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Will Anything Permanently Remove Facial Hair?

from HealthCentral - Dr. Dean - Will Anything Permanently Remove Facial Hair?

Jane: A few years ago, I had electrolysis treatments for 18 months to remove facial hair. I had hairs on my face like the kind men get. The hair disappeared, but most of it came back a few years later.

Can either electrolysis or laser treatments remove hair permanently? What about medication?

A woman from a salon in San Francisco that is doing a hair removal study said there is no such thing as permanent hair removal unless it's done with hormones.

I had a test to check my hormone levels.

Dr. Dean: That's a good beginning, but if you had them checked once, you might check them again because these levels can fluctuate.

Some women are hirsute because of unusually high testosterone levels - a rise in testosterone levels can create new hair follicles.

I recommend that you see a dermatologist. I'm a great believer in specialists for specialty problems. All day long I read medical journals, and what I've read tells me that a dermatologist who is interested in helping hirsute women is the person who's going to do the most for you. The specialist can also point you in the direction of some new medications that might help.

There is no such thing as a one-shot deal that will permanently remove hair, as if I took a scalpel and shaved you forever clean. You will always need a "touch up."

With the old standard electrolysis method when 100 hairs are removed, about 30 percent of them come right back. Then those are removed, and 30 percent of that third returns. One-shot permanent removal doesn't happen, but repeated treatments can be a success for a time.

We are finding with the new laser treatment that hair has not regrown on some people who had it removed years ago. Hair that hasn't grown back in a year ain't coming back; I don't think the follicle can form again.

But one sweep of the laser will not permanently remove all of the hairs. The ones that survived the first sweep have to be zapped again.

What I like about the laser is that it treats a bunch of hairs at once. It costs a little more, but the convenience might make it worthwhile, because the wand can target larger areas.

Laser, however, doesn't have the track record of electrolysis, which has been around a lot longer. I do like to see a method prove itself over five to 10 years.

HealthCentral - Dr. Dean - Will Anything Permanently Remove Facial Hair? - 1999-05-13

One Person's Opinion...from: Hair Removal Clinic: Mechanical Hair Removal


This method is commonly used for shaping eyebrows and removing stray hairs from the face. I recommend that witchhazel or 70% isopropyl alcohol be applied to the area and then dried before tweezing. To avoid excessive distortion to the follicles which may later result in ingrown hairs, I recommend tweezing the hairs in the direction they grow. Naturally, tweezed hair will grow back within 5 weeks to 7 months depending on which stage of growth the hair was in at the time. (Hair is always in different stages of growth, just to complicate matters, you see). To prevent skin trauma, do not use sharp-edged tweezers, as they can puncture the skin and cause scar tissue to form. Also, skin discoloration and an increase of coarse hair may result, causing the skin to look like a patchwork quilt. In summary, you might say that tweezers are to plucking what chickens are to clucking. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Electric Tweezers

Many women bought them. The ones that tried them before buying usually did not bring one home with them. Tears come to my eyes just thinking about them. I don't remember what hurt the most . . . my skin or my throat (from screaming). I think you know what I'm talking about . . . if you've tried it you'll never forget it. This is written primarily for those of you brave souls who still have your electrically motorized spring devices. I can't mention the name of the manufacturer, but shouldn't it have been the Marquis De Sade Corporation?

I've been informed that there is a way of using them to minimize pain and skin problems to some degree. Here it is:

Soak the area to be tortured (sorry, I mean de-fuzzed) with hot, soapy water. Loofah the area, rinse well, gently pat skin dry with towel, allowing skin to retain some moisture. (Not wet, mind you, but not completely dry, either). Be sure to read and follow all package directions and precautions. Then, say your prayers, tell yourself that suffering is good for the soul, and proceed with your mini lawn-mower from hell.

