Transdermal hair removal
Transdermal hair removal (also called transdermal electrolysis and transcutaneous hair removal) is a type of epilation. Promoters claim an electrified cotton swab can remove hair permanently, but there is no scientific proof of this. Conductive gel is spread on the skin. Electricity is passed through a cotton swab which is touched to the gel. Electricity supposedly travels down the hair follicle and permanently damages the hair root.
- “Painless and permanent”
- “No side effects”
- “Clinically proven”
- “More effective than electrolysis, and without the needle.”
- “Hair can conduct enough energy to kill the root.”
- “Offer your salon clients permanent hair removal.”
- “Makes a great home business.”
These devices are heavily promoted to beauticians through trade shows and magazines. Many practitioners believe the device actually works as claimed, thus unwittingly taking money from consumers for ineffective “professional” treatments.
Called transdermolysis, no-needle electrolysis, and non-invasive electrolysis.
After the U.S. Federal Trade Commission brought charges against the Removatron electric tweezer,  a North Carolina beauty salon owner named Hubert Lee Cole started American Hair Removal System (AHRS) and patented DC electric tweezers  In the early 1990’s Cole and his partner Mark Chandler, M.D. modified their TE 629 electric tweezer. They discovered that they could replace their electric tweezers with an electrified cotton swab and get the same results. They called this method “transdermal” electrolysis, and the modified devices were sold with the electric tweezer apparatus as an “optional treatment.”
The transdermal apparatus continues to be promoted illegally as painless and permanent. FDA stated in a 1999 letter pointing out that FDA had not evaluated these claims. 
On 2 April 2001, FDA told the main manufacturer of this device that they were in violation of federal law in making claims of painless and permanent hair removal using transdermal electrolysis. This was their second such warning.
There is no published clinical data indicating transdermal or transcutaneous methods can result in permanent hair removal.
Claims by the promoters conflict with laws of physics. Hair is a poor conductor of electricity. Skin is a better one, and conductive gel is an excellent conductor. Because electricity follows the path of least resistance, any energy applied by the device is not going to travel selectively down a hair. It’s going to dissipate across the gel on the skin’s surface.
Proven permanent methods hurt because the amount of energy required to destroy a hair follicle comes in contact with the rich bundle of nerves around each hair.  Even plucking hurts, and it’s been shown to be temporary. The reason these “transcutaneous” procedures don’t hurt much is because the energy is not strong enough to stimulate the nerves, let alone damage the hair growth matrix permanently.
See my section on Clinical data for details.
Promoters have not offered any valid proof their device can work as claimed. Save your money.
- Removatron Int’l Corp., v. FTC, 111 FTC.206, 298, aff’d, 884 F.2d 1489 (1st Cir. 1989).
- U.S. Patent 5,534,003.
- FDA Consumer Safety Office Patricia Jahnes to IHRS, 20 July 1999.
- Schuster J. Photo of follicular nerve bundle. (unpublished, 1992).