Unwanted hair can be major concern for most people, and the idea of never having to pluck or wax again is very enticing. The most popular clinical methods of dealing with this are down to electrolysis vs. laser hair removal.
This article goes in-depth discussing both to help you make an informed decision regarding which method is most suitable for you. (But nobody’s got time for that so here’s a slew of cheat sheets! 😉) Charts and infographics are available as well for quick overviews.
Table of Contents
- Is Electrolysis Better Than Laser?
- Electrolysis vs. Laser Hair Removal: Comparison Table
- Permanent Hair Removal for Men & Women: What You Should Know
- Difference Between Electrolysis & Laser Hair Removal
- Electrolysis vs. Laser Hair Removal for Face & Body
- Electrolysis vs. Laser Hair Removal: Cost & Price
- Permanent Hair Removal: Electrolysis vs. Laser
- Electrolysis: Decisive FAQs
- How Effective Is Electrolysis?
- How Does Electrolysis Work? Electrolysis Hair Removal Process / Procedure
- How Long Does Electrolysis Take?
- How Many Electrolysis Sessions / Treatments Are Needed?
- Who Does Electrolysis?
- Does Electrolysis Hurt? / Is Electrolysis Painful?
- Electrolysis Pros and Cons
- Electrolysis Hair Removal Before and After
- Laser Hair Removal: Decisive FAQs
- How Effective Is Laser Hair Removal?
- How Does Laser Hair Removal Work? Laser Hair Removal Process / Procedure
- How Long Does Laser Hair Removal Take?
- How Many Laser Hair Removal Sessions / Treatments Are Needed?
- Who Does Laser Hair Removal?
- Does Laser Hair Removal Hurt? / Is Laser Hair Removal Painful?
- Laser Hair Removal Pros and Cons
- Laser Hair Removal Before and After
Is Electrolysis Better Than Laser?
Quick Answer: For most people with dark hair, who are on the go and on a budget—laser hair removal should be the better option for you. For people with blonde, white, or grey hair; hirsutism, have time and money to invest, or looking for full hair loss—electrolysis is the way to go.
Electrolysis vs. Laser Hair Removal: Comparison Table
|Electrolysis||Laser Hair Removal|
|Effectivity||Permanent Hair Removal, 100% hair loss||Permanent Hair Reduction, 80-90% hair loss with maintenance|
|Compatibility||Any skin tone & hair color on all areas of the body||Conditional: Hair needs to be darker than its surrounding skin–won’t work for blonde, white or grey hair.|
|Process||A small probe treats individual hair strands with a small electrical current, which destroys the areas that re-generate hair. The strand is detached and easily pulled out after.||Laser/light produces a certain wavelength that goes under the skin, is absorbed by the hair, heating it, and disabling hair growth. Hair will fall out on its own in the next few days.|
|Cost / Price||Charged per hour, eg. $50/hr. Time depends on volume of hair on treated area and hair growth.||Professional: Charged per treatment area and type of laser, averages $143 per treatment.|
At-Home Devices: Ranges from $150-$500 per device.
|Pain||Medium to high, can be minimized with topical anesthetic||Small to medium, can be minimized with cooling gel or topical anesthetic|
|Side Effects||Can cause small pitted scars, some scabbing||Burns if the laser is used wrong (Please go to a reputable clinic), discolored skin, blisters, swelling|
|Time||Long and laborious as each hair strand is treated individually. Ranges from 5 mins for stray hairs to hours for large areas.||Relatively quick, as dozens of hair are treated with each laser pulse. 5-10 mins for face, 10-20 mins for the body.|
|Frequency||Varies per person, but on average once a month for 10-18 months until complete hair loss. After a year, you may need to come back to deal with any stray hairs.||3-6 treatments, 4-6 weeks apart for 6 months. Return as needed for maintenance.|
|Conclusion||Best for: Blonde, white, or grey hair; small areas, have high tolerance for pain, hirsutism, have time to spare, full hair loss||Best for: Dark hair, large areas, on a budget, quick treatments|
Another affordable and virtually permanent solution are at-home laser hair removal devices. Most of them use IPL as the laser/light source and can be effective in addressing normal unwanted hair issues.
