Hair Removal Showdown: 3 Procedures That Actually Help
Tried and true methods like shaving, plucking, and waxing have worked well for centuries to remove unwanted hair, but the result remains the same: the hair grows back. Even the most advanced treatments–electrolysis, laser, and IPL (Intense Pulse Light)–have to be performed repeatedly to deliver lasting results.
What makes the tiny human hair such a formidable foe?
Like an iceberg, a hair shows only its tip. The real adversary, the root or follicle, hides below the surface. Hair grows in phases—anagen (growth phase), catagen (dying phase), and telogen (resting phase). This cycle repeats throughout a hair follicle’s life. Each hair grows independently at different stages. On an average day, 80 to 90% of your hair is actively growing. The rest are hibernating until a new growth cycle begins. Why does this matter? Electrolysis, laser, and IPL (Intense Pulse Light) are only effective at removing hair during the growth phase.
To date, electrolysis is the only permanent method of hair removal approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). How does electrolysis work? An ultra-thin needle penetrates each individual hair shaft and delivers tiny shocks of electricity to the hair follicle. This process kills the cells that make hair. Because of that, hair treated during the earliest stage of growth (when they are all straight and close to the surface of the skin)will not grow back. While that sounds convenient , electrolysis is painful and time-consuming. This procedure may remove hair permanently, but it does so one hair at a time. If you want to remove a lot of hair, this procedure may not be for you.
Alternatives to Electrolysis
Lasers and IPL have gained wide popularity in past two decades and can achieve permanent reduction of hair (not removal). They can’t kill the hair cell and the hair can grow back. Unlike electrolysis, these procedures are less painful and can cover large areas of the body that are impractical to treat with electrolysis. Again, because all hair is not in the same stage of growth at any given time, several laser treatments are necessary. But because they damage the follicle, any hair that does grows back is likely to be thinner and lighter.
Laser Hair Removal
Laser hair treatment works by emitting pulses of laser light which permanently damage the hair follicle at its root. This treatment is very effective, removing up to 90% of hair growth and lasting up to a year. Again, because 10% of the hairs will be “resting” and immune to the rays, one session isn’t enough. It may take 3 to 8 visits before you see the results. Short-term side effects of laser hair removal may include swelling and redness, which typically subside in a few days. However, in rare circumstances or if the procedure is performed incorrectly, patients can suffer from burns and change in skin color. Make sure you find a board-certified dermatologist to perform laser hair removal for the best results and safe treatment.
IPL (Intense Pulse Light)
IPL, short for Intense Pulsated Light, is not a laser. It works by emitting a bright light that travels through the skin. When it reaches the hair bulb, it changes into heat and basically fries the hair at its root. It may take 4 to 8 treatments before you begin to see a reduction in hair. But the effects can last anywhere from 6 months to a year. Personal IPL devices have recently been proven to be safe for home use so long as instructions are followed. Complications and side effects from IPL hair removal are usually mild but can include very minor swelling, redness, and can feel like your face is a little sunburned. These symptoms usually begin to disappear within a few hours of treatment.
At-home IPL devices are also not for every skin or hair type. If you have a skin condition, such as folliculitis and eczema, IPL can even worsen it. Tip: check with a board-certified dermatologist before using the device. In light of that, we are pleased to announce the pilot of a unique online dermatology service designed to address consumers’ questions regarding their skin, and the use of Philips at-home IPL devices. Available via the Philips Lumea website and app, consumers benefit from round-the-clock personalized responses from our team of certified dermatologists. The partnership with Philips began exclusively in the UK in February 2017.
Is there a clear “winner” when it comes to forever banishing unwanted hair? Not really.
The most successful way to achieve smooth, hair-free skin begins with the individual. Before you choose any hair removal procedure, do your homework. Be realistic about the results you can accomplish. Schedule more than one consultation to determine who is best qualified to perform your treatment. There are strict requirements in every state regarding who may administer these medical procedures safely. Hair removal can be very costly. Selecting the right provider is key to getting the most from your investment.
The Specialist doctor from the University Hospital in Gothenburg, alumnus UC Berkeley. My doctoral dissertation is about Digital Health and I have published 5 scientific articles in teledermatology and artificial intelligence and others.