Thursday, 12 June 2014

Dealing with electrolysis

Electrolysis (often shortened to electro), is a word that makes many trans-women shudder. Recent years have seen LASER hair treatments overtake electro in popularity, but it's effectiveness is not proven and if you want complete facial hair removal, electro is often necessary at some stage.

I started this process just under two years ago at a beauty salon in Taunton called Beautyworx. This small salon is owned by a lovely lady called Nicola and over the last two years, we have got to know each other very well!

The costs of electro should not be underestimated and most trans-women have to fund this themselves. Because of this cost, I can only afford an hour a fortnight. If I had the cash I would probably have a much longer session and weekly too. One of the problems with electro (and this applies to LASER too) is it only properly treats hairs during the start of their growing cycle. The growth cycle of hair is a massive subject but in basic terms, a hair starts to grow, emerges from the skin and then slowly ends it cycle. As it ends this cycle, the root of the hair is pushed away from the cells that needs treating This then means that if you then treat a dying hair, the needle then doesn't reach the right area because the end of the hair has moved away from where it should be.

In an ideal world, you would intensively treat the whole face to completely clear it and then work on all new growth. However, this is a massive initial cost and not possible in my situation. So in the two years I have been going, we have worked on the upper lip and area around my jaw and lower lip. This is often the most painful area and there have been many tears in that time. The pain is quite intense and has to be experienced to be believed. Dealing with that pain is quite a skill and is something you learn to do over time. There are of course analgesics, and I often take a couple of paracetamol before walking to the salon. Some go further and use topical anesthetic creams but I have not felt this need. 

In addition to the drug method of pain control, I have found that distraction helps. Talking is probably the best and Nicola and myself chat away for virtually the entire hour. You become very close to the person performing this treatment and intimate is a good way to describe it. I have talked to Nicola about a great many personal issues and vice versa. I respect her confidentiality and would never repeat any of what she has told me, and I feel quite privileged to have been trusted with parts of her life. This offloading between us helps pass the time and get through that pain.

Over time the pain has become better, you really do harden off to it. I recently exchanged thoughts with someone else who has had electro and wondered whether this prepares us for the pain of GRS (gender reassignment surgery) better than those who have not experienced it. It is certainly something that would be worth some studying at some point.

Today's electro was the first in four weeks. I had to cancel my last session due to having to go to Bristol for my 2nd opinion. What I have been doing between session is epilating any hair that was not removed so that only growing hairs were left for the next treatment. So when I cancelled my session a fortnight ago, I immediately grabbed the epilator and removed the whole lot. Now, epliators should be used with extreme caution on the facial area especially with male facial hair. The root bulbs are much bigger than a hair that has never seen testosterone and if you aren't careful, you can tear pieces of skin off. I am very steady with the epilator, just catching the edges of the hair growth and never plowing straight in. It's extremely painful the first few times, but eventually the hair things and comes out much easier. The end result is that my next session sees only new hairs and they are perfect for treatment. My upper lip was cleared in under 15 minutes today, a record and we worked on probably the biggest amount of chin hairs to date.

My plan for the future is to epilate my whole face prior to electro. However I still have one more LASER session left and it needs the hair in place to work. Once I have had this session, I will start the process of clearing my whole face myself with the aim of stopping a few days prior to my electro. This then means we can treat hairs over a larger area which can make it less painful and more effective. Nicola has said if I do this, I may even be able to stop shaving quite soon. However, this remains to be seen!


  1. Serious question, Lucy: how do you cope with getting to and from Beautyworx? The problem I have is that I have to leave off shaving for at least a couple of days before electrolysis, so that there's something visible for them to zap, but then I find it impossible to look feminine. Consequently, I'm forced to revert to male mode for every appointment, which definitely detracts from any remaining pleasure.

  2. Hi Angie,

    I understand the issue of this only too well. In fact this is probably as much of a pain as the physical torture that is electrolysis!

    I have to grow my upper lip for 4 days and around the mouth for 3! The first day isn't too bad but then for the next three I find myself trying to cover with heavy foundation. I have now got the point where I just make the best of a bad job and accept that there is going to be visible growth.

    On the day itself, male mode is not an option for me. I have not been him for nearly two years now and the thought of even trying to be the man again fills me with a kind of horror. Instead I wear trousers, but very colourful ones and a top with no makeup. I still present as a woman but without the skirt. I walk perhaps 25 minutes to and from the salon and often during the school run. I have no choice, so I just do it.

    Lucy x

    1. Thanks, Lucy. I like the idea of the colourful trousers very much - would definitely help me to feel feminine when my face is saying the opposite.

      I'm concentrating on laser at the moment but will definitely give your idea a try when electrolysis restarts. It's only a short walk to the salon but it's the sitting and waiting when I get there, and smiling at the other clients, that might get me. Perhaps I'll bury my head in a large newspaper :)