Last updated: 04/27/2009
There are several alternatives to laser hair removal
though they may not be ideal. Shaving and chemical hair removers (depilatories) can be used to remove hair down to the surface of the skin. Shaving simply cuts the hair off at the surface...
while a depilatory essentially dissolves the hair. These approaches are fast and relatively painless, but they do not achieve long-lasting results. The shaved or chemically dissolved hair continues to grow and will be visible soon afterwards.
More permanent hair removal techniques involve plucking or waxing the hair. These forms of hair removal disrupt the hair follicle—the hair is forcibly ripped from the follicle. With waxing and plucking, the hair removal is somewhat longer lasting than with shaving or depilatories since the hair is removed down to the root. The major drawback to these procedures are that they are time consuming and quite painful. Also, since the hair follicle is still intact, hair will regrow in the region as soon as it is created in the follicular unit and has reached the skin surface.
Chemical bleaching is not a hair removal procedure, per se, but it is an alternative to laser hair removal. When unwanted hair is dark, chemical bleaching can lighten the hair so that it is less noticeable against a background of lighter skin. From a distance, bleaching may be a useful alternative to laser hair removal; however, with chemical bleaching the hair still remains and can be seen or even felt during close contact.
Perhaps the most comparable alternative to laser hair removal is electrolysis. Electrolysis and laser hair removal are considered permanent hair removal because that hair follicle is destroyed. While laser hair removal uses light energy or photothermolysis, electrolysis uses electrothermolysis or electrical energy to heat and destroy the follicular unit. A small electrical current is passed across the skin and through the patient. As this electricity passes through the hair follicle it heats the follicular unit and destroys it. The permanence of electrolysis is similar to laser hair removal as are the possible complications. The major drawback to electrolysis is that it can be quite painful and even topical anesthetics cannot block all of the pain. Electrolysis also takes substantially longer than laser hair removal.
The final alternative to laser hair removal is treatment with a topical drug called eflornithine. This topical cream, not to be confused with a chemical depilatory, is available only by prescription. When applied daily for one to two months, the hair follicles in the treated area become affected irreversibly. Eflornithine blocks a key part of the hair growth process and can lead to permanent hair removal. The most common complications of eflornithine are acne, ingrown hairs and rash.