If I seem down on these devices, it's not just because of how painful they are. I don't like the fact that they grab the hair and yank it out while twisting it because this usually causes a proliferation of ingrown hairs. Ingrown hairs can be quite troublesome; they can become infected and develop into sebaceous cysts that often need to be surgically removed. Often these mini-surgeries leave little "crater" like scars in the skin. I tell you, it's the PITS!

There are two positive things I can say about these devices:

They don't promise permanent hair removal...(although some women have reported that the hair takes longer to come back and when it does it's finer and softer than before.)
If we could adapt them to be battery-operated, they just might be great as secret weapons if we ever have another conflict in the Persian Gulf!

Electronic Tweezers

These do NOT remove hair permanently, despite their deceitfully worded ads. Some advertise a full guarantee, but the "guarantee" is not for permanence of hair removal, only that the device is free of defects! Clever? Yes. Honest? Reliable? No. The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have stated that the manufacturers of these 'defuzzatrons' may NOT advertise them for permanent hair removal. Why aren't they effective? The manufacturer tells you that you grasp the hair with their electronic tweezer, "wait about 15-30 seconds while the current travels down the hair shaft" and then you can "slide" the hair out. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Well, there's a bit of a glitch here; you see, hair is NOT a conducter of electricity, in fact, it's an insulator!
These devices are often found in hair removal salons that advertise "Painless Electrolysis", (usually in bright neon signs!) It may be painless but it sure isn't electrolysis; it's no better than an ordinary tweezer, but can be a lot more dangerous, read on . . .

If you are determined to try this device for yourself, here are some important cautions:

Do not do so during pregnancy. Although the current will not go down to the root of the hair, these devices do emit radiation. This can be harmful to the fetus, especially in the early stages of pregnancy. (Tests performed on mice with this type of radiation resulted in deformed offspring).

If you wear a pacemaker, the Food and Drug Administration warns that the high frequency current of these devices can interfere with the frequency of the pacemaker which can cause cardiac arrhythmias.

There is a further warning that the radiation emitted by these devices can be very harmful to the eyes.

Home Electrolysis Devices

Theoretically, they can remove hair permanently but are extremely impractical to use. A high level of skill in using the instrument is necessary for the treatment to be effective, but even professional electrologists have great difficulty in working on themselves. The reason is that you cannot get close enough to certain areas to see well enough so that you can insert the electrode into the follicle accurately. If the angle and depth of the insertion are not completely accurate, not only will the treatment be ineffective but likely to cause skin damage. In a shallow insertion, burns to the upper follicle may create enough scar tissue to seal the follicle with the hair still growing inside of it. These burns can leave the skin pitted and scarred. Research has proven that nearly everyone who has used these devices has suffered skin damage to varying degrees. Not a good idea. Imagine a dentist performing his own root canal . . . Ooohh!!


Bleaching does not actually remove the hair. It lightens the hair color so it appears blonde or golden. To date, no evidence has been presented of harmful effects of bleaching to the skin. However, the bleaching agents that lighten the hair can also alter the pigment in the skin. This can result in a change to the skin texture, making it thicker, coarser and sometimes darker. If you decide to bleach, please be sure to read and follow all package directions and take every precaution.

Some women have reported that after bleaching consistently their hairs have diminished in strength and quantity. However, other women who have been bleaching their mustaches for years have experienced the opposite effect - their hairs have become like package string. Not very good unless you want to work for the Post Office!


The chemicals in depilatories dissolve the hair into a thick, gloppy mess (oops, that's MASS) that is then washed away. The outermost layer of skin is also removed, leaving the skin smoother. (This outer skin layer is normally replaced every 28 days, so to use a depilatory more often than that may damage the underlying layers of skin.) This method is popular because it is pain-free and the effects are long-lasting. Regrowth hair will not appear as rapidly as it does with shaving because the hair is dissolved below the skin's surface. It's a good idea to use a sunscreen on the areas you've used the depilatory if that skin will be exposed to the sun. If the areas get itchy or look irritated in any way use a good quality aloe vera gel or anti-inflammatory skin cream and discontinue use of the depilatory. Do NOT use depilatories near the eyes or any mucous membranes. Please be sure to follow all package directions and precautions.


