by Jim Paisner
Expert electrologists agree that choosing a needle that matches or exceeds the diameter of the hair to be treated will result in the best electrolysis treatment. Knowing which needle to use is something that can come only from experience, however, so some electrologists, especially those fresh out of school, use micrometers to accurately measure the diameter of the hair shaft until they have developed sufficient skill in visual inspection.
The process of selecting a needle seems relatively simple. Or is it? Here are just a few examples of how things aren’t always as simple as they seem:
- I received a recent e-mail that began: “I am currently enrolled in an esthetics and electrolysis school … our school uses XYZ equipment and we have Ballet needles in Size 4 1” The student went on to request samples of other diameter needles.
- From time to time, electrologists at conferences ask me: “Are you going to make a Size 1 needle, because I can’t insert the Size 2 needle in an upper lip follicle?”
- The director of one of the largest electrology schools in the country told me that the smallest size needle she gives her students to train on is a 3, even for work on upper lip and other fine hair.
- Based on our records of selling Ballet needles, there are electrologists who order only Size 2 needles – regardless of the type of hair they work on.
Despite the apparently simple answer to the question posed by the title of this article, it is evident just by the questions above that there still exists much confusion about choice of needle size.
Needles first used for electrolysis were much thicker than current ones: They were fine sewing needles or jeweler’s tools, with diameters of .011 inches 2 or more (imagine an F11!). By comparison, the largest diameter needle commonly sold today has a diameter of .006 inches (an F6), just about half that size.
The first needles made specifically for electrolysis were hand ground, and although finer than the sewing needles, they were still thicker than many current ones. Even after two-piece needles were developed, sizes tended to be larger. For example, one manufacturer sold them in Size 3 to Size 8 (.003 to .008 inches).
Today, needles are available in a variety of styles, ranging from Size 2 to Size 6 (.002 to .006 inches).
Why choose a larger diameter needle?
After all, a small diameter needle will fit in even the largest follicle. Why bother with a larger one? The answer centers on two issues: the effects of needle diameter on Galvanic Current, also called direct current (DC), and on Short Wave Current, also known as radio frequency current (RF).
Effects of needle diameter on Galvanic Current
Modern epilators are constant current machines, meaning that they deliver an exact amount of current at a given setting regardless of differences in the skin. The diameter of the needle does not affect the amount of lye produced.
When you use a thin needle, lye is initially produced in a more concentrated area, so pain may be greater. However, when you use a thicker diameter needle, since the needle has more surface area, the DC current will be distributed over a larger area. And that means that the treatment should be less painful.
Further, blend theory notes that the total amount of lye (units of lye) produced in the follicle will determine the destructive power of the treatment. So if the same quantity of lye can be produced over a larger area, one can be assured of maximum destruction in the follicle with the minimum of pain for the patient.
Effects of needle diameter on Short Wave Current
A thin needle is hotter; it creates a larger and hotter heating pattern than a large diameter needle at the same current setting. To produce the same amount of heat to destroy follicle tissue with a thicker needle, an electrologist must use a higher current setting. This higher current setting is nothing to be afraid of; it is necessary to produce the same amount of heat in the follicle.
With the same amount of heat produced, but spread over a larger area, the discomfort will be less. The destruction will be the same or possibly better, because of the wider coverage in the larger follicle.
To destroy a large follicle requires increased amounts of lye or heat, or both. Using a larger diameter needle will allow you to introduce more of either current with less pain to the client. This translates into more effective and comfortable treatments for your clients.
To treat the finest hair, experts suggest a Size 2 or 3 needle. They agree that a needle even two times the diameter of the hair shaft should be able to be inserted without damaging the skin.
If a school does not make larger size needles available, it is not offering the best probes for the treatment of large follicles, nor is it teaching the students to make best use of today’s tools.
One of my favorite electrology teachers likes to ask: “What are the three most important factors necessary for effective electrolysis treatment?” She then answers with a smile: “Insertions, insertions, insertions.” If you are having difficulty placing a Size 2 or 3 needle in a fine follicle, the problem may not be needle size at all. It could be that it’s time for a refresher course in insertions.
The large electrolysis school mentioned earlier makes Sizes 3 through 6 available to its students, who hone their skills by learning to make insertions with Size 3 needles, even for the finest hair.
Lastly, electrologists who use only Size 2 needles for all treatments place both themselves and their clients at a disadvantage. The treatments will be less comfortable, a situation that electrologists may try to resolve by lowering the current settings. But by taking that step to lessen the discomfort, they will also provide less effective treatment. On the other hand, there is also a greater risk of overtreatment due to the hot spot caused by the fine needle.
With the background just provided, we can now return to the main question: Why use different sized electrolysis needles?
Regardless of whether you use multi-needle galvanic, blend or thermolysis, a larger needle will yield a more comfortable heating and/or lye distribution pattern. So match the diameter of the needle to the hairs you are treating. If there is a question, choose the larger of two sizes that the follicle can accommodate.
Contrary to what is sometimes heard, choosing a needle larger (within reason) than the hair shaft does not cause bruising.
To match a needle to a hair, experienced electrologists make the selection by simple visual inspection. As mentioned above, some use micrometers to aid in the job. Interestingly, we have heard from others who began using microscopes in their practices and report that they are using larger diameter needles as they begin to see the hair shaft more clearly – and they are able to see their insertions more clearly, as well.
And now I wish you happy follicle hunting!
[Footnotes at bottom of first page or column.]
- In this article, we refer to all needle sizes as “Size x”, but the way needles are described in electrolysis literature varies. For example, instead of writing “Size 2”, other authors might use such variations as “No. 2,” or “F2,” or “K2,” or “ .002.”
- Electrolysis needles comprise a shaft (the part inserted into the follicle) and a shank (the part that fits in the needle holder). For this article we are concerned only with the shaft. Needle shafts are measured in thousandths of an inch. So a Size 2 needle has a shaft that is .002 (2/1000) of an inch in diameter. The larger the number, the thicker the needle. For example, a Size 4 needle is .004 (4/1000) of an inch in diameter, or twice as thick as a Size 2.
Plym. S. Hayes, A.M., M.D., Electricity in Facial Blemishes, McIntosh Battery and Optical Co.: 1910.
Arthur Ralph Hinkel, P.E.E and Richard W. Lind, B.A., M.A., Electrolysis, Thermolysis and the Blend, Arroway Publishers: 1968.
Ann Gallant, Principles and Techniques for the Electrologist, Stanley Thornes, Publishers: 1983.
Arthur Y. Mahler and Harold C. Mahler, Principles of Electrology and Shortwave Epilation, The Instantron Company: 1986.
John Fantz, R.E., Electrolysis Exam Review, Laurel Publications: 1987.
Mary Evangelista C.P.E., Director, Electrology Institute of New England: February 2002.
Michael Bono, C.P.E., Author of The Blend Method (1995) and Telangiectasia (1996): February 2002.