Hairy Today? Gone By Tomorrow! (cont.)

Electrolysis requires a series of treatments over a period of time. The major risks of electrolysis are electrical shock, which can occur if the needle is not properly insulated; infection from an unsterile needle or other infection control problem; and scarring resulting from improper technique. The American Medical Association's Committee on Cutaneous Health and Cosmetics says the success of electrolysis self-treatment depends largely on the condition of the hair and skin, the equipment, and the level of skill developed. The committee recommends limiting self-treatment to readily accessible areas, such as the lower parts of the arms and legs.

Tweezers epilators: Tweezers epilators, like needle epilators, use electric current to remove hair. The tweezers grasp the hair close to the skin, and applied current travels down the hair shaft to the root. And, like needle epilators, electric shock is possible if the tweezers touch the skin instead of grabbing the hair. Tweezers epilator manufacturers can claim permanent hair removal if they can provide supporting data.

Tweezers epilators are relatively new, having been brought into the market only about 20 years ago. Because they don't use a needle, they are supposed to be less painful than the older devices, which have been around for more than a hundred years. Needle epilators are exempt from premarket notification; tweezers epilator manufacturers, however, must submit to FDA data showing their devices are substantially equivalent to similar devices already on the market. FDA is currently reviewing this policy.


Hair removal entered the "laser age" last year when FDA cleared the ThermoLase Softlight laser, manufactured by Thermotrex Corporation, based in San Diego.

"The Softlight is essentially a standard dermatological laser similar to others already on the market for treating skin lesions and removing tattoos.

With the ThermoLase method, a proprietary topical black-colored solution is applied to the treatment area before the laser is scanned across it. The solution penetrates the hair follicles, and the black material in it preferentially absorbs the laser wavelength, which heats and destroys the follicles.

Some side effects can be expected whenever a laser is used to treat the skin. These include redness, caused by heating the tissue; possibly some darkening of light-complexioned skin and lightening of dark-complexioned skin; and a risk of some scarring in some patients. Usually the treated area is covered to prevent infection during the healing period, and then kept covered with a moist solution for a period of time, adding that sunlight should be avoided during healing also, to avoid a change in pigment.

A prescription device, the laser must be used under a licensed practitioner's direction.

For more, please visit the Focus On Skin.

Portions of the above information have been provided with the kind permission of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (

Last Editorial Review: 9/3/2002

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