Electrology & Laser Hair Removal

Information on electrology and laser hair removal, including pros, cons, safety tips, and considerations for choosing a hair removal provider.

Electrology

Electrolysis involves the insertion of a probe into each hair follicle to deliver electric currents that destroy the hair root. It is the only permanent method of hair removal.

There are three methods of electrolysis: thermolysis, galvanic electrolysis and blend. Each method uses a different type of electric current.
  • Thermolysis allows for fast removal of fine hair with shallow to medium-straight follicles.
  • Galvanic electrolysis has the highest success rate for lack of regrowth. It is the slowest method, which may make it more uncomfortable. It works on distorted hair follicles, as well as deep hair follicles. Incorrect treatment can result in tattooing (permanent black marks on the skin). Can be followed by cataphoresis, which is beneficial for reducing redness and providing effective antibacterial protection.
  • Blend is a combination of galvanic electrolysis and thermolysis. It is the most popular method in North America. It combines the currents of the previous two methods, so that a wide range of hairs can be treated. This includes kinky and curly hairs and hairs with distorted follicles.
For best results, it is crucial to work with a skilled electrologist. 

Pros

Electrolysis can successfully remove all types of hair, regardless of colour, texture, or stage of growth. It can also successfully remove hair on all skin colours and types (dry, oily, mature, etc.). It can be performed just about anywhere on the body, except the inside of the nose and ear. After each treatment, any hair that regrows will be finer and lighter.

Cons

Electrolysis is expensive (anywhere from $25 to $250 an hour). It requires repeated treatments over a long time period (around 1 to 4 years for thick facial hair). It is also painful (though there are over-the-counter and prescription topical anesthetics to help with pain management). Common side effects of electrolysis include temporary redness, bumps, swelling and scabbing. Incorrect treatment methods can lead to blanching (temporary whitening of the skin), pitting or dimpling of the skin.

There are some health conditions that may prevent you from safely undergoing electrolysis, such as high blood pressure or epilepsy. Ask your doctor if electrolysis is a safe hair removal option for you.

Safety tips

After electrolysis, the treated area is prone to infection. Follow your electrologist’s after-care instructions. This will include information about cleansing your skin, using soothing products, avoiding makeup for a day and avoiding tanning and plucking. There are some home electrolysis devices on the market, however, performing electrolysis on yourself is very difficult, even for skilled electrologists. The consequences of inaccurate needle insertion can be severe and include permanent scarring.

Laser hair removal 

Laser hair removal offers long-term hair reduction, as opposed to the permanent hair removal offered by electrolysis. It can be used on all parts of the body, except the eyebrow and ear. It is most effective on light, medium or olive skin with dark hair. It is generally ineffective on blond, strawberry blond, white or gray hair. Dark brown and black skin has a much higher risk of burns, scars and hyperpigmentation (permanent darkening of the skin).

To maximize the effectiveness of this treatment, stop all methods of hair removal other than shaving or depilatory creams at least 10 weeks before treatment. Shaving and clipping may be done up to 2 days before treatment.

There are many different laser devices used for hair removal. The most common are:
  • NeoDymium Yttrium Aluminum Garnets (Nd:YAG)
  • Ruby Lasers
  • Alexandrite Lasers
  • Diode Lasers
Laser machines used for hair removal, as noted by Health Canada, “operate with high emission levels and are therefore designated in the highest hazard classes (Class 3B & Class 4)”. This means it is crucial to work with a skilled, experienced and well-recommended laser hair removal provider who practices the required safety measures when providing this service. Health Canada has Safety Guidelines for Facility Owners and Operators to follow; however, monitoring of their use is currently not in place in BC.

Pros

Laser hair removal is fast. Lasers treat an area of skin rather than one follicle at a time (as electrolysis does). It is long-lasting, and may produce some permanent results. Some people find it less painful than electrolysis. Regrowth is often finer and lighter.

Cons

Professional laser hair removal is expensive. It requires several treatments (3 to 6 or more). Side effects can include temporary swelling, bumps, crusting, redness, singed hairs that look like tiny black spots and temporary skin discoloration. More serious complications include blistering, permanent skin discolouration, scarring, intense itchiness and hives. There is a lack of evidence about the safety and effectiveness of laser hair removal over the long-term. It is also an unregulated industry in Canada, raising additional safety concerns (i.e. about the training and experience of practitioners). Many people are not good candidates for laser hair removal, based on hair and skin colour, health conditions and medication use.

People with the following conditions should not use laser hair removal: epilepsy, diabetes, cold sores, albinism, nervous disorders, sunburn, open wounds or a history of keloid scarring. Those who are pregnant or who have gray hair should also avoid this method. Do not use this method if you take Accutane, tetracycline or Retin-A. If the area you wish to have treated has a birthmark or mole, have the treatment approved by your health care provider first.