Shaving is fine for legs and underarms. I do NOT recommend that women shave facial areas unless they want that Fred Flintstone, five o'clock shadow look. In the majority of cases the hair will become very coarse, tough and wiry. Some women have a problem when shaving their legs and bikini lines . . . they get nicks, cuts, ugly little red bumps and a lot of frustration. If you are in this unfortunate category, for starters I recommend you stop using a man's razor. There are several LADIES razors on the market now and they do make a difference! Also, use a good shaving gel or cream. Shaving usually gets the best results on skin that has soaked in hot water . . . but if you are a woman of the 90's, you probably don't have all day to luxuriate in a hot tub prior to shaving! If a ten minute shower is all you have time for, then shave at the end of it, so the hair will have softened to some degree. Some women use an electric shaver . . . if that works for you, great! Try to avoid those electric shavers that have rotary blades, however, for they have a tendency to distort the hair follicles which usually results in many little ingrown hairs. If you already have ingrown hairs, (you can tell by the aforementioned little bumps) they need to be GENTLY released. Do not try digging them out with your nails! You'll end up with ghastly gashes! Try using a loofah on the ingrown areas in the shower. This exfoliates the skin, releasing the hairs that are close to the surface. For deeper ingrowns, you may have to perform a little surgery, a 'hair-ectomy' if you will. Wipe a pin or needle and the ingrown area with alcohol, and carefully release the hair, using the tip of the needle only. Never jab the needle into the skin. After the hair is released, wipe the skin with alcohol again. Why did I not recommend tweezers for this task? They have a tendency to grab a chunk of skin along with the hair and thus cause more skin trauma. (And life can be traumatic enough as it is, yes?)

A few final words on shaving:


I've heard waxing referred to as a masochist's delight! 'Kinky,' huh? Okay, if that didn't scare you off then you might as well know that waxing is performed with a substance mainly composed of paraffin wax, oil and rosin (and an evil gleam in the eyes of the waxer). The hair must be long enough for the wax to adhere to it properly. A cloth strip is then applied to the wax and quickly removed (read: RIPPED) from the skin. Some types of wax must be heated before application to make them supple enough to surround the hairs. Wax is usually applied to the skin while still hot and when it cools the wax is stRIPPED off the skin, taking the hair (and months off your life!) along with it. OUCH!! This is better tolerated on the lower legs, but is usually very painful on body areas. Waxing is widely used for the removal of facial hair, particularly the eyebrows because they won't require waxing again for a few weeks. That was the good news about for the bad news: Due to tissue trauma, the skin will be red after waxing. Tiny bumps or welts may appear and scabbing is common. Also, you might bleed a bit after waxing which means that the skin will take longer to appear normal again. Most people I know develop ingrown hairs in the waxed areas because the follicles become distorted from the forcible RIPPING out of hairs. Hair grows in the distorted shape of the follicle and curves under the outer layer of skin, becoming trapped underneath. They become unsightly, itchy little bumps and can become infected and develop into sebaceous cysts over time that may require surgical removal. Also, it is very possible for infection to occur after waxing if there was harmful bacteria on the skin's surface. Wait, there's more yummy stuff......Some people who have waxed for prolonged periods of time find that their hairs have become extremely coarse and strong, and waxing is no longer effective. They must go to the tool shed for their strongest pliers to RIP those last stubborn hairs out. (Don't say I didn't warn you!)

