Permanent Hair Removal

Laser epilation tool.
Permanent removal methods don't necessarily last forever, but they can keep hair from growing back for months or even years. See more pictures of personal hygiene practices.
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Imagine this: You get a last-minute invitation for a beach trip and realize that the hairs on your bikini line are a bit unruly. You don't have any appropriate wax kits or depilatories on hand at home, and it's too late in the game to score an appointment with your aesthetician. You'll probably have to resort to shaving, and you dread that because of those unsightly red bumps which will inevitably pop up immediately after you take a razor to your skin. If you could just get rid of the hair for good, it would make life a lot easier.

Admittedly, it usually takes more than a couple of bikini mishaps like the one described above to get someone thinking seriously about permanent hair removal. But combine those with never-ending daily and weekly rituals of shaving, waxing and plucking, and you're probably at least ready to look into what permanent hair removal entails.


Many are surprised to learn, first off, that the term "permanent hair removal" is a bit of a misnomer. Generally speaking, permanent hair removal is the long-term reduction or removal of unwanted hair. Yet "long-term reduction," in this case, can mean anything from a few months to a few years -- it doesn't necessarily mean forever [source: Mayo Clinic].

If you still think forgetting about unwanted hairs for even a few months sounds appealing, read on to find out about the various options for permanent hair removal, and how long you can expect the results to last.


Types of Permanent Hair Removal

Fortunately the phrase "no pain, no gain" doesn't necessarily hold true when it comes to long-term hair removal treatments. There are some that are considered fairly painless, while others may cause some temporary discomfort. The good news is that you have more than one option. The two permanent hair removal treatments most commonly used today are laser hair removal and electrolysis.

Laser hair removal is the removal of unwanted hair through a pulse of light that destroys the hair follicle. This method is most effective on patients with darker hair and lighter skin, because melanin -- the pigment that gives hair its color -- absorbs the laser light [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. During such treatments, you may experience discomfort that ranges from a mild sting to feeling like your skin has been snapped with a rubber band. Typically, you should expect to undergo several treatments per year. How much hair growth is reduced over time varies from person to person.


If you don't like needles, you may want to stick with laser hair removal. Electrolysis is a bit more invasive. It removes unwanted hair by inserting a probe, or needle, into the skin to destroy the hair follicle. There are also different methods used in electrolysis. With the galvanic method, the hair follicle is destroyed through the use of a chemical. In the thermolytic method, heat destroys the hair follicle [source: WedMD]. Results vary depending on the person and skill of the hair removal specialist. As for how it feels, patients report anything from wincing to shrieking during the procedure. That's why hair removal specialists often use a mild anesthetic to numb the area and ease the pain.

Now that you're running your hands over your legs wondering if fabulously smooth skin is worth the temporary discomfort that goes along with permanent hair removal, you'll want to read on to find out just how effective laser hair removal and electrolysis can be.


How Permanent Is Permanent Hair Removal?

Before you're ready to suck it up and deal with the discomfort that can accompany permanent hair removal, you probably want a response to one important question: How long does it last? The answer depends, of course, on which method you choose.

Laser hair removal is not classified as permanent hair removal, but it does fall into the "permanent hair reduction" category. Typical results show a decreasing number of active hair-producing follicles -- anywhere from 20 to 90 percent [source: Mayo Clinic]. You can expect results to last for a few months to a few years, so wait a year to determine the effectiveness of your laser hair removal treatments [source: WebMD:Surgery]. Regular follow-up appointments may be necessary to tackle areas where hair reappears. Results are also dependent on how well your hair follicles absorb and respond to the laser light. This method is typically not recommended for those with darker skin or blonde, light brown or light red hair, as the laser is less effective at targeting the hair follicle when there's less pigment there to absorb it.


Electrolysis, on the other hand, is often referred to as "permanent." In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has called electrolysis the most effective treatment method for long-term permanent hair removal [source: American Electrology Association]. What does that really mean? Again, results can vary, but research estimates that 35 percent of hair follicles are permanently destroyed through electrolysis [source: Journal Watch]. This method can be used on people of any skin tone and hair color [source: Shenenberger].

If you're tired of razors and routine appointments for waxing, you can contact your dermatologist for a hair removal evaluation and find out if there's a method that's right for you. Read on for even more information about hair removal.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Laser Hair Removal." (Accessed 8/14/09)
  • American Electrology Association. "History of Electrolysis." (Accessed 8/14/09)
  • eMedicine. "Nonlaser Hair Removal Techniques." (Accessed 8/14/09)
  • Hair Facts. "Permanent Hair Removal Defined." (Accessed 8/14/09)
  • Journal Watch. "Hair Removal: Laser vs. Electrolysis." (Accessed 8/14/09)
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Laser Hair Removal." (Accessed 8/14/09)
  • Shenenberger, Donald. "Removal of Unwanted Facial Hair." American Family Physician. (Accessed 8/14/09)
  • Simply Hair Removal. "Depilatory Creams." (Accessed 8/14/09)
  • WebMD. "Cosmetic Procedures: Hair Removal." (Accessed 8/14/09)
  • WebMD. "Guide to Cosmetic Surgery." (Accessed 8/24/09)