Permanent Hair Removal for Men & Women: What You Should Know
- To ensure permanent hair removal, this cycle of hair re-growth must be stopped. To do this, we must destroy the key structures that work to regenerate hair: the bulge, the outer root sheath, and the bulb + papilla. This process must be done safely, without damaging the surrounding tissue.
- ANAGEN is the phase where Laser Hair Removal & Electrolysis is most effective.
- This cycle does not happen to all hair at the same time. We regrow and shed different hairs on a daily basis. At any given time (and during your treatment), only 80-90% of your hair are in the ANAGEN phase.
- Hair growth can also be stimulated by varying factors like hormones, and would require multiple treatments to be fully destroyed.
Difference Between Electrolysis & Laser Hair Removal
Electrolysis and Laser Hair Removal are both effective for long lasting removal of unwanted hair compared to temporary solutions like waxing or shaving. The main difference is the process, the type of hair it can remove, and amount of hair loss expected.
Electrolysis uses a fine needle with a small amount of electricity to zap and destroy hair growth cells. It is effective on all types of hair and 100% permanent hair removal can be expected. Laser hair removal uses light or a focused laser to beam heat the hair follicle and damage it sufficiently to suppress re-growth. It can only be used on hair that’s darker than the skin and efficacy can be expected at a 80-90% rate.
- Process: The goal of both is to use energy (electric current vs. laser/light) to destroy the hair underneath the skin to prevent re-growth.
- Frequency: Both are progressive treatments and require multiple visits to see results.
- ANAGEN Phase: Treatments are most effective when the hair follicle is in its active phase. Since hair grows at different phases in any one time, there will always be dormant hairs that can’t be treated during your visits.
- Both are FDA approved but Electrolysis is the only one recognized as “permanent hair removal”. Laser hair removal is only approved as “permanent hair reduction.”
- Compatibility: Electrolysis can be done on any skin type and hair color. Laser hair removal requires that hair must be darker than the skin, thus will not be effective on white, grey, or blonde hair. Fine hairs can also be treated much more effectively with electrolysis.
- Process: Laser destroys follicles with heat, while Electrolysis uses a fine wire to pass a small electric current down the hair shaft to destroy the roots.
- Time: Laser hair removal is considerably quicker, with multiple hair being treated at once, vs. electrolysis where hair is treated individually
- Cost: Electrolysis is charged by the hour, largely dependent on the volume of hair. Laser hair removal is largely dependent on the size of the treatment area and type of laser/IPL used. For most people, laser hair removal will be the more cost-effective choice.
- Pain: Electrolysis is more painful than laser hair removal. If you have very low pain tolerance, laser hair removal might be your best option.
Electrolysis vs. Laser Hair Removal for Face & Body
Best for Electrolysis:
Small areas, fine hairs, facial hair, hirsutism; white, blond, or grey hair
- Face (Upper lip, Sideburns, Chin) – Coarse hair like mustaches can also work great with laser hair removal, even with at home laser devices. For fine hair on the face though, don’t waste your time on laser and go to an electrologist.
- Fine hair or “peach fuzz” – laser usually cannot target the pigment in the hair to destroy the follicle. In some instances, it may actually increase its growth.
- Behind the ear lobes
Best for Laser Hair Removal:
Small & large areas from the neck down will be cost-effective and time-efficient. Again, hair must be darker than the skin.
- Bikini area
- Underarms – also a good area for electrolysis
- Back hair
Electrolysis vs. Laser Hair Removal: Cost & Price
Electrolysis: By the hour
In electrolysis, you will be charged by the hour, eg. $50/hour. This is because the process is laborious and involves treating one individual hair strand at a time. The length of time will depend on: the volume of hair, size of the treatment area, quality of the practice, and clinic location.
Here is an example of an electrolysis pricing chart:
Pricing courtesy of Amy Rosofsy Electrolysis in Chicago.
