There are three key factors to understanding hair and hair growth: types of hair, the hair growth cycle, and follicle activation.
Most people have three types of hair: vellus, intermediate and terminal.
* Vellus: Small, colorless hairs often referred to as peach fuzz.
* Intermediate: Thin, shortish hairs between vellus and terminal (hence the name) typically exhibiting some lower level of pigmentation.
*Terminal: Fully pigmented or gray, deep-rooted, coarse hairs. These are the hairs most consumers want removed.
All hairs, regardless of type, have a three-stage growth cycle. The first phase is anagen or the active growing phase. Depending on the body area somewhere between 10% and 90% of hairs are actively growing. The second phase is catagen, a transitional phase that is the shortest of the three phases. The third and final phase is telogen, the inactive phase. This is the longest phase and lasts until the hair is shed and the cycle repeats itself. This phase can last up to a year.
The final point to consider is follicle activation. Our skin is covered with thousands and thousands of follicles. Many follicles are like volcanoes: dormant but not extinct. Even though these follicles aren't currently producing hair they can be activated at any time. The primary catalysts are hormones. If you have any experience with teenagers, pregnancy or just getting older (did your husband get back hair for his 45th birthday?) you know exactly what I'm talking about. And as sure as some people want to get rid of hair, others want it to grow again and seek products to stimulate follicles (see Rogaine). In short, you can't keep a good follicle down so new hairs are likely to grow even after a "permanent" hair removal procedure.
Consumers have a reasonable expectation that the word permanent, when used in conjunction with hair removal, actually means existing perpetually. However, as we've shown, the nature of hair is to grow. Therefore, the so called permanent hair removal industry is seeking to redefine the word "permanent."
It's fair to say that permanent hair removal is achieved when a particular hair follicle is rendered impotent or incapable of generating new hair. But, because follicles are so numerous, hair is likely to emerge from nearby follicles. So, even if "permanent" hair removal is achieved (i.e. a follicle destroyed), the area that was treated is still likely to produce new hairs.
This fact has given rise to lesser claims of "permanent hair reduction." The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) describes "permanent hair reduction" as, "The long-term, stable reduction in the number of hairs regrowing after a treatment regime." It goes on to state, "Permanent hair reduction does not imply the elimination of all hairs in the treatment area." This is when the whole conversation begins to sound like a politician reading "Alice In Wonderland."
So just what is permanent about "permanent hair removal?" The answer to this question gets more elusive when you consider that a significant percentage of consumers don't respond to either electrolysis or laser hair removal. Things become grayer still when regrowth rates for laser-treated follicles are estimated at somewhere between 20% and 80%, and 10-50% for electrolysis.
The bottom line is that hair grows. That's just what it does. While laser hair removal treatments and electrolysis can effectively destroy active follicles, calling either method permanent is like pulling a few dandelions and declaring your lawn free of weeds forever.
When you factor in the cost, the pain, the potential for scarring and other real health risks associated with so called "permanent" hair removal techniques, you might want to reconsider a temporary hair removal method that has been around for centuries: waxing.
Waxing isn't permanent. But it works.
Ben Johnson is the president of Amphora Worldwide, the parent company of Bombshell Wax, premium depilatory waxes and waxing accessories, Cream 100 Calming Balm, and Tonic 86, the cure for ingrown hairs. For more information visit or