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We'll just put it out there: Everyone has thin, fine hair (as some would call it, peach fuzz) on their face. While there's nothing wrong with this, many make it their mission to find a sure-fire way to de-fuzz said face—namely on the sideburns, lips, and brows. Waxing and shaving may work on areas of the body that are seasonally exposed (think: legs and underarms), but when it comes to the face, a more permanent option may be worth exploring.
Enter electrolysis and laser hair removal, two methods of permanent and semi-permanent hair removal that can effectively rid facial hair. But what's the difference between electrolysis and laser hair removal, and which will perform better? To gain some intel, we consulted with two board-certified dermatologists, Zain Husain and Sharleen St. Surin-Lord, who filled us in about everything relating to electrolysis and laser facial hair removal.
Meet the Expert
- Zain Husain, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New Jersey.
- Sharleen St. Surin-Lord, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in Washington DC.
Read on to learn more about electrolysis vs laser hair removal, and which one is the right option for you.
What Is Electrolysis?
Electrolysis is a cosmetic procedure for removing unwanted hair. According to Husain, it uses a thin metal probe to deliver a low-level electrical pulse to each undesired hair follicle and stops new hair growth. "This method is safe to target hair follicles near sensitive areas and is very precise," he notes. "After many repeated treatments, electrolysis results in permanent hair removal." In terms of ouch-factor, you can expect to feel some discomfort due to the brief pinch and heat sensations throughout the treatment.
The Benefits of Electrolysis
Does electrolysis work? Our experts gave a resounding "yes," touting the procedure for its ability to make the skin hair-free for good. Though electrolysis requires lengthy sessions (15 to 60 minutes) spaced one month apart (for roughly 12 to 30 sessions in total), St. Surin-Lord maintains that results are considered to be permanent since the hair follicle is destroyed by the electric current. Plus, it's also safe to use on finer areas of the face like the eyebrows.
Electrolysis Pros and Cons
If you are considering electrolysis, take the following into account. On one hand, electrolysis produces permanent results, is clinically proven to safely and effectively remove hair, works on all hair and skin types, is safe on sensitive areas like the face, and can be cheaper than other methods. However, to some, the treatment is painful and takes many sessions to fully eradicate the follicle.
Electrolysis Risks and Side Effects
Electrolysis is a fairly safe procedure but like any beauty treatment, there is potential for unwanted side effects. "With electrolysis, there can be damage to melanin as well as redness in all skin types that should be transient," says St. Surin-Lord. When done improperly, there is a risk for dark spots or pigmentation. There is also a little risk for some swelling in the affected area.
What Is Laser Hair Removal?
Unlike electrolysis, Husain explains that laser hair removal uses specific wavelengths of light to target the melanin in dark hair follicles in a desired area. "It does not target individual hair follicles like electrolysis does, and it uses light energy instead of electrical currents," he says. And because the laser selectively targets the melanin in the hair, St. Surin-Lord says it only works on dark brown or black hairs and not grey, red, or blonde hairs. Depending on how well you tolerate pain, many find laser hair removal more tolerable than electrolysis, comparing the pain of laser hair removal to a rubber band snapping. Still, Husain says that there would be some discomfort due to the heat from the laser pulses. "Some devices have a cool spray or cold handpiece that cools the skin prior to the pulse of laser," he notes.
The Benefits of Laser Hair Removal
St. Surin-Lord praises laser hair removal for its ability to give a desired outcome quicker than electrolysis. "Laser hair removal is very selective, fewer treatments are required, and results are seen sooner," she says. "Individual treatments are more expensive than electrolysis, but ultimately, it may be less expensive, as laser hair removal treatments only require six to eight sessions. Also, laser hair removal is much less tedious and time-consuming than electrolysis." That said, while you'll notice a significant reduction in hair, many experience hair regrowth and may have to opt for occasional laser maintenance to have a long-lasting result.
Laser Hair Removal Pros and Cons
Unlike electrolysis, laser hair removal requires fewer treatments and typically, results are seen sooner. Treatments also tend to be shorter and more efficient. However, some find that hair grows back (even after the recommended amount of sessions), and require follow-up treatments. Laser hair removal works well on deep hair shades like brunette or auburn, but it struggles to pick up lighter tones like blonde and gray. It can also leave behind dark spots and hyperpigmentation which is much rarer for electrolysis.
Laser Hair Removal Risks and Side Effects
Just like electrolysis, laser hair removal is a heavily tested procedure and is very safe. However, there are still some risks. "With laser hair removal, there is the risk of developing light spots or dark spots, and even burning or scarring if the wrong laser or wrong setting is used," St. Surin-Lord says. You may also experience swelling from both procedures. If you have a darker skin tone, Husain says to steer clear of laser hair removal, as it can cause changes in skin pigmentation.
Electrolysis vs. Laser Hair Removal: Which Is Best For Facial Hair?
It all depends on your skin tone and how permanent of a result you're looking for. "Laser hair removal is more suitable for people with light skin and dark hair, and can be done on both smaller and larger parts of the body," says Husain. "Electrolysis, on the other hand, is suitable for anyone regardless of their hair type and hair color or skin tone." Electrolysis is best for small areas or for those who are looking to rid unwanted hair around the eye region.
You should avoid sun exposure with both procedures to let the treated area heal as well as lessen the risk of hyperpigmentation occurring.
Shop the Best At-Home Options
Below, find our favorite at-home devices for electrolysis and laser hair removal.
Husain recommends this pick by Tria Beauty—it's FDA-approved and is as powerful as it is safe for removing unwanted hair. Peep their skin tone chart to see if the device is suitable for your skin tone and hair color.
Say sayonara to facial hair with Silk'n's hair removal device. It effectively rids the hair for stubble- and ingrown-free skin, and is touted for being painless.
This system is safe to zap away hair from the upper lip, chin, and sideburns, and promises eight weeks of fuzz-free skin.
What lasts longer laser hair removal or electrolysis?
Both laser hair removal and electrolysis provide long-lasting hair removal results, especially when compared to waxing or shaving. However, electrolysis has been shown to deliver permanent results more consistently.
Can you switch from laser hair removal to electrolysis?
Yes. Some switch from laser hair removal to electrolysis when multiple laser treatments haven't fully eradicated stubborn hairs.
How many sessions are needed for electrolysis?
This varies from person to person. However, the average amount of treatments is anywhere from 12 to 30 sessions. Usually, the whole process takes around a year.
Which is cheaper electrolysis or laser hair removal?
The individual treatments of electrolysis are cheaper, however, it requires more sessions (12 to 30 on average). By contrast, laser hair removal is more expensive per session, but it requires fewer sessions. The cheaper option depends on how many sessions an individual receives.
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Unwanted hair.