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 alarm bells then be aware that you’re absolutely right to be skeptical. 

I’ve heard people say that electrolysis is archaic and that laser can treat everybody. Neither  are true but let’s face it: 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. This is leaving professionals like myself to always be aware of the most current  valid information and to help educate people properly. 

In addition to the comparison on the previous article : Electrolysis vs Laser, 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 is the use of 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 130 years and is the only officially approved method 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 as there is enough history and follow up research over time. 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.  

To explain further, 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 very effective at reducing the quantity of follicles. Also  there needs to be enough follicle density for the laser beam to be drawn to.  

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 i.e. 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)

 

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 (category’s 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 hyper pigmenting permanently. 

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 and 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 hair, Fair skin, coarse 

Electrolysis: approx. 3 hours to remove original growth (in two- 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 (Very hairy) White skin, dark hair, dense 

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 BUISNESSES AND LASER  HAIR REMOVAL BUISNESSES 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 woman 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. 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.

Veronica Allenger is a Certified Professional Electrologist in Ottawa Canada, This article’s content is based on fact, research and experience in the field.