X-Ray and Laser

The year: 1897. The place: Vienna. The method: X-ray. The good news: It destroyed the hair quickly and painlessly! The hair did not come back! The bad news: Well, the skin didn't come back either. (Hey, you can't have everything.) When the X-ray destroyed the hair it also destroyed the surrounding skin. After a few months of X-ray treatments some people ended up looking like Swamp Thing. We're talking MAJOR skin damage, even loss of bone mass and eventually, cancer. The X-ray method of hair (and skin and life) removal was finally discontinued in the 1930's. What a surprise! Various companies have been experimenting with laser epilators (for hair removal) since the early 1980's. I give them credit for trying to perfect their devices. To congratulate them on having accomplished this would be premature. Lasers emit intense heat at close range. There are several different types of laser devices now in use. I still have not heard of any that are safe and actually effective as far as permanent hair removal. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration does not allow the manufacturers of these devices to advertise permanent results. (Of course, some skin damage could be permanent.)

I'm all for advanced technology, but I would hold off on getting laser treatments for hair removal until the "glitches" are worked out and all possible side effects have been thoroughly studied and documented. There is not only a strong possibility for skin damage, but harm to internal organs in the body could result from such high-powered and intense laser radiation. Who knows what the far- reaching effects could be since it is still in such an early stage now? (Will we end up looking like Darth Vader? . . . Chewbacca was pretty hairy, but didn't you love him more?)


Invented in 1875 by Dr. C. Michel, an ophthalmologist, electrolysis is the only method of PERMANENT hair removal that is medically recommended. It has become very popular with both women and men because it is the only method that gets desired results (so far).

There are three different types of electrolysis, but all three involve treating each hair individually with a fine, steel probe (needle) and electric current. This probably sounds a bit scary, but I can assure you there is nothing Frankenstein-ish about it. The sensation is like a tiny pinch. (I won't say it feels wonderful, but it's really not that bad. Some people actually fall asleep during their treatment!) For more sensitive individuals, there is an anesthetic cream, available only by prescription, called EMLA. Applied one hour before treatment, it numbs the area sufficiently to make the treatment quite comfortable. (There are no major side effects with EMLA cream to speak of; skin reddening or blanching are only temporary. Skin usually returns to its normal appearance in about one hour).

Electrolysis can be successfully performed on all facial and body areas as well as arms, legs, hands and feet. It should not be used inside the nose, ears or eyelids except by a qualified physician. (Note: treating the outer parts of the ears is fine).

All three methods are effective, but my own personal preference is thermolysis, primarily because the current does not travel through the whole body as it does with the other two methods.

When selecting an electrologist, please be careful to find one that has been professionally trained not only in electrolysis skills and technique, but in proper sterilization methods! I prefer one who uses only pre-sterilized, disposable probes and uses thorough sanitation and heat sterilization of the other implements used. How will you know? Don't be afraid to ask! When you are laying your skin, time and money on the line, hey, you have a right to know! I have never felt offended when a prospective client has asked me about my credentials and sterilization methods. (In fact, I'm amazed when they don't ask!)

A professional electrologist will give you a consultation prior to your first treatment. The consultation is usually free of charge and during it she will explain how electrolysis works, answer any questions you may have (except for how many treatments you'll need...this varies with every individual). She'll tell you what you need to do to ensure the desired results; frequency of treatments, proper care of treated skin, etc.)

Although electrolysis is permanent, it is NOT an overnight cure for unwanted hair. Be prepared to undergo a series of treatments that will last anywhere from a few months to perhaps a year or more, depending on the size of the area to be cleared, the amount of hair to be removed, its texture, etc.

Another reason that electrolysis cannot be completed more rapidly is that hair is always in different stages of growth and no one can speed up these cycles! If you don't intend to see it through to the end, don't even bother or you'll be disappointed with the results. If you find an excellent electrologist and go for all the treatments necessary, you'll be delighted with the results! You see, when electrolysis is performed properly, it can actually improve the texture of the skin. Ahh . . . hair-free and lovely to boot!

Note: During your treatment, if you feel the hairs being forcibly yanked out, you are not receiving a proper and effective treatment. A properly treated hair should slide from the follicle with no resistance.

Hair Removal Clinic: Mechanical Hair Removal

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