The practitioner slides a solid hair-thin metal probe into each hair follicle. Proper insertion does not puncture the skin. Electricity is delivered to the follicle through the probe, which causes localized damage to the areas that generate hairs, either through the formation of caustic lye (galvanic method), overheating (thermolysis method), or both (blend method).
Three methods or "modalities" are used in electrology. Galvanic, thermolysis, and blend all have their own merits, and one method is not better than another. The success depends on the skill of the electrologist, the type of hair being removed, the condition of the skin and the pain threshold of the client. All three methods, when properly performed, can be thorough at destroying the hair matrix cells, and leaving follicles incapable of regrowing hair.
This modality is named after Luigi Galvani and uses a person's body as an electrolytic cell. Galvanic electrolysis was first reported in the medical literature by ophthalmologist Charles Michel in 1875 to remove ingrown eyelashes in patients with trichiasis. A galvanic epilator is essentially a positive ground power supply that delivers 0-3 milliamperes through the body. The follicular probe is the cathode of an electrolytic cell. Sodium hydroxide formed at the cathode by the process of chemical electrolysis kills the hair matrix cells. Modern galvanic epilators automatically adjust the voltage to maintain constant current.
Another method is known as thermolysis, radio frequency (RF), shortwave or diathermy. Thermolysis was developed in the 1920s and first reported in medical literature by Henri Bordier. A thermolytic epilator is essentially a radio transmitter, usually with an output of about 0-8 watts at a frequency of 13.56 MHz. RF energy emanates from the probe tip to tissue within about a millimeter. Thermolysis works by heating the hair matrix cells to about 48 to 50 °C (118 to 122 °F), causing electrocoagulation.
Galvanic and thermolysis are often combined in a method known as blend, developed by Arthur Hinkel in 1948, which uses both RF and direct current, combining many of the advantages of galvanic and thermolysis.
The practitioner selects a metal probe that slides easily into the hair follicle, usually the same diameter as the hair shaft or smaller. This is typically 50 to 150 µm (0.002 to 0.006 inches) for all three modalities. Care is given to insert the probe at the same angle as the hair is growing out of the skin. The probe is inserted to the depth of the dermal papilla or hair matrix, which is the site of formation of hair from highly mitotic and keratinized cells. The power and duration of the electricity are started at the lowest setting, then gradually increased until the hair comes out as easily as possible. If the patient experiences significant discomfort, the settings can be lowered.
Most practitioners will advise that complete removal of male pattern facial hair takes between 1 and 4 years, with an average treatment length of 2 years in case of one session per week, one hour per session. Removal of body hair works considerably faster.
Status of profession
||The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (April 2012)|
In the United States, electrolysis is regulated in many states, requiring training and licensing.
Electrolysis as a profession faced new competition in the 1990s after laser hair removal was developed and promoted as a quicker and easier way to remove hair. The Food and Drug Administration declared laser and similar devices can only claim to reduce hair growth, not permanently remove it.
In the state of Connecticut the professionals govern a board called the Connecticut State Electrolysis Association.
- Michel CE. Trichiasis and distichiasis; with an improved method for radical treatment. St. Louis Clinical Record, 1875 Oct; 2:145-148
- Bordier H. Nouveau traitment de l'hypertrichose par la diathermie. Vie Med., 1924, 5:561
- Hinkel AR, Lind RW (1968). Electrolysis, Thermolysis and the Blend: the principles and practice of permanent hair removal.Los Angeles, CA: Arroway Publishers, ISBN 0-9600284-1-2
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (04/26/2011). Laser Facts.
- American Electrology Association
- British Institute and Association of Electrolysis
- The Society for Clinical & Medical Hair Removal, Inc.