“Let There Be Light.” These stirring words were likely a frequently uttered mantra in the early days of electricity. And in 1875, Dr. Charles Michel coined another revolutionary phrase: “Let there be no HAIR growing HERE!” and flipped a switch which resulted in the disabling of a hair follicle in a process which is still widely used today, Electrolysis. It works by feeding DC current through a slender needle (probe) to the follicle; sodium hydroxide (lye) is produced by electrochemical reaction at the tip of the needle, and in a matter of seconds, the tissues which support continued viability of the follicle are traumatized to the point that the hair will not grow back.
Short Wave Electrolysis (Thermolysis) was developed in the 1920’s, sending radio waves through probes to generate enough heat (118°F) to cause electrocoagulation and disable the follicle. In 1948, Blend technology was developed which uses both DC current and radio waves. It would be many years before the next major technological evolution, one which would overcome the traditional phobia of ‘needles’, even though they are smaller than a human hair, and insistently referred to as ‘probes’.
Transdermal (Transcutaneous) Electrolysis is a relative newcomer to the electrolysis scene, and despite its extremely positive acceptance and widespread use among practitioners and home users, a rapidly shrinking but persistently entrenched segment of the needle electrolysis community still brands it as ‘controversial’ and sites data from 1992 to 1999. Instead of using a probe to penetrate the follicle, it uses a special highly conductive gel to carry the electricity down the hair shaft to the follicle from saturated swabs, reusable sticky pads, or tweezers attached to the hair shaft. While the ‘jury was out’, the marketplace returned a verdict: it works. A leading manufacturer of transdermal electrolysis technology has been producing systems since 1997 and reports continued strong sales, a high level of customer satisfaction, and multiple ‘repeat’ customers.
In 1960, when Theodore Maiman first demonstrated the principal of the laser beam, it was described as ‘a solution looking for a problem’. Since then, thousands of problems have found their solution in laser technology, including dramatic developments since the 1990’s in safely directing laser energy to targets such as hair follicles, tattoo ink, and skin conditions caused by the breakdown of microscopic veins and arteries. By the 1970’s, the xenon flash tube, developed in the 1930’s, had already established itself in the fields of photography and emergency warning lighting, but again many years would pass before this technology would also find its application in cosmetic electronics through Intense Pulsed Light systems.
Today’s practitioners and patients have many choices when it comes to technology, and modern manufacturing practices have even brought the precision of lasers into such an affordable price range that many individuals buy and use laser hair removal systems in the privacy of their homes. One must be willing to put extra time and effort into a permanent alternative to tweezing, waxing, and shaving… methods which produce instant but temporary, results. All of the ‘electricity vs. biology’ methods must, however, concede one point in the debate: a hair follicle is only susceptible to to being disabled during the anagen growth phase, and only 10% to 20% of body and facial hairs are in this phase at any one time. Therefore, a series of treatments over a period of months is always necessary to achieve permanent hair removal in a particular body area.