Imagine having silky-smooth skin without the return of stubble or prickly patches within days? That’s the appeal of long-lasting methods, such as electrolysis and laser hair removal. But in the electrolysis vs laser hair removal debate, which is the superior option and which one is best for you?
If you’re tired of the cycle of waxing, shaving, or tweezing—and the occasional ingrown hairs and razor burn—you might be weighing up semi-permanent and permanent hair removal options, such as professional or at-home laser hair removal and electrolysis. Both treatments keep hair regrowth at bay for far longer than other hair removal methods, though they are pricier.
Before you book in to get zapped, here’s what you should know about the pros, cons, and commitments involved with these two treatments.
Meet the experts on electrolysis and laser hair removal
Elle MacLeman, is a skincare biochemist for skincare platformThe Derm Review, who has explained how electrolysis and laser hair removal works, as well as some of the pros and cons of each.
Claire Tindall is the PR and communications manager for RealSelf, a platform that allows consumers to research aesthetic practitioner and treatments. She has shared some insights into the costs associated with both electrolysis and laser hair removal.
How does electrolysis work?
As Elle MacLeman, skincare biochemist for The Derm Review, explains: “During electrolysis, a super-fine needle is inserted into a hair’s follicle under the skin to destroy the follicle with an electric current."
Pros of electrolysis
Compared to other hair removal methods, such as hair removal creams, electrolysis offers a lot of perks, including its value for money. Women who opt for electrolysis will likely spend less than those who opt for laser hair removal.
"The advantages of electrolysis include the permanent results of smoother skin, and the fact that you can resume your life immediately. There’s no need for rest and recovery time," MacLeman notes.
Electrolysis is a popular choice for hair removal around the bikini area, underarms, and face, although it can be effective all over. It’s also considered to be one of the best hair removal options for dark skin.
Cons of electrolysis
If you’re looking for speedy results, electrolysis isn’t the best opinion. The process involves probing each individual hair follicle to stop unwanted hair in its tracks. Most hair follicles contain several individual hairs, so they won’t all be targeted in the initial session.
You’ll probably notice stragglers growing in spots that were already treated—but don't get rid of them. These give your practitioner a clue as to which follicles need additional attention. Some people will need up to a dozen electrolysis sessions in total, which of course also ups the cost.
According to the FDA, there are also risks if the procedure isn’t done properly. Needles that aren’t thoroughly sterilized can lead to infections, and poor technique can cause scarring—which is why it's essential to visit a qualified and experienced professional.
How does laser hair removal work?
"Laser hair removal works in a similar way to electrolysis, but uses a laser to damage the hair follicle, preventing growth," explains MacLeman. “A non-invasive laser is moved over the outer layer of the skin whilst emitting a pulse of light into the hair’s follicles. These pulses damage the follicles’ ability to create new hair growth.”
Laser hair removal is a semi-permanent option, meaning you’ll enjoy soft, smooth skin that’s free from unwanted body hair for up to 1-2 years. Further sessions are then required if and when you notice eventual regrowth.
Pros of laser hair removal
With laser hair removal, there aren't any probes entering your hair follicles (as with electrolysis), which could make it the better method for you if you’re needle-shy.
This process is also better suited for hair removal on larger areas like the legs, or for more dense areas of unwanted hair growth. But it can also work well for targeted spots around the face or underarms.
As MacLeman explains: “The pros of laser hair removal include the ability to target coarser hairs with ease, a wider area of skin covered in a fraction of a second, and a finer, lighter colored hair regrowth.”
Cons of laser hair removal
The biggest downside of laser hair removal is that it’s not totally permanent, and still requires several sessions before you’ll see results. It also doesn't tend to suit lighter hair, such as peach fuzz—so might not be the best option for everyone looking to remove facial hair permanently. That said, it can keep it at bay for a long while without needing a top-up.
Depending on your pain threshold, discomfort might also be an issue for you. People often compare it to a rubber band snapping on the skin, but others report it as more of a burning sensation. The FDA notes that some practitioners recommend using a skin-numbing product during treatment, but topical anesthetics come with their own risks and side effects. This may not be suitable for everyone, so it’s best to speak with a doctor before moving ahead with these.
Your skin will also be more sensitive to sunlight after a laser hair removal session. "The cons include increased skin photosensitivity that requires those who have had this treatment to stay out of the sun for at least six weeks," MacLeman says.
Since you’ll need to be careful and avoid direct exposure following your treatment, you’ll have to wait a while before giving your legs or bikini area their poolside debut.
Electrolysis vs laser hair removal: cost considerations
The cost of electrolysis vs laser hair removal will vary based on several factors, including the area and amount of hair you want to be eliminated from, the number of sessions required, and the provider.
Claire Tindall, PR and communications manager at RealSelf, estimates that the average cost of electrolysis is around $425 (£305), while the average cost of laser hair removal at about $875 (£630). RealSelf’s researchers say about 7 in 10 women consider electrolysis to be worth it overall, while about 8-9 in 10 say laser hair removal is worth it.
Electrolysis vs laser hair removal: which is best for you?
“I would advise those thinking about electrolysis vs laser hair removal to consider their individual circumstances,” MacLeman says. "Do you have a high pain threshold? Is there a noticeable contrast between the coarseness and color of your hair and skin tone? Can you afford to rest up between sessions? Are you expecting to be in the sun or go on vacation afterward?”
As well as considering these factors, the professionals themselves will be able to give you all the information you need to understand how electrolysis or laser hair removal treatments could help you achieve your goals—and why one might be a better option for you over another. (Whichever method you choose, always use one of the best sunscreens for face and body afterward to keep your skin protected.)
Aleesha was Deputy Editor and Beauty & Fashion Editor for My Imperfect Life, where she headed up the beauty, fashion and eCommerce pages. Previously she was Shopping Writer at woman&home and gained an AOP awards nomination after working on their news team. She earned an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London in 2017 and has since worked with a number of brands including, Women's Health, Stylist and Goodto. When she’s not testing all the new beauty & lifestyle products on the market, Aleesha spends her time soaking up the newest bestsellers and Netflix releases, watching everything Marvel, learning about different wines, attempting new languages and traveling as much as she can.
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