Safety tips

Follow your practitioner’s advice regarding aftercare in order to minimize side effects and complications. This will likely include instructions about avoiding hot baths for 24 to 48 hours, using clean cold packs to soothe the treatment area, applying soothing ointments to keep the area lubricated and avoiding sun exposure, make-up and lotions for a period of time following treatment.

Considerations for electrology & laser hair removal

Considerations and tips for choosing the hair removal method that works for you and your needs. 

The hair removal options available depend on your goal, how often or conveniently you can remove your hair, and whether the hair removal is pre-surgical. Only two methods, electrolysis and laser hair removal, can achieve long-term or permanent results. This is a requirement for some gender-affirming lower surgeries. 
  • Electrolysis is generally the recommended method as it is the only known permanent hair removal option. However, with effectiveness in using laser hair removal now documented (especially for surgery preparation), laser hair removal method is now considered an option for individuals who are not good candidates for electrolysis.
  • Effectiveness for either method is approximately 85-90% due to dependencies on skill and experience of hair removal provider, an individual’s hair and skin type, and an individual’s ability to follow the hair removal plan.
  • Due to these reasons, a combined method of electrolysis and laser hair removal has also been recommended as offering the best result for most.

Tip: Make sure you plan ahead. 

Depending on your hair growth cycle, you will require any where from 9 to 18 months to complete hair removal and ensure no new hair grows back. Before starting with pre-surgical hair removal, get confirmation from your surgeon regarding the exact location and dimensions of the area to be made hair-free. If your surgeon outlines the area to be made hair-free during your consult, take several photos for reference so that you can ensure the correct area is being targeted with your treatments.



For electrolysis and laser hair removal, your hair colour and skin type will affect the recommended method for long-term or permanent hair removal.

A combination of electrolysis and laser hair removal are generally recommended; however for individuals who have light hair (blonde, strawberry blond, red, white, or grey hair), and those with dark skin, electrolysis is the only method that should be used for hair removal.


Tip: Ask for a patch or site test

Be sure to work with your hair removal provider to see if a patch or site test can be done prior starting your hair removal plan. This can help determine if you have adverse reactions to the method.
Be sure to work with your hair removal provider to identify any contraindications from your health history and medications that might impact the selected hair removal method. Read our safety tips for each hair removal method - electrolysis and laser hair removal should be used with highest caution.
What you can afford can impact your ability to achieve your goal for hair removal. Electrolysis and laser hair removal are costly and can take time and commitment to meet your hair removal plan and achieve the results you are looking for.
  • Costs can range from $55 to $250 per hour for electrolysis in B.C. As many as 300 hours may be needed to achieve permanent hair removal for some individuals. 
  • Costs for laser hair removal can range from $125 to $250 per session. Each area requiring hair removal can take up to 8 sessions.

Tip: Know your budget 

Discuss with your hair removal provider whether you can afford completing the full recommended hours or sessions for your chosen hair removal method. On occasion, hair removal providers may provide a package rate or lowered rates for clients.

Find a hair removal service provider who is experienced, knowledgeable and comes recommended in providing gender-affirming service.

This is especially important when looking for an electrologist or laser hair removal provider as risks involved in these methods of hair removal are high. Damage that can be done may be permanent (e.g. skin burn) which can in turn impact your goals for hair removal, especially for pre-surgical hair removal.

In B.C., hair removal services, even electrologists and laser hair removal providers, are unregulated. Some electrologists and laser hair removal providers may have certifications or designations to prove their level of competency; however, no specific regulations are in place for their professions, operations and use in the province.

Tips when choosing your hair removal provider

Be sure they:
  • Have experience working with trans clients (using correct pronouns and respectful language) and are knowledgeable in the hair removal goals you are looking for.
  • Offer a site/patch test to ensure the hair removal method is suitable for you.
  • Have a practice that is sanitary – ask about their method of disposal of needles (for electrolysis) or other one-time use supplies as well as the last inspection by a Environmental/Public Health Officer.
  • Have a business license (according to municipal requirements) and hold insurance.
For additional suggestions, read Hair Facts: Choosing an electrologist.


Additional hair removal considerations

  • Managing Pain: Electrolysis and laser hair removal feels a bit like getting a tattoo. Speak with your hair removal provider if you are concerned about pain. Options for pain management may include distraction through video, music, conversation, virtual reality, oral pain medication, topical anesthetic (e.g. EMLA, Zensa, BLT, Tetracaine). 
  • Managing Expectation: Results of hair removal can differ by individual as well as the experience and skill of the provider. It is important to keep in mind there will be varying results, side-effects and limitations of the treatment for each individual.
  • Sticking to the plan: Attend hair removal treatment sessions as planned and notify your hair removal service provider if any changes occur in your diet and hormones so your treatment plan may be adjusted.

Additional hair removal resources


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