This page covers what people in our community should know about hair removal with electrolysis. I have moved all electrolysis information that is not specifically for us to hairfacts.com and the professional electrolysis forum at hairtell.com.
For trans women, there is probably no task in transition more daunting than electrolysis. It’s expensive, sometimes painful, and always time-consuming. However, the benefits are remarkable. It makes you look much younger and more feminine. For some, it’s the most important thing they do to change their faces.
Because electrolysis can be unpleasant, people constantly hope there is a faster, easier, cheaper, less painful way to remove facial hair permanently. They will try anything they hear might work rather than submit to electrolysis. This has led to a lot of speculation and misinformation floating around, and a lot of unscrupulous people willing to prey on our false hopes.
Here’s the bottom line: If you cannot afford to risk your time, money, or complexion on unproven methods that may or may not work, it’s vital that you invest in electrolysis with a practitioner recommended by another trans woman who is done and happy.
About hairs and hormones
Hormones control the development of every organ, including the hair follicles (which are end-organ targets for androgens). Androgens stimulate receptor cells to produce hair, especially pubic and axillary (underarm) hair. Hair growth in other areas is dependent on heredity, androgen sensitivity and the amount of androgen produced. Hair growth that has reached the full terminal stage will usually be permanent and will not diminish even if androgens are blocked. The only way the hair can be permanently removed is by destruction of the papilla.
Transgender hormones will probably not reduce existing facial hair at all. They may make hair removal of existing hairs easier, though. It’s good to get on an androgen blocker prior to starting electrolysis.
Brief answers to the five big electrolysis questions
How Long Will Electrolysis Take?
Clearing typical transsexual women’s facial hair generally takes about 100 to 400 hours of treatment time (some need even more, some less). This is spread out over approximately one to four years (some need even more, some less). Many variables affect this, and these numbers are based on anecdotal data rather than survey results.
How Much Does Electrolysis Cost?
Electrolysis usually costs about $25 to $150 an hour for treatment (some pay even more, some less). You should plan on spending $25 to $250 a week (some pay even more, some less), tapering off over time, with a total cost to clear a face between $2,000 and $20,000 (some pay even more, some less). Many variables also affect this.
How Much Does Electrolysis Hurt?
Most people find it tolerable, but most also take steps to alleviate the pain. Some find it extremely painful. Once again, many variables affect this.
What Will Electrolysis Do To My Skin?
Some temporary post-treatment redness and swelling are common. Other more serious temporary side effects may arise, and the worst-case possibility is permanent pitting or scarring in some clients. Many variables affect this.
How Should I Prioritize Electrolysis In My Transition?
Generally, it should be one of the very first things you start when beginning to transition.
Advice in a nutshell
- Electrolysis is the most reliable option available today that has been proven to remove trans women’s facial hair permanently. Laser can be an acceptable or even preferable alternative in some cases, but laser is usually not enough by itself to remove trans women’s facial hair permanently.
- If you cannot afford to risk your time, money, or complexion on unproven technology, start electrolysis now and make a commitment to stick with it.
- There are three main types (modalities) of electrolysis. The following generalizations are hotly debated. Thermolysis uses heat and is generally considered to treat more hairs per session but is not as efficient at killing hairs with one treatment. Galvanic uses an electro-chemical reaction and is generally considered more effective at killing hairs with one treatment but treats less hairs per session. The Blend combines both modalities in an attempt to get the benefits of both. All three methods have vocal champions and detractors, as do the many kinds of electrolysis probes available. Many people contend that electrologist skill is more important than modality used. Others feel very strongly that one modality is better than another.
- Start electrolysis as soon as you possibly can in your transition, and stick with a regular treatment schedule. Start treatment on your face.Worry about body hair once the face is down to one hour a week. Try to get as much as possible done before going full-time.
- Find an electrologist who has had experience successfully removing male facial hair. Choosing an electrologist will be the most important factor in how long your treatment takes, how much it costs, how comfortable it is, and how your skin fares. Ask the recommendation of local TSs who are done and are happy. Meet the client in person and look at their face, if possible. ‘Gender-friendly’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘skilled.’ Many states regulate electrologists, and certification from professional electrolysis organizations can help you decide as well. Your choice of electrologists and your adherence to a strict skin care regimen are vital in avoiding permanent skin damage.
- Electrolysis may take from 1 to 4 years or more, with an anecdotal average around 2 years. Even the fastest options usually require 10 months of treatment just to get you to maintenance levels. Completion may require less than 40 hours to more than 700, with a widely accepted anecdotal average between 200 and 300 hours. It takes a big time and money commitment, so plan accordingly. Electrolysis may be the most expensive part of your transition, even more than SRS. Luckily, the costs are spread out over time. But since it will cost anywhere from $25-$250 a week or more, you must have a realistic budget in place. If your money situation is tight, you should spend as much as you can afford on electrolysis each week, because even a little is better than nothing. Also, the biggest financial strain is early on when you are trying to get your face cleared. Once you’re past that, maintenance is much more financially manageable.
- Female hormones will not get rid of existing facial hair. Hormones are not necessary for electrolysis to work, but anti-androgens like spironolactone, etc. probably help retard future growth. However, some electrologists feel that by retarding regrowth, you slow your time to completion, and many clients feel that hormones make their skin more sensitive to electrology. Hormones (specifically anti-androgens) do affect body hair, so work on the face while the hormones start to work on the body hair.
- Some feel that shaving is important in the early stages of treatment (and it doesn’t make hair grow in thicker). Electrolysis is most effective on actively growing hairs. Treating your resting hairs is a waste of time and money, it can hurt more (they’re closer to the surface) and increases the potential for skin damage. If at all possible, do not shave until your face has recovered from your last session, but once it’s healed, some suggest you shave before your next session. That way you are only treating hairs that will be affected. If you absolutely must shave immediately after treatment, you may find an electric foil razor less irritating on inflamed skin. You will need 18 to 48 hours’ growth for treatment so your electrologist has enough hair to see the angle and to grasp with tweezers. Others feel that if you don’t need to shave between sessions, it’s best to avoid it.
- There are many ways to manage or eliminate the pain of electrolysis. Topical anesthetics like prescription EMLA, or over-the-counter ELA-Max provide the best combination of ease, cost, safety, and effectiveness. For those requiring complete pain reduction, some use injected anesthesia administered by medical professionals. Injections are illegal in some states that regulate electrolysis, so you may need to approach this with discretion. However, pain or fear of pain should never keep you from getting electrolysis.
- Some transgender women have reported success with do-it-yourself electrolysis. Others had theirs done at Electrology 3000. These options are great for some, but they aren’t best for everyone. Please see my pages on these options for a discussion of advantages and drawbacks.
- Anyone considering sex reassignment surgery is strongly urged to consult with their surgeon about genital electrolysis prior to SRS. In many cases, genital electrolysis can help eliminate the need for skin grafts taken from the abdomen or hips, and it can help prevent the problem of hair growth inside the vagina post-surgically.
- There is no ‘one way’ that works for everyone. Listen to the first-hand experiences of others, but consider it advice, not gospel. You must find what works best for you. Because of all the variables, your situation will be unique and not exactly comparable with anyone else’s.
For detailed discussions, click on the appropriate links below.