What is Galvanic Electrolysis?
Galvanic electrolysis is a method of hair removal that uses electricity moving as a direct current. Direct current is when the current travels in consistently one direction. The client holds a positive pole, and the electrologist inserts the negatively charged needle into the hair follicle. The current (a stream of electrons) moves into the hair follicle and, at the tip of the needle, reacts with the dissolved salts in cells to form sodium hydroxide. The sodium hydroxide then goes on to break chemical bonds, which unfolds (denatures) proteins, thus disabling these cells and stopping their function. By disabling the cells that grow into hair follicles, new follicles are prevented from forming in the future. This ensures the permanence of the hair removal. Now let's break down the different aspects of this process.
Direct Current (DC) Electricity and Sodium Hydroxide Formation
With direct current, electrons move in a single direction from the electricity source to the target and back (see illustration above). In order for direct current to work, there has to be a way for electrons to get back to the electricity source. During electrolysis, the electrical current moves from the epilator, down the wire to the needle, through the client's body, out the hand piece held by the client, and finally back to the epilator. This flow of electrons produces sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, at the tip of the electrolysis probe where electron movement is concentrated.
Sodium Hydroxide (chemical formula: NaOH) is also commonly referred to as caustic soda, caustic lye, and even simply as lye. Sodium hydroxide is created by the reaction of electrons with the water and salt molecules within cells. All cells contain this mixture of salt dissolved in water (also referred by chemists as 'aqueous salt'), and electrons that are deposited into this water mixture will result in a chemical reaction that forms sodium hydroxide as described in the following chemical formula.
Electrons + 2H2O (l) + 2NaCl (aq) -> H2(g) + Cl2(g) + 2NaOH (aq) + Heat
A way to describe the reaction in words is
Electrons + Liquid water + Dissolved Salt --> Sodium Hydroxide + Hydrogen & Chlorine Gas + Heat.
Sodium hydroxide is a strong base that reacts with proteins found within a cell. When strong bases, such as sodium hydroxide, meet proteins, they change the way these proteins fold, often unraveling them. Once a protein unravels, or is denatured, the protein can no long do its job properly. When proteins can't do their job properly, the cells die.
Note: The chemical reactions described above create heat as one of their byproducts, and this heat is one of the main reasons that electrolysis probes warm up during use.
Needle Design and Sodium Hydroxide Production
In order to maximize the sodium hydroxide being created during electrology, electrolysis needles are designed to maximize the concentration of electrons at their tip. The shape of the tip is one of the biggest factors in determining how well electrons flow from the needle and into the client's hair follicle. When an electrolysis needle is inserted into the follicle and the electric current is turned on, the electrons travel mostly along the surface of the metal needle. Electrons are like balls and will 'fall off' a surface if the angles are too steep. Therefore, the curvature of the Ballet Needle Tip is designed to be a smoothly tapered angle that will ensure optimal current flow to the tip.
The size of a needle also impacts the flow of electrons. Imagine an F3 needle compared to a F6 or F12 needle. The surface area of the F6 needle is approximately twice the surface area of the F3 needle. Because electrons primarily travel along the surface, the greater surface area of the F6 needle will result in more electrons reaching the tip of the needle under similar conditions. Not surprisingly, this leads to approximately twice the amount of lye being produced, and the amount of lye produced determines how many proteins are denatured in a given amount of time. This direct correlation explains why the duration of current flow is frequently altered to accommodate differences in follicle and needle sizes.
Additionally, a needle's finish affects electrical current delivery. For both Gold plated needles, which have higher conductivity, and Insulated needles, which have more efficient current delivery, current will reach the needle tip faster, thus increasing the needle' efficacy.
It is important to note that all Ballet needle probes, along with needle probes of other manufacturers, work with Galvanic electrolysis and Blend; this includes Insulated needle probes. Modern epilators allow for a broad range of settings so that the smaller amount of exposed metal on an Insulated needle does not mean that it cannot be used effectively for Galvanic. In fact, for client's whose skin is highly sensitive and prone to hyperpigmentation, the smaller amount of metal exposure (the needle's tip) provides successful results with Galvanic or Blend while providing extra protection to the client's skin from heat.
Galvanic Electrolysis and the Blend Method
Many electrologists use the Blend method of electrolysis which uses both direct and alternating currents. As in Galvanic electrolysis, the direct current portion of Blend creates sodium hydroxide while the alternating current creates heat. And when sodium hydroxide is heated, the speed of the protein decomposition (denaturing) is increased. Remember that the Blend method is not a different modality of killing hair follicles; instead, it provides a way to speed up the process of destroying hair follicles by combining the creation of sodium hydroxide with heat.
Galvanic electrolysis was the original method of electrolysis as it was first developed in the late 1800s, the 'OG', as it might be called today. Nonetheless, the many technological advances developed over the last 50 years or so have dramatically changed how galvanic electrolysis is delivered and its efficacy and effectiveness. As a result of the continuous modernization of the Galvanic electrolysis method, many electrologists continue to choose it as their primary method and use Galvanic quite effectively throughout the world.