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Hair Removal Methods

Depilatories, Electrolysis, Laser, and Vaniqa

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Updated April 02, 2014

Hair Removal with Depilatories
Depilatories use a chemical called thioglycolate mixed with sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide to literally melt the hair away. Thioglycolate disrupts disulfide bonds, which are chemical bonds that hold skin and hair cells together. The disulfide bonds that hold hair together contain more of the protein cystine than do the disulfide bonds that hold skin cells together. Thioglycolate is more effective on disulfide bonds that contain cystine. The major side effect of a depilatory is skin irritation because the chemical can melt away skin cells.

A depilatory is applied to the area with unwanted hair and left on for 3 to 15 minutes. During this time the chemical dissolves the hair and the resulting jelly-like substance is wiped or washed off after the appropriate time. The chemical should be tested first on a small skin area at least 48 hours before applying it to a large area. Applying a hydrocortisone cream after hair removal may help decrease irritation.

Hair Removal with Electrolysis
Electrolysis involves inserting a fine needle into the hair follicle and applying an electrical current to the follicle root. This procedure actually burns the hair root theoretically preventing it from producing more hair. Each hair follicle must be treated individually and may take several treatments to destroy the follicle. Electrolysis is a permanent form of hair removal but it has several drawbacks. First, there are no standardized licensing guidelines for electrolysis so finding an experienced, effective technician is difficult requiring talking to clients who have experienced permanent results. Second, this method requires repeated treatments for up to 12 to 18 months. Hair follicles that are in the telogen phase are more difficult to destroy than hair follicles in the anagen phase. Shaving approximately 3 days before an electrolysis treatment ensures that the hairs that are visible are in the anagen phase. Finally, side effects can include pain, infection, keloid formation (for people who are susceptible), hyperpigmentation, or hypopigmentation.

Hair Removal with Laser
Laser treatment of various skin conditions has blossomed, as laser technology has become more understood. Hair removal is a common application of laser technology, but it is not permanent and not for everyone. Lasers work by emitting light at various wavelengths, energy output, and pulse widths. The wavelength used determines the skin structure it will affect such as veins, melanin, or water. Most lasers used for hair removal target melanin and are therefore designed to burn structures that contain melanin. The more melanin, the more damage. It makes sense that laser hair removal works best for light-skinned people with dark hair. As with electrolysis, hair follicles in the anagen phase are more easily destroyed than those in the telogen phase. Therefore, laser treatments for hair removal must be repeated. At this time it appears that laser treatment, while not causing permanent destruction of all hair follicles, does retard the regrowth of new hair.

Hair Removal with Vaniqa
Vaniqa is a prescription-only topical cream that has been FDA-approved for reducing and inhibiting the growth of unwanted facial hair. The active ingredient in Vaniqa is eflornithine hydrochloride, which has been used to treat African sleeping sickness and certain cancers. Vaniqa works by inhibiting an enzyme that is needed for cell reproduction and other cell functions necessary for hair growth. Vaniqa is applied twice a day to areas of unwanted facial hair. Noticeable results are usually observed after 4-8 weeks of therapy. Application must be continued for as long as inhibition of hair growth is desired. Vaniqa continues to reduce facial hair growth for up to 8 weeks after discontinuing treatment.

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