Electrolysis is an effective hair removal treatment

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Electrolysis for Hirsutism

Cosmetic methods of hair removal are essential for various women worldwide. Since many women suffer from the problem of excess hair growth in the form of clinical conditions like hirsutism or hypertrichosis, treatment is the only way out. Such women necessarily require a combination of pharmacological and physical removal of unwanted hair. Physical or cosmetic therapy includes tweezing, waxing, shaving, epilation, intense pulsed light (IPL), depilatories, electrolysis, topical creams and laser treatment. Among these remedies electrolysis and laser treatment are more longer lasting and advanced methods. Electrolysis can be defined as a hair eiplation technique that employs electrical current (direct or alternating) to destroy the hair-producing follicle.

The electrolytic epilation process

In common language, electrolysis is defined as the electrochemical destruction of the hair follicle. In electrolytic epilation a fine, disposable wire needle is inserted into the hair follicle. Through this needle, a regulated electric current, either direct or alternating, is transmitted from a highly state-of-the art instrument known as an epilator to destroy the germinative hair bulb. It can be correctly performed only by expert professionals.

The frequency of the electric current (as regulated by the FDA) is generally 13.56 MHz. The current may be either low power and administered for 3 to 20 seconds, or high power and given for less than a second (the commonly known flash technique).

Three major electrolysis methods

There are three major techniques employed at various electrolysis clinics:

  • Galvanic electrolysis
  • Thermolysis
  • The blend method

Galvanic electrolysis: The term electrolysis originally defined the process of destruction of the hair-producing cells of the hair follicle by application of the galvanic current. This process transmits a direct electrical current into the hair follicle through a needle and causes an electrochemical production of sodium hydroxide NaOH (lye) and H2 gas by a chemical reaction with the salts in the tissue. NaOH has a corrosive effect on the germinative cells and hence destroys it.

Thermolysis: Now-a-days, electrolysis involves a more sophisticated method called thermolysis. This involves high-frequency electro coagulation to destroy hair producing cells. It is quicker than the original galvanic process. It uses alternating electric current to produce local heat that in turn destroys surrounding tissues. In other words, electrical energy is converted to heat energy, which coagulates the target tissues. Though galvanic electrolysis is slower, it destroys more follicles in one treatment, while thermolysis is faster, but reports more regrowth. Following each thermolysis session, hair however reappears in 20 - 40% of the follicles treated.

Blend method: A process that blends galvanic electrolysis and thermolysis is the most effective. In the blend method, a single machine applies a combination of direct and low-intensity, high-frequency alternating current. It is particularly suitable for tougher and coarser hairs. However, it works best in the anagen phase of the hair cycle, since telogen hairs are generally unsuitable for long-term removal. To ensure that the anagen hair is being targeted, shaving several days before electrolysis is suggested.

Disadvantages of electrolysis

Though this is a highly advanced method, one needs to be aware of its drawbacks. Here is a list of them:

  • It is a time consuming process since it requires a number of sittings for long-term removal of hair. Usually, professionals can target 25–100 hairs per session and individual treatments vary from 15 minutes to one hour. It may take months of such repeated sessions to get the desired results. Hence, experts also advice that electrolysis is best suited for small, localized regions of hair growth.
  • It involves discomfort and pain. Hence, it is not suitable for children. Pain occurs shortly after treatment caused by the conducted heat and tissue destruction. This can be lessened by application of shorter pulses of the ‘flash’ type. Topical (lidocaine) anesthetic creams can also help reduce the discomfort.
  • Side effects may occur in the form of perifollicular inflammation (swelling), post inflammatory hyper- or hypopigmentation and sometimes there is scarring, erythema, folliculitis and some local infections. Scarring can be avoided if the proper process and current are involved. However, despite apprehensions there have been no cases of hepatitis, herpes, or AIDS via electrolysis till date. But one must be informed that there is no standard of practice regarding the use of disposable versus reusable needles, investigations or uniform standards of sterilization of the equipment either.
  • Re-growth of hair: Hair re-appearance is another problem and can occur even under the most expert care. Estimates suggest that 15 to 25% of treated hair reappears, which is dependent on a number of factors like the electrolysis machine used, the training and expertise of the professionals involved, whether the anagen or the telogen hair has been targeted etc.
  • Patients with pacemakers cannot undergo electrolysis.
  • Electrolysis is also an expensive process.

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