Laser Hair Removal: By treatment area size
In laser hair removal, you will be charged by: the size of the treatment area, type of laser machine used, quality of the practice, and clinic location. Prices are very competitive, especially in certain cities.
Here is an example of a laser hair removal pricing chart:
|Treatment Area||Price per Visit|
|Upper lip / Chin / Sideburns||$100|
Pricing courtesy of La Piel Perfecta Laser Center.
For nationwide rates, please refer to the Laser Hair Removal Cost (2019 National Statistics Report).
Permanent Hair Removal: Electrolysis vs. Laser
Electrolysis is the only method approved by the FDA for “permanent hair removal”. Since every hair strand is treated, 100% hair loss can practically be guaranteed with this method in ideal circumstances with the right electrologist.
Laser hair removal can only be marketed for “permanent hair reduction“, as it can only reduce hair up to 80-90% for most cases. But hair would also be so thin and sparse at the end of the treatment that these results would satisfy most people. This, aside from its affordability and accessibility, is what makes laser hair removal more popular than electrolysis.
Electrolysis: Decisive FAQs
How Effective Is Electrolysis?
Electrolysis is the only medically recognized form of permanent hair removal. It was first used in 1875, which gives it over 100+ years of approval as a safe and reliable method. It has the longest track record for permanent hair removal. It will be effective regardless of cause—heredity, topical, hormonal conditions, or metabolic.
How Does Electrolysis Work? Electrolysis Hair Removal Process / Procedure
The process of electrolysis will involve inserting a small probe or needle that’s the same size as your hair into the natural opening of your hair follicle. Once the probe is in, it will transfer a small amount of current to the root of the hair and effectively destroy the papilla. The hair will then fall off instantly, along with the root. Once the hair germ cell has been adequately treated, hair regrowth will be impossible.
This is done on individual strands of hair during each of your visit. Because hair doesn’t all grow at the same time, and certain factors affect hair growth, you’ll need to come back as necessary. During this time, there will be a gradual decrease in hair loss until all of it has been permanently removed.
How Long Does Electrolysis Take?
Because the process involves treating individual hair strands, it’s very laborious and time consuming. Completion depends on the individual’s hair growth and treatment areas. It can range from 5 minutes for stray hairs on the face, to several hours for larger areas like the legs.
Electrolysis is also a progressive treatment, which means results are achieved gradually through repeated sessions until desired results are seen. As you continue with your treatments, you’ll notice your hair becoming finer, softer, and lighter in color. The length and frequency will also start to dwindle as fewer hairs remain to be treated.
Keeping a proper treatment schedule will be the most efficient and effective way to achieve permanent hair removal.
Tip: Electrolysis is effective for smaller areas like the face and underarms areas, in contrast to larger ones like the back and the legs. Laser hair removal is more suited for those areas.
How Many Electrolysis Sessions / Treatments Are Needed?
This varies with every person. The volume of hair, thickness, hormones, genetics, health, all contributes to how receptive your hair will be to the treatment. Areas where you’ve waxed or plucked will be more frequent than other areas.
On average, it will be once a month for 10-18 months until complete hair loss. After a year, you may need to come back to deal with any stray hairs.
Who Does Electrolysis?
A Certified Professional Electrologist (CPE) must perform your electrolysis. Ideally, they would also be a member of the American Electrology Association, a non-profit organization for permanent hair removal professionals.
Does Electrolysis Hurt? / Is Electrolysis Painful?
The main sensation you’ll experience is the heat passing down from the probe to the base of the follicle. Treatments will usually be adapted to suit your skin, hair, and pain threshold.
In comparison to laser hair removal, electrolysis is the more painful procedure.
Smart Consumer Note: Electrolysis is only as good as the skill of your electrologist. Make sure to find an experienced therapist who works efficiently to save you from (physical) pain and money.
