Many people have unwanted hair growing on an area of their body. The hair may be merely a nuisance, and removal may be only a time-consuming inconvenience. On the other hand, unwanted hair may be a source of embarrassment that inhibits social activity. For a variety of reasons, some people seek a more permanent method of hair removal.
Electrologists are beauty or medical technicians who specialize in treating unwanted hair by destroying the growth centers of individual hairs. They insert a fine needle into the natural opening of the hair follicle in order to destroy hair growth cells, a process known as electrolysis.
While licensed dermatologists may also perform electrolysis, it is important to note that electrologists are not doctors. The American Academy of Dermatology Association insists that medical aesthetic services such as electrolysis only be performed by properly licensed electrologists and other aestheticians under the direct supervision of a board-certified dermatologist.
However, the licensing, certification, and supervision requirements for electrologists and electrology practices vary by state.
When performed by a qualified professional under the supervision of a doctor, electrolysis treatments are safe for most people.
What Does an Electrologist Do?
An electrologist inserts a very fine needle into the natural opening of the hair follicle and applies a small amount of electricity in order to destroy the dermal papilla and other hair growth cells. Over multiple sessions, the electrologist will eventually target all of the hair follicles in a given area.
At the present time, there are three different modalities the electrologist may employ:
- Galvanic electrolysis. The electrical current results in a chemical reaction in the hair follicle that eliminates the hair growth cells.
- Thermolysis, or short wave electrolysis. The electrical current heats and destroys hair growth cells. The electrologist may use a higher intensity current for a shorter period of time or a lower intensity current for a longer period of time.
- Blended method. The electrologist combines galvanic current and thermolysis current in order to heat up the chemical reaction and destroy the hair growth cells.
All three methods may be effective.
Some electrologists may also practice laser hair removal, a procedure that uses a concentrated laser to damage hair follicles, inhibiting or delaying future hair growth. Laser hair removal delays hair regrowth for a long period of time, but it does not result in permanent hair removal.
Education and Training
The required education and training of an electrologist varies by state, and there is no federal oversight.
Some states require as little as 400 hours of training and education before licensing, while others may require upwards of 1000 hours. Some states either require an apprenticeship or allow apprenticeship under a licensed electrologist to substitute for a formal program at a cosmetology school. The licensing board also varies. Depending on the state, electrologists may be subject to the oversight and regulation of the cosmetology board, department of medical examiners, department of health, or a dedicated board of electrolysis examiners. In addition, the following states have no formal licensing requirement for electrologists:
- New York
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
The situation only becomes more complex for electrologists who also perform laser hair removal, which, depending on the state, may require additional certification and training. Before visiting an electrologist, research local requirements and consult with your doctor.
Electrologists may also be certified through the International Commission for Hair Removal Certification (ICHRC). The ICHRC provides two levels of certification in electrolysis: Certified Clinical Electrologist (CCE) and Certified Medical Electrologist (CME). The CCE is a prerequisite for the CME. At this time, only Florida requires the CME.
The ICHRC also provides certification in laser hair removal: the Certified Laser Hair Removal Professional (CLHRP) and the Certified Pulse Light Hair Removal Professional (CPLHRP).
Reasons to See an Electrologist
You should see an electrologist if you are seeking a more long-term solution to hair removal and your doctor approves the course of action.
What to Expect at the Electrologist
Your hair removal plan will have to be customized according to your body and desired results. Most people finish their course of treatment within 18 months.
According to the American Electrology Association, you may feel a slight pinch or sensation of heat during treatment, but individual pain tolerances and sensitivities vary greatly. Immediately after a session, you may experience some tenderness or discoloration, but this should go away within a few hours. You should avoid any activities that might irritate the hair follicles for at least 24 hours after treatment, including:
- Excessive sweating
- Prolonged sun exposure or tanning
- Make-up application