“Transcutaneous hair removal” (WARNING!)

“Transcutaneous hair removal”

Basic facts

Promoters claim an electrified adhesive patch can remove hair permanently, but there is no scientific proof of this.

Description

Conductive gel is spread on the skin.

Electricity is passed through an adhesive patch which is touched to the gel.

Electricity supposedly travels down the hair follicle and permanently damages the hair root.

Quack claims

“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.”

Background

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, as well as “hands-free” or “continuous” hair removal.

History

After the U.S. Federal Trade Commission brought charges against the Removatron electric tweezer, [1] a North Carolina beauty salon owner named Hubert Lee Cole started American Hair Removal System (AHRS) and patented DC electric tweezers [2] 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. [3]

In the late 1990’s AHRS changed their company name to International Hair Removal Systems (IHRS) and made another unproven modification using adhesive patches. They changed their method name to “transcutaneous” hair removal and changed the device name to SuperPhaser Gold.

Like a lot of quack devices, transcutaneous hair removal is based in part on an accepted scientific method. Patches for active transdermal delivery of drugs (called iontophoresis) use direct current applied to an adhesive patch. This is used to deliver medication that might otherwise need to be injected. For instance, one company has a useful product for children that delivers lidocaine anesthetic without using a needle. Unfortunately, this useful scientific innovation captured the attention of the hair removal quacks, who saw that “no-needle” anesthesia offered a chance to expand the quackery of “no-needle” electrolysis they’d been promoting for years. They patented the idea and proceeded to think about marketing strategy (rather than bothering to test it). [4]

Newer devices are sold with the electric tweezer apparatus and the transdermal cotton swab option as well as the patches. The “transcutaneous” method continues to be promoted illegally as painless and permanent, even though FDA has not evaluated these claims. [3]

On 2 April 2001, FDA told IHRS they were in violation of federal law in making claims of painless and permanent hair removal using transcutaneous patches. This was their second such warning.

Brands

Clinical data

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. [5] 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.

References

  1. Removatron Int’l Corp., v. FTC, 111 FTC.206, 298, aff’d, 884 F.2d 1489 (1st Cir. 1989).
  2. U.S. Patent 5,534,003.
  3. FDA Consumer Safety Office Patricia Jahnes to IHRS, 20 July 1999.
  4. U.S. Patent 6,039,746.
  5. Schuster J. Photo of follicular nerve bundle. (unpublished, 1992).

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