Done correctly, neither method should be very painful. Patients report sensations of warmth, pin pricks and sometimes stinging.
Electrology groups express concerns about laser safety and effectiveness. Laser advocates dismiss electrolysis as "old school."
But some, like Westwood, N.J., dermatologist Dr. David Goldberg, believe there's room for both.
"For people with small areas, frankly, electrolysis done well is a good procedure that costs a lot less. But for larger areas, it's foolish not to go to laser hair removal, and it's more cost-effective," says Goldberg, director of Skin Laser and Surgery Specialists of New York and New Jersey, and member of a New Jersey electrology advisory committee.
Also, electrologists brag that some of their machines have government approval to promise permanent hair removal, but lasers can only claim permanent reduction.
Goldberg blames semantics and revised government standards, but Fino Gior of Advanced Electrolysis Clinics in Great Neck, N.Y., considers the differences critical.
"When (laser) meets my standards and the FDA says it provides permanent hair removal and it treats all kinds of hair, I'll put it in my office," says Gior, founder of the International Guild of Professional Electrologists.
The Cost of Hair Removal
Costs vary as widely as the types of hair, concentration and location. Laser treatment of a small to medium area may cost $200 to $700, with four to five treatments needed.