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The Evolution of Hair Removal

By: Terri Wojak
Posted: January 5, 2011, from the January 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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Threading is an ancient method of hair removal that has been around for hundreds of years; most often referenced in what is now modern-day Iran, Turkey and India. There are many thoughts as to where this method of hair removal originated, the most popular being in ancient Persia and Turkey. In ancient Persia, body hair removal was a rite of passage and signaled passing from girlhood to womanhood. Only married women were allowed to do it, and it was a significant ritual. This service is performed by looping a cotton thread around multiple hairs at a time to remove them from the follicle. If done correctly, this method can provide results that last around 4–6 weeks, similar to waxing. Some prefer this service to others because there is little-to-no irritation on the epidermis. It can still have some of the same side effects as other methods of hair removal, including folliculitis, which is inflammation of the hair follicle. Clients who prefer threading to other methods typically have it done on facial areas such as the eyebrows, lips and peach fuzz. Threading can remove an entire row of hair at a time resulting in a straighter line than tweezing, so it is a great treatment for shaping the eyebrows. If done by a trained professional, it truly is an art.

Waxing

Waxing dates back to the ancient Egyptians, where the wives of the pharaohs removed hair with sticky emulsions made of oil and honey. This technique is similar to a form of waxing called sugaring that is still commonly used. South American women would wax hair using secretions from the coco de mono tree. In the 1960s, waxing was rediscovered with the invention of the bikini wax, and in 1994, the Brazilian bikini wax was introduced by The J. Sisters International Salon in Manhattan, and is one of the most requested waxing services today. Waxing remains a good treatment, and it is effective for those who want longer-lasting results, but are unable to receive other hair removal procedures.

For example, in the case of eyebrow waxing, laser is unable to be performed because it is too close to the eye, and it is not possible to shape the eyebrows effectively given the size of most laser hair removal tips. Waxing as well as dermaplaning are also great methods for removing vellus hair, commonly called “peach fuzz.” When waxing is done properly, the hair should not grow back for about four to six weeks. The downside of waxing is that it can be time-consuming, expensive and frustrating because of the need to let the hair grow out between treatments.

Electrolysis

Electrolysis is a form of hair removal that was developed in 1875 by Missouri ophthalmologist Charles E. Michel, MD, when he started using a surgical needle with galvanic current to treat ingrown eyelashes. Electrolysis is still performed by many licensed individuals, although after the invention of laser hair removal, this method is not preferred by most. Electrolysis still has its place for those that require a couple of hairs to be removed from a particular area, including unwanted hairs on the chin. It is the only method available for permanent removal on nonpigmented hair, since there is no laser yet available that can treat blonde, red or gray hair effectively. The treatments can be very tedious because the technician can only treat one hair at a time, which can be painful for the client. Also, there are some risks associated with this method that can deter patients from considering the procedure, including hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, infection and even scarring.

Laser hair removal

In 1995, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first laser hair removal device, the Nd:YAG. This device is still an effective laser for hair removal, but now is most often used for patients with darker skin because the light travels deeper into the dermis and reduces the chances of hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation, a possible complication with clients with darker skin tones. Later in the early 2000s, many other laser devices were cleared for the use of laser hair reduction including ruby, alexandrite and diode lasers. Intense pulsed light (IPL) is also widely used for hair removal, although visible light lasers have been proven to be more effective because there is more energy directed at the target—the pigment in the hair follicle.