Hair-Removal Methods: Electrolysis

Basic facts




Quack claims


Three kinds of energy are used:

Galvanic electrolysis works by causing salt and water in the skin around the probe to be chemically altered to produce a small amount of sodium hydroxide, or lye. Lye is the active ingredient in some crystal drain openers. If enough is produced, it can damage the cells that cause hair growth. The chemical reaction is expressed like this:

NaCl (salt) + H2O (water) + direct current = NaOH (sodium hydroxide) + Cl (chlorine) + H (hydrogen)

Thermolysis works by causing water molecules in the skin around the probe to vibrate, which creates heat. If enough heat is produced, it can damage the cells that cause hair growth.

Blend is based on the theory that lye is more caustic when heated. Theoretically, blend is more effective if performed correctly. Blend is recommended by several experts, [4, 5, 6] but electrologist skill is by far the most important factor in safe and effective treatment.


Although several researchers were apparently experimenting with electrical epilation after the Civil War, it's generally accepted that St. Louis ophthalmologist Charles Michel was the first to discover and publish permanent hair removal results with an electrified needle. [7]

In 1875, Dr. Michel reported he had been successfully using a battery-powered needle epilator to treat ingrown eyelashes (trichiasis) since 1869. [8] This DC powered method was called electrolysis because a chemical reaction in the hair follicle causes sodium hydroxide to form, which damages the follicle. It's also sometimes called galvanic electrolysis.

Use of electrolysis for hair removal continued through the early part of the 20th century. Its commercial popularity as a cosmetic treatment was briefly eclipsed by x-ray hair removal, which was advertised as both "painless" and "harmless" (only one of which was true, of course).

Subsequent innovations in the field included the use of multiple needles, developed by Paul Kree in 1916, and the use of AC electricity, which causes thermal damage within the follicle. [9] This was first reported in medical literature in 1924 by Dr. Henri Bordier, following over a decade of experimentation by numerous researchers. [10] This method was called diathermy by Bordier and is also called thermolysis, short-wave, high-frequency (HF), radio-frequency (RF), etc.

Incremental improvements in the equipment and technique continued through World War II. At that time, Arthur Hinkel and Henri St. Pierre applied for a patent for a blend method they'd been developing. They received their patent in 1948, and 20 years later published the groundbreaking book Electrolysis, Thermolysis and the Blend, discussing their use of scientific techniques to improve the method. [11] In the wake of Hinkel's book, several other useful practical overviews have been written. [4, 5, 6]

The second half of the 20th century saw more incremental equipment improvements incorporating transistors and computerized controls, as well as insulated probes and sterile disposable probes.

Despite improvements in equipment, electrolysis remains highly dependent on the skill of the practitioner. Electrolysis trade groups have set standards for member certification, but many U.S. states do not regulate the practice of electrolysis. [12] For this reason, it's very important for consumers to go to a practitioner recommended by someone who is done and happy with the results.

Clinical data

Following a long absence from medical literature, electrolysis was once again taken up as an issue worthy of research in the latter part of the 20th century. [13, 14]. Good review articles by physicians [15, 16] complement the practice manuals by professional electrologists. [4, 6, 11]. The best electrolysis book written and edited by a physician is Richards. [5]

Electrolysis improperly performed or performed on non-normal skin can cause scarring, [17] spread infection, [18] and potentially cause isomorphic outbreaks or spread of lesions. [19]

One well-designed study found that about 2% of women under 50 who seek electrolysis have an undiagnosed glucose intolerance. [20]

Two studies, one small and one large, respectively demonstrated that 90% to 93% of consumers have satisfactory results [21, 22]

Two well-designed Japanese studies demonstrate permanence in treating underamrs. The thermolysis study showed "little to no regrowth" at 6 to 36 months after 3 to 8 treatments to the underarm. [23] The blend study observed no regrowth at 6 months after 7 to 14 treatments, while comparative plucking resulted in no significant hair removal at 6 months. [24]


  1. Please see for a selected list of published electrolysis medical literature.
  2. Caldwell IW. The electronic pencil. British Medical Journal, 1972, 03 Jun(813):591-592.
  3. Please see for a discussion of home-use personal electrolysis units: cons and pros.
  4. Gior F. Modern Electrology: Excess Hair, Its Causes and Treatments, 3d ed. 2000 and Published by Hair Publishing, Inc., Roslyn, New York 11576. (previous edition from Tarrytown NY: Milady Publishing, 1987)
  5. Richards RN, Meharg GE. Cosmetic and Medical Electrolysis and Temporary Hair Removal: A practice manual and reference guide. Toronto: Medric Ltd.,1991, pp 37-40.
  6. Bono M. Real world electrology: the blend method. Santa Barbara, CA: Tortoise Press, 1994.
  7. But see Wagner RF Jr, Brysk H, Tyring SK. Revisiting the Michel/Green controversy of 1879: was Carron du Villards the first to use probe/needle electrolysis for permanent hair destruction? International Journal of Dermatology 1997 Dec;36(12):947-951.
  8. Michel CE. Trichiasis and distichiasis; with an improved method for radical treatment. St. Louis Clinical Record, 2:145-148, 1875.
  9. Richards (1991) page 39. Available online via American Electrology Association.
  10. Bordier H. [New treatment for hypertrichosis with diathermy]. Vie Medicale, 1924, 5:561 [article in French]
  11. Hinkel AR, Lind RW. Electrolysis, Thermolysis and the Blend: the principles and practice of permanent hair removal. Los Angeles, CA: Arroway Publishers, 1968.
  12. Please see for a list of states that regulate electrolysis.
  13. Chernosky ME. Permanent removal of superfluous hair. Texas Medicine, 1971, 67:72-78.
  14. Johnson E. Epilation of growing hair follicles. Journal of Expermimental Zoology 1975 May;192(2):259-263.
  15. Wagner RF Jr, Tomich JM, Grande DJ. Electrolysis and thermolysis for permanent hair removal. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 1985 Mar;12(3):441-449.
  16. Hobbs ER, Ratz JL, James B. Electrosurgical epilation. Dermatologic Clinics 1987 Apr;5(2):437-444.
  17. Vogt HJ [Formation of keloids after electroepilation]. [Article in German] Hautarzt 1973 May;24(5):203-204.
  18. Ditmars DM Jr, Maguina P. Neck skin sporotrichosis after electrolysis. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 1998 Feb;101(2):504-6.
  19. Petrozzi JW. Verrucae planae spread by electrolysis. Cutis, 1980, 26:85.
  20. Dumesic DA, Herrmann RR, O'Brien AM. Estimated prevalence of undiagnosed glucose intolerance from hyperandrogenic anovulation among women requesting electrolysis. International Journal of Fertility and Womens Medicine 1997 Jul-Aug;42(4):255-260.
  21. Verdich J [Treatment of hypertrichosis in women by means of electroepilation] Ugeskrift for Laeger, 141:2056-2057.
  22. Richards RN, Meharg GE. Electrolysis: observations from 13 years and 140,000 hours of experience. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 1995 Oct;33(4):662-6.
  23. Kobayashi T, Kamiyama G. Electroepilation using insulated needles. Aesthetic Plastic Surgery 1987;11(4):223-227.
  24. Urushibata O, Kase K. A comparative study of axillar hair removal in women: plucking versus the blend method. Journal of Dermatology 1995 Oct;22(10):738-742.