Electrolysis Pros and Cons
- Guaranteed permanent hair removal as the aim is to completely destroy the root of the hair, which causes re-growth
- Suitable for any skin color and any type of hair; unlike laser hair removal which comes with certain limitations (eg. No white, blond, or grey hair, hard to work on fine hairs, etc.)
- Suitable for all areas of the body
- Process can be significantly painful compared to laser hair removal and other hair removal methods
- Takes a significantly longer treatment time since each strand of hair must be treated
- Will be very costly for thicker hair as electrologists charge by the hour
- Requires much more treatments in total compared to laser hair removal
Electrolysis Hair Removal Before and After
Laser Hair Removal: Decisive FAQs
How Effective Is Laser Hair Removal?
This procedure is tagged by the FDA as “permanent hair reduction” as opposed to “permanent hair removal”. Like electrolysis, it requires a series of schedules treatments to see results.
Laser hair removal is effective in reducing 80-90% of hair. There can be instances where it can be permanent, but most people will require sporadic maintenance even after a complete set of treatments. This is the same for professional treatments and at-home laser hair devices.
It’s most effective on people with hair darker than their skin. Dark hair with light skin is the ideal candidate for laser hair removal. It will not work on white hair, grey, or blonde. It may also be less effective on fine hairs.
How Does Laser Hair Removal Work? Laser Hair Removal Process / Procedure
It involves using laser light to remove unwanted hair from the face and body. The light energy passes through the skin, where it is absorbed by the hair and thereafter the root of the hair follicle is disabled.
Time needed: 20 minutes.
Laser Hair Removal Process / Procedure:
- Hair trimming & sterilization of the treatment area. Prior to the procedure, the treatment area will be shaved and sterilized.
- A layer of protection in placed on the treatment area. A cooling or numbing gel is applied to protect the upper layer of the skin and reduce the chances of side effects.
- The laser device will be pressed unto the skin and fired off consecutively, while moving in a gliding motion. Using a handheld laser device, pulses of light is directed at the treatment area. The hair absorbs the light, damaging the follicle which inhibits further re-growth. The treated hair will gradually fall off in the next few days.
- Aftercare Following the procedure, you skin may be red or irritated for a short period. A topical cream will be used to soothe and protect the skin as it heals.
Note: It’s important to use sunscreen after, and avoid anything that would irritate the skin like plucking or waxing.
How Long Does Laser Hair Removal Take?
It can take anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour, depending on the size and location of the treatment.
How Many Laser Hair Removal Sessions / Treatments Are Needed?
Hair does not all grow at the same time. Only active hair can be treated with laser at any one time. Because of this, there will be roots of hair that will be missed with every session. This is why multiple treatments are necessary to see results.
Although total treatments vary with each individual, most will require 3-6 treatments, 4-6 weeks apart for 6 months. You will also have to return sporadically for maintenance.
Who Does Laser Hair Removal?
Cosmetic surgeons, physicians, and laser technicians are the most qualified experts to perform laser hair removal. Make sure you check the quality of practice in the medical clinics and spas you visit to avoid any injuries.
Does Laser Hair Removal Hurt? / Is Laser Hair Removal Painful?
A cooling gel is placed prior to firing off the laser to increase your comfort. If you have very low pain tolerance, a topical anesthetic may be applied.
Laser Hair Removal Pros and Cons
- Non-invasive procedure with minimal discomfort
- More efficient for larger areas like the back and legs because it treats hair by scale instead of individually
- Time: Takes significantly less time to do compared to electrolysis
- Frequency: Requires less treatments than electrolysis to complete a series
- At home laser devices are now available in the market for an even more affordable solution
- Can reduce hair to only 80-90% on most cases, and require maintenance thereafter.
- Compatibility: Not all people are good candidates for laser hair removal. People with dark skin can only be treated by a specific laser called Nd:YAG, which is not available in every clinic or spa. People with white, blonde, or grey hair won’t be treated effectively at all.
- Cost: Cheaper than electrolysis, especially for people with thick hair.
Laser Hair Removal Before and After
Photos courtesy of Venus Concept & Candela Medical.
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