For thousands of years, human beings plucked, shaved, and waxed away their body hair, only to have to do it all over again a few days later. In recent decades, so-called permanent hair removal techniques—they’re actually semi-permanent—came into vogue, namely laser hair removal and intense pulsed light (IPL). One procedure and one procedure only, however, is both permanent and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): electrolysis.
A career in this high-tech field of cosmetology allows you to offer a hair removal alternative that stands out from all the others in terms of results. Because of its technical nature and permanence, however, electrolysis requires specialized training and education and, in many states, a special license.
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What Does an Electrologist Do?
As an electrologist you’ll use specialized equipment to permanently stop hair from growing. The procedure can be done on all parts of the body, including the eyebrows, but your clients will often come to you for a permanent solution for the areas most commonly associated with hair removal, such as legs, underarms, or faces.
The basic steps include:
1. Insert a tiny needle into the hair follicle.
2. The needle applies electrical current to the follicle, which damages it enough to prevent it from growing hair.
3. Remove the hair shaft.
There are three types of electrolysis methods: galvanic, thermolysis, and blend.
- Galvanic: This method uses a direct electrical current to create a chemical reaction that destroys the cells that regrow hair in the hair follicle. It was the earliest form of electrolysis, and it has a history dating back more than a century, but it has fallen out of favor as new techniques emerged. It’s highly effective—it doesn’t affect the surrounding tissue since it doesn’t use heat, and works even on tricky curved follicles. The drawback is that it takes much, much longer than the alternatives—as long as three minutes per hair.
- Thermolysis: This method uses an alternating high-frequency current to generate enough heat to damage the follicle. It’s applied in basically the same way as galvanic electrolysis, but it works much more quickly, requiring only one to three seconds per hair. Because of its speed, thermolysis is much more popular than galvanic, but it’s not as effective for people who don’t have fine hair.
- Blend: As the name implies, blend electrolysis blends both methods, using thermolysis-generated heat to stimulate a galvanic chemical reaction. It takes longer than thermolysis—about seven seconds per hair—but it works well for coarse hair, scattered hair, or problem areas.
Electrology sessions usually last between 15 minutes and one hour, but all forms of electrolysis require multiple sessions to be successful. How many sessions, exactly, varies from person to person on a case-by-case basis. It could be as few as 15 or as many as 30, depending on a range of variables. In most cases treatments are scheduled one or two weeks apart from each other. Often you’ll use the slower blend method on coarse hair until hair begins to grow more finely and then switch to the faster thermolysis method on follow-up visits.
You’ll also be consumed with the day-to-day work that’s common to all specialties in the field of cosmetology. That includes setting up and prepping workstations and clients and cleaning, sanitizing, and maintaining your tools and equipment. Additionally, you'll spend time consulting with clients, assessing their goals, and determining which treatment is right for them.
How Is Electrolysis Different From Laser Hair Removal?
Laser hair removal and electrolysis both damage follicles to prevent new hair growth, but they use different kinds of energy to do it. Laser hair removal uses concentrated beams of light, while electrolysis uses a mild electric current. The next most important difference is that electrolysis is actually permanent, while laser treatments provide a long-term, but ultimately temporary, solution to hair removal. The third primary difference is that electrolysis is an FDA-approved treatment while laser hair removal—or any other method—is not.
Laser hair removal is more popular, possibly because it requires fewer sessions—usually only 5 to 8 for laser treatment compared to 15 or more for electrolysis. Laser sessions are also spaced much further apart.
The tradeoff, however, is that laser treatment is far less versatile than electrolysis, which works on all skin and hair types on all parts of the body. Laser hair removal, on the other hand, works best on people with light skin and dark hair. Finally, laser hair removal requires recovery time, which can come with significant swelling and pain. Electrolysis requires no recovery time—you can go about your business right after the treatment just the same as if you had gotten a haircut.
How to Become an Electrologist
To become an electrologist you’ll have to learn the trade, which means completing an electrology training program or apprenticeship. From there, the path varies considerably from state to state. In many states you’ll only need to earn an electrologist license. In others you’ll need to earn a full esthetician license as well as an electrology certificate. In yet other states you don’t need any license at all.
What Are the Requirements for Enrolling in Electrolysis School?
Enrollment requirements can vary by program, but generally the barriers to entry are fairly low. You’ll have to be at least 16 years old, although many states only accept 17 and 18-year-olds. Sometimes a ninth-grade education is all that’s needed; in most cases, however, you’ll need at least more high school and likely a high school diploma or GED.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Electrolysis Program?
Virtually all training programs can be completed within a year, but your experience will vary depending on where you live. That’s because each state sets its own licensing requirements, which include a set number of training hours that vary from state to state. The average is around 600 hours.
How Much Does Electrolysis School Cost?
In virtually all cases, an electrolysis program should cost well under $10,000. In the states that require the fewest training hours, a program can cost less than $5,000. In states with comparatively high training hour requirements, a program might cost more than $5,000, but it should fall well shy of a five-figure price tag.
What Will I Learn in Electrolysis School?
Electrolysis programs provide hands-on training in the procedures you’ll need to master, but you'll also study the physiology of the skin and how it grows hair. Thus, your program will include academic work in subjects like biology and bacteriology. You will also learn about laws, rules, and regulations; equipment upkeep and maintenance; and how to maintain a safe, sanitary, and hygienic workplace.
How Do I Find the Best Electrolysis School Near Me?
The first step is to learn your state’s requirements and choose a few nearby programs that satisfy those requirements. Make sure to shop around—explore at least three schools before you fall in love with one. Your budget will likely be a determining factor in your choice of program. Find a school you can afford and/or one that offers financial aid.
Inquire about your school’s reputation from both current and former students, but use several different sources. Don’t rely on reviews promoted by the school on its website, which might be cherry-picked.
If the flexibility that distance learning provides is important to you, find out if the schools you’re considering offer online training. Finally, confirm that courses are taught by experienced electrolysis professionals and that the schools you’re researching offer job-placement and career services.
Some states allow you to participate in an apprenticeship as an alternative to a traditional school-based training program. This format pairs you, the apprentice, with a qualified professional mentor. If you choose to go this route, you’ll learn not in a classroom or simulated environment but in a real workplace with real, paying customers. You’ll learn on the job, assisting where you can, until you gain the experience, knowledge, and training needed to apply for a license and begin your own career as an electrologist.
The following states allow apprenticeship training:
- Rhode Island
Getting Your License
Licensure requirements vary widely from state to state. Michigan, for example, requires only 400 hours of electrology training. In Indiana, on the other hand, you’ll have to complete a 1,500-hour beauty culture course or a 700-hour esthetics course plus a 300-hour electrology course. To date, the following 18 states don’t have any licensing requirements for electrologists:
- New York
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
For more detailed information, please visit our licensing page.
Skills and Abilities of an Electrologist
The physical characteristics you need to succeed as an electrologist are dexterity, concentration, hand-eye coordination, and eyesight—electrology requires precise manipulation of delicate instruments in small target areas for extended periods of time. You’ll also have to be meticulous and thorough. Simply understanding the equipment and techniques isn’t enough if you don’t use and apply them to exacting standards every time.
You should be comfortable with direct contact with people and have a calming personality that reassures your clients, who are about to sit for permanent treatments that they might not fully understand. You have to have a mastery of the subject matter so you can explain the process to uninformed people. You also have to have an analytical mind to determine the types of client analysis and technique selection that are required for developing individual treatment plans.