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    Electrolysis successful where laser hair removal fails

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    Key iconKey Points

    • Direct comparison of lasers and electrolysis difficult due to price variations based on body area and hair type being treated
    • Electrolysis useful in treating areas that are inappropriate for lasers
    • Potential adverse events with electrolysis are generally similar to those with lasers

    Hand-in-hand

    Electrolysis can work hand-in-hand with laser treatments to treat areas inappropriate for lasers. It's part of the American Electrology Association's (AEA) mission to remind dermatologists that in such cases, "There's probably an electrologist in your town who would be more than happy to fill the gap," Dr. Davidson says.

    Somewhat similarly, she says, when treating the face with a laser, "In any area that is strongly affected by androgens, we have seen many cases of paradoxical hypertrichosis." This consists of thick, dark hairs growing in the lateral face or sideburn area and neck.

    "That can be very frustrating — a patient is trying to remove hair, and they start getting more hair. This is another area where electrolysis is a better way to go," Dr. Davidson says.

    However, "The problem is that for doctors to know a lot about electrolysis, they have to get to know an electrologist or learn about the AEA because electrolysis is not a medical specialty — it's an age-old beauty specialty, for lack of a better term," Dr. Davidson says. "Even though many states license electrologists, there's not a lot of research in the literature because electrologists don't write scientific papers."

    Moreover, the few scientific publications that mention electrolysis position it as a competitor in studies designed to cast favorable light on a new laser, Dr. Davidson says.

    "Since there's nothing else in the medical literature about electrolysis, that's the only place where doctors are getting information" about the procedure, she says.

    "Perhaps it's hard for people who have lasers to be as aware that sometimes they need to use something else," Dr. Davidson says.

    Dermatologists need electrolysis to remain a viable treatment option, however, because patients who can't undergo laser hair removal treatments will struggle without it, she says.

    "It would be a shame to lose it," she says. For the foreseeable future, "We're always going to need electrolysis to do the things that laser can't."

    Dr. Davidson says that in her practice, she does not provide any laser treatments and refers many patients each week to local electrologists (she also refers appropriate patients to laser treatment providers).

    "Whenever excess hair growth comes up, I usually talk about the pros and cons of either option," she says.

    Adverse events

    Potential adverse events (AEs) associated with electrolysis are generally similar to laser AEs, Dr. Davidson says. The most common ones include redness and swelling, which last up to a few hours, in the treated area.

    "Some people consider electrolysis painful," she says. "That's certainly true of lasers, too. There are ways to get around that," such as using topical anesthetics.

    Electrolysis also can cause temporary hyperpigmentation, and occasionally bruising or small areas of crusting, Dr. Davidson says. "Scarring is extremely rare. It has been reported when electrolysis is not done correctly."

    Disclosures: Dr. Davidson is a volunteer for the AEA.

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    John Jesitus
    John Jesitus is a medical writer based in Westminster, CO.

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