I had planned to stay out of this “conversation” but I think there is too much stuff being said that needs to be put into perspective. Just so everyone is clear on who I am, and of what I speak. I do not do electrolysis. I’ve thought about it but it takes time to be good at something and we are still working on being good at lasers. But I work with electrologists and respect their skills.
But when it comes to hair removal, if we aren’t the best, we are in the top echelon. We have been doing laser hair removal since 1997 and have used every technology. Finally, we have done over 350,000 treatments on something like 40,000+ clients. Treating faces is one of our most requested and performed sites. Upper lips are our #1 site. So I believe that we’ve done enough to be able to comment on treating faces with lasers. So let’s put things in perspective.
Starting with the easy stuff first. Test patches. There is nothing wrong with doing them. But I will tell you that they can also be quite deceiving. If done for safety reasons, they don’t tell you how the skin will react to much of the complications that we see. For example, there is a relatively common side effect related to the destruction of cells that mimics hives. You don’t see this in a test patch. Even with crusting and burning, those never occur uniformly across a site. So depending on where you do the test patch, the results may or may not reflect the final results. We were “burned” by this occurence several times in the past when we use to routinely do test patches. We still do them rarely, but only in unusual circumstances. And finally, they are worthless for determining if you will get results, unless you do a number of them in the same area over a period of months.
Now on to faces. Faces are tough to treat. Even on women. (Interestingly, upper lips are quite easy to treat). I think the reason is multifactorial, but I relate it more to the depth of the hair than to hormonal issues. But electrolysis is no pancea either. I have seen many clients who have come to us after electrolysis who were having poor results and acne-like scarring (something that is very rarely seen with lasers) after electrolysis. But this sort of blind belief that faces should not be treated with lasers is hogwash. Both lasers and electrolysis have their place and their limitation and their risks.
So what’s the bottom line. First, the most important thing is the quality and expertise of the person or place doing the treatment. Even among electrologists there is variation in technology and skill. And it gets worse with lasers. Many of the lasers being used are not very effective and the place it becomes most noticable is on the face. But even with good people, bad things can happen. If a laser person or electrologist tells you there is no risk, go somewhere else.
Assuming good experience and good equipment, then what can you reasonably expect. Coarse to fine hair can be treated with the laser. It becomes more difficult to treat fine hair and you do reach a point were very fine and light hair can not be treated. A good operator will be honest about that. In most cases, facial hair can be removed in 5-6 treatments, but I have seen situations where it can take 10, 12, 15 treatments to get great results. Especially on fine hair and darker skin. And there is a value to switching to electrolysis to remove the final hairs.
There is no question that in a percentage (approximately 10-20% of women), they can develop more growing hair than they began with, but that can eventually be removed and is a by product of what is happening at the follicular level. But it doesn’t happen as much as one would believe reading these forums. Part of that reason is that there is a selection bias here. People who have good results don’t normally spend the time to post. They move on.
Finally, I will let the electrologists comment on the relative success rates of electrolysis on the face (not compared to laser but just in general). I don’t know enough to make that comment. But I know that it isn’t perfect and that there are significant complications with electrolysis. To say otherwise belies the facts.
So what would I do if I had significant facial hair. I would prefer to go to an experienced laser center that has the right lasers and is honest and reputable and have my hair removed. Assuming I am a candidate. If after a certain point, I still had hairs remaining, I would seriously consider switching to electrolysis. But I would also be prepared to temporarily have more hair for a period of time.
If on the other hand, there wasn’t a good, reputable, experienced laser center, then I would good to an experienced electrologists. But I would expect that it may take quite a bit of time, it would probably end up being more in the long run, and that my risk would be just as high, if not higher, for skin damage.
And if there were no reputable, honest laser or electrologists around where I lived, I would either move or live with the hair. Going to someone who doesn’t know what they are doing or are only in it for the money is more risk than not doing it at all.