Hair is such an emotive subject and with human nature being human nature, what we want we can’t have and what we have we don’t want! Curly hair and we want straight, straight hair and we want curly, brunette and we want blonde, blonde and we want red. Likewise upper lip hair on a female, so valued as a sign of exquisite beauty in certain parts of the world, is vilified by our Western society.
Unwanted hair is a common problem affecting most women to varying degrees throughout their lives and prompting the use of various temporary methods of hair reduction or hair management systems. It causes great distress, and it is often accompanied by feelings of poor self esteem, a sense of isolation and low self worth.
Since the times when bearded ladies in Victorian travelling fairs were displayed for entertainment and ridicule, Western society has nurtured a stigma about excess hair. Many women are pressured into tremendous lengths to remove any trace of hair from any and every part of their body as they feel it to be unattractive and unappealing. However it is not only women that are now affected… increasingly the male gender is subject to pressure from the ‘fashion’ and celebrity world and unwanted hair can be just as vilified by the male population nowadays as the female.
Different Methods of Hair Removal
Superfluous hair growth can be caused by many factors, such as, hormone imbalance, (during puberty, pregnancy and menopause), genetics and ethnicity, hereditary, medication or topical stimulation e.g. waxing or tweezing. Therefore, electrolysis – the only permanent method of hair removal, is a treatment that is in great demand by female and transsexual clients and more recently, due to society’s attitudes, the number of male clients is increasing.
To meet this need there as always been many hair removal measures some of which go back centuries in history. Hair removal has been around since caveman times but interestingly the parts of the body we are removing hair from have differed over the ages. Removing hair from the head and face of men was originally not for vanity purposes but for survival. There is evidence that cavemen did this but also the ancient Egyptians and it was undertaken, we imagine, for protection, as scraping off the beard and hair on the head would take away the advantage of an adversary having anything to grab onto as well as having less mites!
In ancient Egypt, Greece, and Middle Eastern countries, removing body hair was important. In fact these women removed most of their body hair, except for eyebrows. Egyptian women removed their head hair and pubic hair was considered uncivilized by both sexes! It was also considered uncivilized for men to have hair on their face. Facial hair was the mark of a slave or servant, or of a person of lower class. The ancient Egyptians used a form of razors made of flint or bronze as the razor was not invented till the 1760′s by French barber, Jean Jacques Perret.
They also used a method of temporary hair removal called sugaring. A sticky paste (bees wax was sometimes used) would be applied to the skin, a strip of cloth was pressed onto the wax and yanked off – the equivalent of waxing today. Wealthy women of the Roman Empire would remove their body hair with pumice stones, razors, tweezing and pastes. There was also another technique used called threading which is recently seeing a resurgence in popularity. Thin string or yarn would be placed through the fingers of both hands, and quickly stroked over the area. This repetitive process captured the hair and effectively tweezed, ripped or pulled the unwanted hair out. During the Elizabethan times the practice of hair removal, (not of leg, armpit or pubic hair), of their eyebrows and the hair from their foreheads in order to give the appearance of a longer brow and forehead was fashionable. It is startling to note the obvious influence ‘fashion’ has played in hair removal from the very beginning.
Waxing, sugaring, depilatory creams, bleaching, shaving, sugaring, plucking, threading and even battery-powered tweezers multiple-plucking systems, are all temporary methods that many people try today. In fact new hair removal devices seem to appear like buses – every 20 minutes or so! However, technology has moved on and with it, it appears that there are some restricted and doubtful methods of hair removal. X-ray and photodynamic methods are in a restricted category because the former has been banned in some countries like the USA and the latter are only in experimental stages. Electric tweezers, transdermal electrolysis, and microwaves are some of the doubtful methods in that there is no established data on their effectiveness.
Electrolysis is still the only proven permanent method of hair removal and many women and indeed many men, have benefited from this tried and trusted treatment. It is often the case that electrologists are privileged to witness a dramatic transformation in their clients, from a shy, introverted personality at the beginning of a course of treatments, to a confident and happy individual once treatment is underway and results become apparent.
Whatever your opinion of hair, ‘removing it’ in our Western society is a multi million pound industry. Such a huge money making machine though will have more than its fair share of misconceptions, misunderstandings, myths and legends none of which relate much to the hard reality truth. The huge profit led hair removal industry has its fair share of charlatans and scams all attracted by the huge profit led opportunities.
Hair Removal methods are both permanent and temporary. The English dictionary definition of ‘permanent’ states: perpetual, everlasting. With this in mind there is only one system on the market today that can totally prove ‘permanent’ hair removal primarily due to its longevity, client testimony and satisfaction and that is electrolysis. Invented in 1875 electrolysis offers permanent removal of hair for all hair types and colours and all skin types and colours. It continues to be utilised in hospitals by surgeons and ophthalmologists for trichaisis and other distortions of the eyelashes as well supporting the hospital laser hair removal departments. It is also considered an important tool in the work of veterinary surgeons for animals (primarily horses and dogs) for the permanent removal of distorted and in-growing eyelashes. It provides cosmetic relief for the consumer with mild hirsute problems to the patient with seriously hirsute problems and for the transgender patient who may require many hours of treatment.
