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Pursuing Permanent Hair Removal

Updated on February 5, 2010

While human beings may not have nearly as much hair covering our bodies as our ancient ancestors, some of us retain the ability to grow it effortlessly – often in amounts or locations we’d rather it not show up. People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on one hair remover or another, with varying degrees of success.

When we talk about removing hair permanently, we should probably define our terms. Is there really a method that will rid us of unwanted hair for good? Throughout the ages, people have tried all sorts of techniques and products, hoping that the promises would turn out to be true for them, that they could go about their lives with thick, healthy hair where they want it, and smooth, hairless skin where they don’t. Let’s examine some of these common techniques.

Hair Removal Options

Several factors go into deciding how best to manage unwanted hair, including available time and money, the part of the body one desires to be hair-free, tolerance for pain or inconvenience, and even skin type. Perhaps the most common method is simply shaving, but that approach necessitates a recurring obligation, often daily, if the person wishes to maintain a hairless appearance. Contrary to popular belief, shaving does not make hair grow back thicker or darker or faster. It may appear to do so, because cutting the hair off at the surface of the skin produces a flat edge to each hair, rather than the usual gentle slope.  Regardless, shaving is the least permanent approach, and one that proves unsatisfactory for many people.

Yanking the hair out forcefully, whether by waxing or plucking, produces a smoother effect for a longer period of time than shaving, because the new hair takes time to grow to the surface of the skin. Still, these techniques can be very painful if the hair is removed from areas where the skin is sensitive. Physically removing the hair this way can also be quite time consuming and less than completely effective, since only hairs that have grown out long enough to be grasped by the tweezers or covered in wax will be removed. These methods are also quite temporary, though the repeated yanking may eventually damage hair follicles and preclude some of them from growing more hair (which is hardly an ideal plan for permanent hair removal.)

There are several chemical products available, known as depilatories, which actually break down each hair, causing it to degenerate entirely. The effect of these lotions and creams is often very smooth skin without any evidence of stubble that a razor would produce, but again, this is a very temporary solution. The chemicals can only break down hairs that have reached the surface of the skin. Also, it is a good idea to test such products on a small patch of skin before use, as some skin types are extremely sensitive to these products and may develop side effects to the chemicals in them.

At-Home Hair Removal

Approaches such as waxing and plucking can be performed just about anywhere, in one’s home or on the road. Several commercial products are available to help facilitate the process, making it as simple and painless as possible. This video shows the wide variety of hair removal products available for self-application.

Electrolysis & Laser Hair Removal

While all of these methods are easy to self-administer and their usage is usually affordable, they will be largely unsatisfactory to the person looking for a permanent solution for unwanted hair. Electrolysis hair removal has been available for many years, and if done correctly, can produce nearly-permanent results in most people. It works by applying an electric current through a fine needle to every hair follicle, essentially killing the follicle so that it cannot produce more hair.  Because hair grows in three different stages, electrolysis needs several sessions, over the course of a year or more, to fully reach every follicle root. Once complete, electrolysis can be theoretically considered permanent, since the follicles are no longer capable of producing hair. However, licensing requirements have not been standardized, so one should research deeply to find practitioners with good referrals and qualifications. Also, a history of plucking and waxing and other physical hair removal may have damaged the shape of some follicles, making it difficult for the electrolysis needle to work correctly. In some cases, electrolysis can lead to skin discoloration, if the technique is applied inaccurately. Overall, electrolysis appears to remain the most permanent hair removal technique available, especially for facial hair removal or other small areas of skin where the destruction of individual hair follicles would be most easily managed.

What about laser hair removal? This method has gained in popularity in recent years. The FDA has approved the use of lasers in removing hair, but they have required the parsing of terms in advertising for the procedure. Laser hair remover has proven to be very effective in many cases, but clinical studies have shown it to eliminate hair growth up to 90%, which still leaves 10% of people who may not see the desired results. So, the FDA considers laser treatments as “permanent hair reduction.” The technique relies on Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) to target melanin in the follicle, the substance that gives hair its color. Due to the current limitations of the technology, only black or brown hair can be effectively removed with this laser technology. As with electrolysis, several treatments are often necessary to remove all the hair.  Even with a non-response factor of 10%, many people who qualify as good candidates for this procedure have found it to be vastly superior to plucking, waxing, or shaving.

Hair Removal Risks

With any attempt to alter one’s natural appearance comes a risk of side effects, however remote. It is always important to perform due diligence when exploring one’s hair removal options. Find competent technicians with a good track record. Some of the possible dangers of electrolysis include a redness of the skin that may last a few days, or, less typically, scarring or a change in pigmentation in the affected area. There is also a possibility of infection. Laser treatments also carry similar risks, as well as a chance of permanent darkening of the treated area, blistering, burning, or scarring. Again, these effects are rare and hiring a well-trained professional will diminish the dangers considerably. it is wise to be aware of any possible outcome in order to make the best decisions.

Hair Removal Prices

One of the most crucial factors in deciding which hair elimination route to take is the cost. The temporary methods discussed earlier are inexpensive and easy to perform at home, which helps to explain their popularity. For people who want to put an end the constant work of removing hair, a more permanent solution may be worth the money. Prices for both electrolysis and laser hair removal vary widely, depending on who administers the treatments and how much hair needs to be removed, but it is possible to find an affordable technique that can provide some degree of success.
Electrolysis sessions are often charged on a timed basis, so an upper lip will probably prove to be less expensive than legs or back areas to treat. Some salons charge $30 an hour for a typical electrolysis treatment, while others average about $45 for a half-hour session. Remember that every treated area of skin will most likely require more than a single session. As for laser hair removal prices, the market offers many financial choices to meet the growing demand for this service. The average number of sessions is five, and the average cost per treatment is around $350. Different geographic areas present different typical costs, with the most expensive prices in the U.S. to be found in the southeast. Many clinics and treatment centers offer less expensive packages of three or more sessions if they are purchased in advance. While it is unlikely that one’s health insurance policy will cover such a procedure, it may be worth it to find out for sure. As with any major purchase decision, one should investigate low cost offers thoroughly and ensure the work is performed by a qualified, trained technician.

Keeping the Hair at Bay

Anyone who has struggled to maintain an appearance free from unwanted facial hair, back hair, chin hair, etc. has probably wondered about the possibility of eliminating it forever. While truly permanent hair removal may be impossible for some people to attain, an entire industry has grown around this frustration. Maintaining a hair-free existence has gradually become easier and more successful as technology has improved, and the future might just hand us a magic, pain-free elixir. In the meantime, we have a host of methods we can try, with the hopes of finding one that fits both our budget and our lifestyle.


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    • ThePepperDen profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      I use epilators- they're fantastic. So sooo much easier than waxing, in my opinion. And less painful too, as with waxing you have the added discomfort of the hot wax.


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