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Laser Hair Removal vs. Electrolysis: Which Is Better?

Know your options

Laser hair removal and electrolysis are two popular types of long-term hair removal methods. Both work by targeting hair follicles located under the skin’s surface.

According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, laser hair removal is on the rise, with an increase of nearly 30 percent from 2013. Though electrolysis is also increasing in popularity, it’s not as common as laser therapy.

Keep reading to learn the benefits, risks, and other guidelines for each procedure.

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Laser hair removal

What to expect from laser hair removal

Laser hair removal uses mild radiation via high-heat lasers. The purpose is to damage hair follicles enough to significantly slow down hair growth. Although the effects last longer than home hair removal methods, such as shaving, laser therapy doesn’t create permanent results. You’ll have to receive multiple treatments for long-term hair removal.

Benefits

Laser hair removal may be done just about anywhere on the face and body, except your eye area. This makes the procedure versatile in its uses.

There is also little-to-no recovery time involved. You can resume your normal activities after each procedure.

Although new hairs may still grow, you’ll notice that they grow in finer and lighter in color than before. This means that when there is regrowth it won’t look as heavy as before.

This procedure tends to work best if you have both fair skin and dark hair.

Side effects and risks

Side effects of laser hair removal may include:

  • blisters
  • inflammation
  • swelling
  • irritation
  • pigmentation changes (usually light patches on darker skin)
  • redness
  • swelling

Minor side effects like irritation and redness tend to go away within a few hours of the procedure. Any symptoms that last longer than that ought to be addressed with your doctor.

Scars and changes to skin texture are rare side effects.

You can minimize the risk of side effects and permanent skin damage by making sure you seek treatment from a board-certified dermatologist only. Salons and at-home laser removal aren’t recommended.

Aftercare and follow-up

Before the procedure, your dermatologist may apply an analgesic ointment to minimize pain. If you still experience pain, talk to your doctor about taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. You doctor may also prescribe a steroid cream for severe pain.

Common symptoms, such as redness and swelling, may be relieved by applying ice or a cold compress to the affected area.

Laser hair removal disables hair growth — rather than removing hairs — so you’ll need follow-up treatments. Regular maintenance treatments will also extend the results.

You’ll also want to minimize your sun exposure after each laser hair removal, especially during peak daylight hours. Increased sun sensitivity from the procedure puts you at risk of sunburn. Make sure you wear sunscreen every day. The Mayo Clinic also recommends staying out of direct sunlight for six weeks before laser hair removal to prevent pigmentation disruptions on tanned skin.

Follow-up appointments are essential to this type of treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, most people need a follow-up treatment every six weeks, up to six times. This helps to stop hair growth after the initial laser hair removal session. After this point, you’ll also need to see your dermatologist for a maintenance appointment. You could do this once or twice a year depending on your needs. And you can shave in between appointments.

Costs

Laser hair removal is considered an optional cosmetic procedure, so it isn’t covered by insurance. The overall cost varies based on how many sessions you need. You can also talk to your dermatologist about a payment plan.

Although at-home laser hair treatment might be appealing in terms of cost, it’s not proven to be safe or effective.

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Electrolysis

What to expect from electrolysis

Electrolysis is another type of hair removal technique that is done by a dermatologist. It also disrupts hair growth. The process works by inserting an epilator device into the skin. It uses shortwave radio frequencies in hair follicles to stop new hair from growing. This damages your hair follicles to prevent growth and causes existing hairs to fall out. However, you’ll still need multiple follow-up appointments for the best results.

Unlike laser hair removal, electrolysis is backed by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a permanent solution.

Benefits

In addition to producing more permanent results, electrolysis is extremely versatile. It can help inhibit new hair growth for all skin and hair types. Electrolysis may also be used anywhere on the body, including the eyebrows.

Side effects and risks

Minor side effects are common, but they tend to go away within a day. The most common symptom is slight redness from skin irritation. Pain and swelling are rare.

Possible severe side effects include infection from unsterile needles used during the procedure, as well as scars. Seeing a board-certified dermatologist can minimize the risks.

Aftercare and follow-up

The results of electrolysis are touted as being permanent because of hair follicle destruction. In theory, having damaged hair follicles means that no new hairs are able to grow.

These results aren’t achieved in just one session. This is especially the case if you’re having the procedure done on a large area like your back, or on an area of thicker hair growth like the pubic region.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, most people need follow-up sessions every week or bi-weekly to achieve optimal results. Once the hair is gone, you won’t need any more treatments. No maintenance is required with electrolysis.

Check out: How to treat and prevent ingrown pubic hair »

Costs

Like laser hair removal, electrolysis isn’t covered by insurance. The amount you pay depends on the size of the area being treated and the number of follow-ups required. Some doctors charge an hourly rate. Electrolysis costs less with each visit, but you may end up having more sessions than with laser therapy.

At-home epilators are available for sale, but these aren’t as effective as professional devices. Plus, these machines aren’t regulated by the FDA for safety.

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Takeaway

Which is best?

Laser therapy and electrolysis both produce longer-lasting effects compared to shaving. But electrolysis seems to work the best. The results are more permanent. Electrolysis also carries fewer risks and side effects, and you don’t need the maintenance treatments required for laser hair removal.

The downside is that electrolysis must be spread out over more sessions. It can’t cover large areas at once like laser hair removal can. Your choice may depend on how quickly you want to achieve short-term hair removal.

Also, doing one procedure and then the other isn’t a good idea. For example, getting electrolysis done after laser hair removal disrupts the effects of the first procedure. Do your homework ahead of time and talk to your dermatologist about the best option. If you decide to switch hair removal procedures, you may need to wait several months before beginning.

Keep reading: How to identify, treat, and prevent infected ingrown hairs »

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