How I Got Here.
Back in 2021, I realized I wanted more permanent changes to my body; this was a complex decision with emotional, mental, and physical components. To summarize, the emotional and mental side is easy: when you are ready, you will know it. But then comes an array of decisions and expenses that is overwhelming. Do you have facial surgery? There are dozens of decisions there. Breast implants? Where does one even begin this journey?
I spent some time talking to the people I know who have done this, and the message was, essentially: "Deal with what bothers you the most, then move on to the next problem." Fantastic advice. And an easy decision. Without a doubt, my single biggest misery is facial hair. I hate having it. I hate shaving. And shaving doesn't solve it. Shaving irritates your skin; no matter how close you shave, you still have a shadow. That shadow haunts me. It's the ghosts of all my past beards showing up to make me pay for slaughtering them over my bathroom sink with my sacrificial razor blade. Makeup can hide it, but it can't exorcise it. And you can't wear makeup 24x7. I've spent most of my life battling my body's efforts to foist a beard on me.
I'm not alone in this. I've spoken to many trans-women who told me that getting rid of their facial hair was one of the best moments in their transition. Once it was gone, they had so much more confidence and felt much better about themselves. And this seems a natural first step: why have facial surgery if you still have a beard? So now I had to figure out how to get rid of it.
How to Remove Facial Hair.
If you've followed my anti-hair saga, you know I have fallen in love with the LUMEA. If the LUMEA were a person, I would marry it. It's been a life-changer for me. Weeks go by without any noticeable hair growth. Essentially, a touch-up every 6-8 weeks on just a few spots. And the LUMEA is painless, and I use it at home. I would love a similar solution for my facial hair.
Even though Philips warns against it, I did try the LUMEA on my face. It didn't work. It seems that facial hair is a more challenging problem. And unlike my body hair, which is dark, my facial hair is blonde. That's not a color that either IPL or Laser works well on. So I needed another solution, and electrolysis was the only method I had left for permanent hair removal.
Life With Electrolysis
You must stop shaving 4 or 5 days before your appointment so the technician can see the hair. My hair is light, and technicians have trouble seeing it, so on the day of the appointment, I spend 20 minutes or so trying to color it with beard dye. I go to the appointment, lie on the treatment table, and Shelly, my transgender technician, spends the next hour or two sticking a needle into my hair follicles and pulling out the hair. It doesn't hurt very much. I like my technician a lot, and we have interesting conversations, so it's not as boring as it sounds.
When my time is up, she brings me an ice pack, and I ice my face for a few minutes, pay her fee, schedule more appointments and leave. When I get home, I ice more, clean the beard dye off my face and sometimes apply anti-bacterial and cortisone cream if needed.
On the days Shelly works on my upper lip, I apply a numbing cream 30 minutes before my appointment, covering it with plastic wrap.
And that's life with electrolysis. Having to grow your beard out pre-appointment and post-appointment redness and swelling can cause issues with work and your personal life, but I've found it manageable. The era of facial masks has been a big help for electrolysis patients. Now that mask-wearing is socially acceptable; you can use it to hide beard growth and swelling!
Electrolysis is a slow process; I knew that before I started. I've had 35 appointments since I began 18 months ago, for 50.5 hours of session time, and spent 4,140 USD. Shelly's rates are lower than the average, so that's roughly half of what most patients would spend.
Progress is slow and can be disheartening, but I feel like I'm about halfway there. Shelly is busy, so sometimes I can't get appointments as I would like. I'm thinking of seeking out a second technician so I can keep a more regular schedule. So far, I would say it's been worth it, but ask me again in 8 months. So that's life doing electrolysis.
So far, I would say it's been worth it, but ask me again in 8 months.
What is Electrolysis?
Electrolysis has been around for a long time. It was first used in 1875 by an Ophthalmologist in St. Louis to remove ingrown eyelashes. and it has been used ever since for permanent hair removal. It's exceptionally safe, and it works. It's the only method approved by the FDA for permanent hair removal.
There are three types of electrolysis:
- Galvanic - uses electrical current (the original method).
- Thermolysis - uses heat generated by shortwaves.
- Blend - a combination of the above.
I only have experience with thermolysis. I doubt anyone uses galvanic electrolysis anymore. No matter the technology, the technician inserts a fine needle into the hair follicle. They don't break the skin. They then 'zap' the follicle with electricity/heat/or a combo. Once zapped, they use tweezers to remove the hair.
Why Does it take so Long?
Only a portion of your hair follicles are active. The others are resting. So even if you could target every active follicle on your face, the resting ones will be untouched. When the sleeping follicles become active, your beard will reappear. You then treat the new hair growth. This process repeats, continually presenting you with fresh follicles to treat. Eventually, you will treat them all, and your beard will be reduced or even removed. Growth cycles can be 2-3 months, so this takes a while.
Another complication is the need to target the hair at the proper moment in its growth. For example, all permanent hair removal systems must target hair in its active growth stage (the anagen stage) to prevent it from recurring (for more information, see The Science of Hair Removal.). Unfortunately, it's impossible to tell what stage a hair is in by looking at it. So there will always be some hair that gets treated even though it will be ineffective because the hair is not in the anagen stage. And both electrolysis technicians and laser machines are imperfect, so that they will miss some hair. All of this adds up to a couple of years (or more) of treatments to permanently eliminate a beard.
Speeding Things UpThere isn't a lot you can do to speed up the process. However, being disciplined about going in for weekly sessions, having longer sessions to get more done, and finding an excellent technician gives you the best chance to optimize your treatment.
How to Find a Good Technician
Always the hard part, right? If you know people in your area who have taken treatments, talk to them about their experiences. Good technicians should be happy to let you know where they studied, and don't be afraid to check on their school's credentials. Like any profession, practice makes you better, so technicians who have been at it longer will generally be better at it.
Expect to pay quite a bit per session, especially if you go to a medical center or a salon. There are a growing number of technicians who are working from their homes. You can save substantial money by following this route and still receive quality treatments. It might seem iffy, but that's what I've done, and I've been very pleased. If you live in New York City or environs, my tech is someone you should consider. Here's her website.
I was nervous about having a medical procedure done in someone's home. And you should be, too! Be alert for anything that would signal an unsanitary condition. Home practitioners must follow the same procedures that a clinic or salon would follow. They should wash their hands, use sanitary gloves, and use alcohol to disinfect your skin before inserting the needle. The table should be clean, and coverings changed between clients. Needles should be sterile. All of the obvious things. Since you will be spending a lot of time with your technician, it also helps if they are likable.
When I met Shelly, I was impressed with the area's cleanliness and her openness in answering all of my questions. I liked that she had been doing electrolysis for ten years, and I had already investigated her school, which is a reputable one. When she showed me an incredibly detailed and beautiful painting of a building she had drawn when she worked as an architectural artist, I knew she would be a great technician. Anyone capable of producing something with that level of detail would be perfect for the work an electrolysis technician performs.
Thanks for reading!
I hope you got something out of this. The most important thing is to realize that electrolysis is just not that bad. It's not the sort of thing anyone would pick for a good time, it's not that bad, and the results are well worth it. I wished I had started sooner.
As always, let me know if you have any questions or comments.