Apparently there has been confusing messages coming from the regulatory bodies on definitions of what the words ‘permanent’, ‘removal’ or ‘reduction’ in the hair removal industry actually mean. Agreement was reached that if the hairs that have been removed do not grow back for a period of one year after the last treatment, permanent reduction can be claimed. Electrolysis, invented in 1875 remains to this day, the one method legally allowed to claim ‘permanent removal’.
The newer technologies such as LASER (Light Amplification Stimulated Emission of Radiation) and IPL (Intense Pulse Light) were initially launched as competitors of electrolysis and initially marketed as THE answer for all permanent hair removal. This, it is now realised, is at best, somewhat nave and at worst, certainly misleading. The reality is that this was wishful thinking and nowadays ‘claims’ are far more realistic. The truth is that whilst they have their successes they also have their limitations – they cannot treat all hair colours and types and all skin colours successfully and they now accept their limitations and embrace electrolysis and electrologists as their back up.
Laser and IPL are allowed by the FDA to claim permanent ‘reduction’ but not permanent ‘removal’ of hair. The truth is that this newer technology is brilliant for large areas and for dark hair. For grey or white hair it just simply doesn’t work. Laser and IPL target the melanin in the hair and if the hair is grey or white there is no melanin remaining in the hair for it to target. In addition to this, for unknown reason(s) not all of the hair reacts to treatment and results vary from 85% – 95% success. The remaining 5% – 15% hair will be stripped of its melanin (thus appearing white) but still stubbornly continues to grow. This then leaves the only option of ‘permanent hair removal’ down to additional electrolysis treatment to complete the job. Laser and IPL are now recognised to be a hair ‘management’ system and clients are advised that regrowth may occur.
Photoepilator light energy was launched in 1969 and was developed from research into laser hair removal. Photoepilators use a burst of filtered light aimed at one hair at a time. After the focus of the light, the hair is tweezed. Like any laser and light instrument, the light used in the device is targeted against the blood and melanin pigments in the hair and heats them up. To enable this process, fibre-optic probes were inserted into the hair follicle through which the light was flashed. There is no clinical data published so far to support any permanency claims and there is no established data on its effectiveness.
The tweezer method with its unsubstantiated claim of ‘permanent hair removal’ was first patented in 1959. This system works by passing an electric current through the tweezers, which holds the hair on the surface of the skin by grasping them for several minutes. Electricity enters through the hair to its root and claims to permanently damage it. The scientific community has reservations as the claim of electricity destroying the root of the hair has no scientific backup.
Transcutaneous and Transdermal offers ‘permanent Hair Removal’ but no clinical data has been published to date to establish the claim that permanent hair removal is possible using these methods. In 1985 when the use of AC electric tweezers was stopped, the manufacturers made some modifications in the apparatus. Adhesive patches instead of cotton swabs were introduced and a name change into transcutaneous hair removal. It uses the idea of direct current (DC) for transdermal delivery of drugs (iontophoresis) without the use of a needle. A DC electric current is passed through a conductive gel on the surface of the skin via an adhesive patch placed on the skin. The hair root is claimed to be damaged permanently by the electric current that travels down to the hair follicle.
To date no clinical data is available and the laws of physics do not support the claims made by the manufacturers. Hair does not conduct electricity but skin does. As electricity passes through the medium of poor resistance, it will spread along the surface of the skin rather than passing through the hair. Therefore, as with the tweezer method, the argument that it will reach the root of the hair to destroy it has no scientific backup.
Ultrasound hair removal claims that ultrasound waves are channelled precisely down the hair shaft and in the process they transform to thermal energy that super heats the hair growth areas and inhibits regrowth. It is stated that the waves are bound to the hair shaft and do not dissipate into the skin prevents any side effects.
Ultrasound hair removal offers ‘total hair removal’ and claims to be the ‘next generation of long term hair removal devices’. It states in its marketing material that it is ‘The hair removal solution’ and that ‘no additional hair appears in the same follicle proving that this is a long-term treatment’. The FDA has not given the results to date regarding an application to market in April 2010 of the latest device.
Microwave Permanent Hair Removal is one of the more unusual methods of permanent hair and both its safety and effectiveness have not been proven scientifically. Microwave devices work in a similar manner to those used in microwave ovens. Microwaves are radio waves with a short frequency range. One of the characteristics of microwaves is its nature of being absorbed by water, fats and sugar. Once absorbed, these waves cause the molecules in the absorbed item to vibrate, resulting in the generation of heat. So the skin is heated and in theory the thermal energy causes the destruction of the hair-growing cells. However the indiscriminate heating nature of microwaves is its biggest drawback and is the reason for its limited use
Some oral medications are found to be effective on retarding hair growth. Spironolactone, Finasteride, Flutamide, and Cyproterone acetate are some of the medicine normally used for stopping hair growth. The main disadvantage in this is the side effects these medicines have on the human body. Hence, it is always advisable to use them in consultation with a Doctor or Dermatologist. Vaniqa is a prescription only topical cream, which is FDA approved. It claims to help in unwanted growth of facial hair with its active ingredient, eflornithine hydrochloride, which helps in reducing facial hair growth. It prevents hair growth by producing an enzyme that inhibits cell reproduction and other cell functions. Reports show that there is some improvement shown but only whilst the drug is being taken.