 90% reduced.

**Prices are based on an average of Ottawa electrolysis businesses and laser hair removal businesses in 2014.

 

BE AWARE: LASER HAIR STIMULATION

Laser can STIMULATE more hair to grow in any area if there is not enough dense coarse dark hair in the treated area. This often happens with women who try to get rid of hair on their face with laser and are shaving before appointments. Also stimulated facial growth often happens with women who have hormonal problems such as PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). Electrolysis is the safest option for facial work.

 

GET CONSULTATIONS, ASK QUESTIONS AND GET TEST PATCHES!

This goes for electrolysis or laser. Do as much research as you can, get referrals, and be as informed as possible! This is your body! Treat it well.

Opinions herein are the opinions of Veronica Allenger CPE based on experience, research and are not necessarily reflective of COPE National.