Achieving permanently fuzz-free-status is the unicorn of the beauty world: glorious, mythical, and seemingly unattainable (also see: Lily Collins' brows, Connie Britton's hair). Enter: electrolysis. This hair removal method promises to zap all unwanted body hair permanently—yes, for real. Though it’s not a new development, it’s still not as widely known as, say, laser hair removal. To get the facts, we talked to Dr. Anthony Youn, a board-certified plastic surgeon and Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (he’s also a frequent skin expert on shows like "Good Morning America" and "Access Hollywood").
Read on to get the 411 on electrolysis.
“Electrolysis is the application of an electric current to an individual hair follicle as a way of destroying it,” Youn says. How does the electrical current get to the hair follicle? Essentially, a teeny, tiny needle (usually finer than the hair it's zapping) is inserted along the hair shaft.
If the thought of needles and electric currents hasn't scared you off yet, and you've got hair you want to nix, then electrolysis will probably work for you. “Anyone who has hair they want to get rid of, and can stand the discomfort and cost, is a reasonable candidate for electrolysis,” says Youn. And, unlike laser hair removal, electrolysis will work on women with blonde or gray hair.
Remember the discomfort Youn mentioned earlier? It's not something to be too concerned about. We'd be lying if we said the experience was on par with a relaxing massage, but it's not unbearable either—in many cases, it feels kind of like a small pinch. If you’re worried about being in pain, Youn says you can apply a topical anesthetic, like topical lidocaine cream, which will help make the treatment more comfortable.
As for after the treatment, Youn says there can be some “minor redness and burning.” Your skin will most likely be sensitive, so treat it gently. You can also use a topical antibiotic to help prevent any infection or acne that might pop up, but Youn says to make sure to discuss it with your Electrologist first.
Youn says that the most popular location to get electrolysis is the eyebrows, followed by hair on other parts of the face (think: upper lip, hairline, chin, and sideburns). Luckily, electrolysis' magical powers aren't just limited to above-the-neck fuzz-removal; it can be used on essentially any area that's covered in hair you don't want, including your bikini area, underarms, legs, and stomach.
If you're getting a treatment on your face, stop using any products containing retinol or tretinoin at least one week before your appointment, Youn warns. Other things you can do to prep: Stay hydrated, gently exfoliate before your treatment, and remove all of your makeup.
“Typically, many treatments are required for electrolysis to work, even as many as 15-20,” says Youn. So this is an investment, in both time and money. Sessions can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, and cost depends on a variety of factors, such as the size of the area you're treating and even the city you live in (according to the American Electrology Association, big cities generally have higher rates than smaller ones).
But don't skimp on cost: This is a professional procedure, and, therefore, should be done by a professional (so maybe pass on the Groupon deals). Ask for an in-office consultation (most places will offer one, and they may include a short treatment so you can see what the procedure is like). And, you don't have to commit to the first place you go—get to know a few offices before handing out your final rose (à la "The Bachelorette").
Here's the best part: The results are permanent. “Once the hair follicle is destroyed it will not grow back,” says Dr. Youn. No more bikini waxes ever again? We’re intrigued.