Electrolysis vs laser hair removal: which is right for you?

Electrolysis vs laser hair removal—which is best for long-lasting results?

close up of woman's bare legs as she jumps in the air in front of a lake
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Imagine having silky-smooth skin without any of the annoying stubble or prickly patches that grow in after a few 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 constant waxing, shaving, or tweezing—and the ingrown hairs and razor burn they can cause—you might be weighing up semi-permanent and permanent hair removal options like professional and at-home laser hair removal, and electrolysis. Both skin treatments keep hair regrowth at bay for far longer than other hair removal methods, though they're often much pricier to have done.

But before you get zapped, here’s what you should know about the pros, cons, and commitments related to these two treatments.

How does electrolysis work? 

woman getting electrolysis on her face

(Image credit: Getty Images)

So how do these methods actually get rid of unwanted body hair for (almost) good?

Elle MacLeman, skincare biochemist for The Derm Review (opens in new tab), explained, “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.

Additionally, Elle says, “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.”

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 quick results, electrolysis isn’t the best opinion. After all, 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 reached in the initial session.

You’ll probably notice stragglers growing at spots that were already treated—but don't get rid of them! This gives your hair removal expert a clue as to which follicles need additional attention. However, some people will need up to a dozen electrolysis sessions in total—which will of course up the cost.

If you’re looking for hair removal over a larger area, or the hair growth is especially dense, electrolysis can be effective, but the idea of zapping one hair at a time might be a deal-breaker for you.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are additional risks if the procedure isn’t done properly. Needles that aren’t thoroughly sterilized can lead to infections, and poor technique can cause scarring. That’s why it’s essential to work with a qualified, experienced professional.

How does laser hair removal work?

woman getting laser hair removal on her face

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“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 one–two years. You can book follow-up sessions too of course, if and when you notice eventual regrowth that you want gone.

Pros of laser hair removal

There won’t be any probes entering your hair follicles (as with electrolysis), which could make laser hair removal a preferred method if you’re needle-shy.

This process is also better suited for hair removal across 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. And the laser method may not be very effective for fine, lighter-colored peach fuzz—so might not be the best option if you're 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, the discomfort might also be an issue for you. People often describe it as being similar to a rubber band snapping on the skin, but others report it as more of a burning sensation. The FDA notes that some practitioners will recommend using a skin-numbing product during treatment, but topical anaesthetics 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.

Either way, your skin will also be more sensitive to sunlight after a laser hair removal session. MacLeman says, “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."

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, the number of sessions you need, and the provider you’re working with.

Claire Tindall, manager of PR and communications 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. Meanwhile, about 8-9 in 10 women say laser hair removal is worth it.

Which hair removal method 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 mulling over these factors, it’s can also be very helpful to consult the professionals. They’ll be able to give you all the information you need to understand how either electrolysis or laser hair removal treatments could help you achieve your goals—and why one might be a better option for you over another.

And whichever method you choose, we'd always recommend using one of the best sunscreens for face or body afterwards to keep skin protected.

My Imperfect Life thanks Elle MacLeman of The Derm Review (opens in new tab) and Claire Tindall of RealSelf for their time and expertise.

Aleesha Badkar
Deputy Editor at My Imperfect Life

Aleesha is deputy editor and beauty & fashion lead for My Imperfect Life, where she heads up the beauty, fashion and eCommerce pages. Previously she was shopping writer for 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 new products, Aleesha spends her time soaking up the newest bestsellers and Netflix releases, learning about different wines, attempting new languages and travelling as much as she can.