TikTok is renowned for reinventing retro trends and making them cool again. Recently, beauty enthusiasts made a case for skinny brows (dividing attention as you might expect). Then there was the lip gloss revival and the '70s blonde hair comeback, not forgetting scene kid makeup. This month, an old-school hair removal method is making waves on the app.
On TikTok, the hashtag #electrolysis has amassed 48.3 million views and counting, with millennials and Gen Z bingeing satisfying videos of individual hairs being zapped away. With the introduction of various lasers, from IPL (intense pulsed light) to the Nd:YAG (beneficial for darker skin tones), electrolysis hair removal fell out of favour among those looking to minimise unwanted hair growth. But thanks to the app's hair removal experts like @audreyzaps and @christelhage1, the method is reaching viral status.
TikTokers argue that electrolysis is "the most slept-on form of hair removal" and — corroborated by experts — the only truly permanent hair removal solution out there at the moment. The comments agree, with people referring to the treatment as "life-changing" and "amazing". Of course, you don't need us to tell you that removing or not removing your facial and body hair is a personal choice. But plenty of individuals choose to do so and this is an entirely judgement-free zone. So is electrolysis really worth the TikTok hype? Ahead, two skin specialists share their expert opinions.
What is electrolysis hair removal and how does it compare to laser hair removal?
Dr Daron Seukeran, group medical director at Sk:n, explains that electrolysis uses a needle, which is inserted into each hair follicle one by one. "Using an electrical current which passes through, you aim to destroy the hair follicle and to stop hair growth from that area," he says. "Electrolysis is a good option for those who want absolutely permanent hair removal."
So how does electrolysis compare to laser? Dr Emma Wedgeworth, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, explains that electrolysis has become less popular with the introduction of laser hair removal because it is much more time-consuming (hairs are zapped individually) and requires weekly appointments for a year or more. In other words, consistency is key. But the two hair removal treatments are quite different, especially when it comes to the actual method. "Laser hair removal uses a a beam of light," says Dr Daron. "The wavelength is then absorbed by the pigment in the hair, converted into heat at the base of the hair follicle and the hair follicle is destroyed. Electrolysis uses an electrical current and laser uses light. They are two different methods of trying to achieve the same thing."
Who is electrolysis hair removal best for?
Dr Wedgeworth explains that people with sparser and light hair will benefit from electrolysis, while laser will work better on dark, dense areas of hair. Dr Daron adds that if you have grey hair, electrolysis can be a more beneficial alternative. "They both have their roles to play," says Dr Daron, "but electrolysis is better for those who want absolutely permanent hair removal." Contrary to popular belief, laser hair removal is not permanent and top-up sessions may be required over time to keep hair growth at a minimum.
On the other hand, Dr Daron explains that laser hair removal can cover a very wide area of hair quite quickly, unlike electrolysis, which is a painstaking technique. "This is why people can have their legs and backs done using laser, but electrolysis is slower. It takes much longer and covers much smaller areas with each treatment session." For this reason, those looking to completely remove facial hair might opt for electrolysis as the surface area is smaller than legs, arms and other places.
With the introduction of the Nd:YAG laser, laser hair removal can be performed safely on darker skin. Dr Daron explains that electrolysis is similarly effective on dark skin.
What are the downsides of electrolysis hair removal? Is electrolysis painful?
Laser hair removal has been likened to a warm ping of an elastic band on the skin but if you have a low pain threshold, electrolysis might not be the best hair removal option for you. Dr Wedgeworth says that electrolysis can feel sore and leave the skin red and slightly swollen. Both Dr Wedgeworth and Dr Daron explain that post-inflammatory pigmentation may also sometimes develop after electrolysis. While Dr Wedgeworth says that this is often temporary, some complain the pigmentation is hard to shift. Though Dr Daron says that techniques are much better in 2021, there were previously some concerns that you could see an increased risk of scarring in comparison to laser hair removal.
For this reason, it's imperative to visit a properly qualified electrologist. Head to a website like Save Face or RealSelf to find your nearest accredited clinic and don't be embarrassed to ask your chosen practitioner about their credentials, including gathering client testimonials and before and after pictures. A consultation before any treatment is always a must, as is coming away with an aftercare plan including an out-of-office telephone number should you have any issues.
It's advised not to pluck or wax hair during an electrolysis treatment. If your electrologist can't see the hairs, they can't zap them away. You may be able to shave during appointments but it's best to discuss this with your electrologist beforehand.
How much does electrolysis hair removal cost?
Though time-consuming, Dr Wedgeworth says that electrolysis is a cost-effective way of removing hair. That said, prices may vary across the country. Reputable clinics can start at $90 for one session and you'll need a handful regularly for best results.
How should you take care of your skin after electrolysis hair removal?
Just like laser, electrolysis aftercare is important, especially if you want to see great results. "It is advised to avoid excessive exercise and sweating as well as sun exposure and active creams such as retinoids, including foundation," concludes Dr Wedgeworth. Dr Daron seconds steering clear of the sun during treatment to minimise the risk of post-inflammatory pigmentation, while TikTok's electrolysis experts recommend wearing a high factor, broad-spectrum sunscreen during the day.