Comparison of permanent hair removal methods

Hair removal comparison

Proven permanent hair removal methods

If permanent hair removal is your main goal, these are the only ways that have demonstrated in published clinical data that they can achieve permanent hair removal.

How to read this chart: "A" is a good grade, "F" is a bad grade.

Method cost speed pain lasting skin
injury
safety
Professional needle unit (at salon)

F

D

D

A

C

B-

Professional needle unit (at home)

D

D

D

A

D

C

Personal needle unit (at home)

B+

F

D

A

D

D

Discussion:

Laser and flash lamp (IPL)

Lasers and flash lamps are not listed as proven permanent hair removal because the limited clinical data indicates that many clients (sometimes the majority) do not have permanent hair removal. Some laser studies have demonstrated permanent hair reduction (see table below).

Electrolysis

There is a trade-off for permanent hair removal. Electrolysis can painful, slow, costly, and can cause permanent skin damage if not done properly. Also, if it's not done properly, it is not as effective. Some patients (anywhere from 7% to 10%) do not seem to respond to treatment ( Richards 1995, Verdich 1979). To minimize these risks, go to a certified electrologist after getting a recommendation from a client who is done and happy. See also my tips on minimizing pain.

See choosing an electrologist for details.

I do not recommend attempting your own electrolysis at home unless you have only a very small number of hairs to remove, due to the likelihood of causing permanent skin damage. Even then, you should only attempt it if you have absolutely no other option financially, because it is extremely difficult and time-consuming. The failure rate for at-home electrolysis is very high.

Personal units cost around $30, where a professional unit costs from hundreds (used) to thousands (new). Remember, if the device doesn't have a needle, it hasn't been proven permanent.

See the section on do-it-yourself electrolysis for details.

Electric tweezers

Many electric tweezers claim they perform permanent hair removal. There is no published medical data that shows electric tweezers can achieve permanent hair removal. In fact, the only published medical article ( Verdich 1984) found that electric tweezers were temporary. The US Federal Trade Commission brought charges against one electric tweezer company for claiming permanence, and the US Food and Drug Administration has stated there is no body of significant evidence to show the device is capable of achieving permanent hair removal.

"Transdermal" and "transcutaneous" hair removal

These devices use a conductive gel and an electrified cotton swab or electrified patch to deliver electricity to the skin. They often claim permanent hair removal. The US Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated these claims and considers them illegal. There is no published medical data indicating these devices can work as claimed to achieve permanent hair removal.

Proven permanent hair reduction methods

How to read this chart "A" is a good grade, "F" is a bad grade.

Method cost speed pain lasting skin
injury
safety
LP ruby laser

F

B

C

A - B

C-

C+

Alexandrite laser

F

B

C

A - B

C

C+

Pulsed diode array laser

F

B

C

A - B

C-

C+

LP Nd:YAG laser

F

B

C

A - B

C

C+

Flash lamp

F

B

C

A - B

C-

C+

Prescription topical (Vaniqa)

C - F

A

A

A - B

A-

A

Discussion:

Electrolysis

Obviously, electrolysis can also achieve permanent hair reduction if that's your goal.

Laser and flash lamp (IPL)

Some brands of the devices above have been cleared by FDA to use the term "permanent hair reduction." Only about 31% (one in three) of the subjects in the study that got the original clearance ( Dierickx, 1998) had permanent hair reduction. These subjects were also ideal laser patients (light-skinned and dark-haired). If two out of three ideal patients didn't have any permanent reduction, then the general population would see even less success than that. Multiple treatments at regular intervals may significantly increase effectiveness, but consumers may reach a point of diminishing returns, where the amount of improvement gets less and less. A point may come where the incremental improvement is not worth the cost of treatment.

As with electrolysis, laser can be painful, slow, costly, and can cause permanent skin damage if not done properly. Also, if it's not done properly, it is less effective. Some patients do not seem to respond to treatment. To minimize these risks, go to a certified light-based practitioner after getting a recommendation from a client who is done and happy.

See choosing a light-based practitioner for details.

Prescription topical

Vaniqa is a clinically tested prescription topical cream used to control facial hair in women. It can cause a permanent reduction of facial hair in about 60% of the women who use it, but the effect only lasts if you continue using the product.

Over-the-counter topical scams

These "hair growth inhibitor" and "hair retardant" scams claim they can slow and permanently reduce the amount of hair. There is no published clinical proof these products can work as claimed.

Other charts in this section:

Comparison of methods done at home

Comparison of methods done professionally