- See my summary on reducing time to completion for additional money-saving thoughts.
- Hair removal can be one of the most expensive parts of your transition, if not the most expensive part. You must have a realistic budget in place. See my section on financing transition for details
- A tremendous number of variables will affect your costs, but it will probably be thousands of dollars. Luckily, it is spread out over a couple of years.
- You will probably need to budget $25-$200 or more per week for electrolysis, with the bulk of your total expense coming in the first few months as you try to clear the face and keep it clear.
- If laser is an option for you, you may require a large cash outlay up front for a contract, or a series of payments every 4 to 6 weeks.
- You should also budget for incidental costs such as pain relievers, skin care, and travel. Make it part of your fixed costs.
- The easiest way to save money is to show up at all sessions and show up on time. You only hurt yourself when you skip or show up late, and this is a very common problem.
- Set up a standing appointment if your schedule permits. It’s easier to remember and plan around.
- Just do the coarse dark hairs if money is a problem, and trim the fine ones.
- Shaving between treatments in the early phases of treatment ensures you are only treating active hairs, thus saving money by increasing efficiency.
- Some people save money by using students or by doing it themselves, but I do not recommend either of these unless you have absolutely no other choice.
- Buying a block of treatment time in advance can significantly reduce costs, although this requires greater budgeting discipline on your part.
- Many with little or no money have bartered for hair removal in exchange for goods and services. You are only limited by your work ethic.
- I strongly recommend keeping a progress chart of your own for budgeting purposes.
- Think of a unit of hair removal treatment as a monetary unit. Visualizing these ‘zap units’ can help prioritize finances and help eliminate impulse buys.
- There are always things you can cut out of your life to save money, if hair removal is your highest priority.
An enormously wide cost range
The basic answers:
Electrolysis costs $25 to $150 per hour. Costs are similar to any private one-on-one service like massage, hair care, or therapy. Some say to expect about a dollar a minute, but I suspect most transgender women find rates between around $50 to $70 an hour. I have personally paid prices between $31 and $60 an hour at different electrologists.
Laser costs are usually determined by area to be treated. A full face treatment will probably be anywhere from $200 to $1000.
As discussed earlier, completion of facial electrolysis will probably take from under 100 hours to over 400. Your total price will be in the thousands of dollars, with a totally unscientific estimate of between $2,000 and $16,000 or more, with the average probably somewhere near the middle of that.
In the Spring 1995 “Tapestry” Electrology column, author and electrologist Linda DeFruscio writes at length about one transsexual. It took this person 2 years and 295 hours for a total of $15,900 to completely remove her facial hair. This is consistent with my own time and costs of about $13,000 over 3 years. See the chart of my treatment time. However, I would emphasize my treatment time is higher than the anecdotal average I have seen reported. That’s why you should not base your transition timetable or hair removal budget on just a few cases.
The price range spans over $20,000 between lowest and highest costs reported to me, which is a huge variance. Before you get too discouraged, keep in mind electrolysis cost is spread out over a couple of years or so. It’s easier to do $50-$100 a week for zapping than scraping together $12,000 up front for SRS.
Factors affecting hourly rate
Your choice of practitioner
- If you go to a fancy salon, you will probably pay a lot more. If you go to the place with the biggest ad in the yellow pages, you will probably pay more. If you go to someone who is not involved in the gender community, you will probably pay more. I used to go to this fancy salon on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. They liked me so much the manager gave me my own bathroom key. They didn’t like me enough to give me a decent rate, though, so I left. I have saved over $3,000 by switching to a gender-friendly place. If you go to someone who is not certified or who works out of his or her home, you will probably pay less. If you go to a school you will pay less, but you won’t be getting someone with much experience. Cost should not be the only factor, though– refer to the section above on choosing a practitioner.
Where you live
- If you live in or near a big city, you may have to pay more due to higher cost of living. Then again, you may pay less due to increased competition. You are probably better off in a large city, because there is usually at least one practitioner who specializes in transgender clients. This is helpful for price as well as quality of treatment. The electrologist I saw charged 33% less for transgender clients.
Your practitioner’s style of working
- Some people just keep working till their next client comes or until you’re done. Other places adhere to the treatment time with the exactitude of a train conductor.
Costs beyond the hourly rate
- If you have to travel to get there, you should figure in that expense as well. Include any train fare, tolls, gas, or parking fees as part of your treatment expense. You will need to budget for skin care products and pain management products like aloe gel, Advil, ELA-Max, and EMLA. I even figure in the meal I always have just before treatment.
- When I first went to the big salon I started at, they all wore white lab coats and the place had a medical air about it. It wasn’t until I was leaving one day and I saw a client tip her electrologist that I realized it was customary to tip them at that salon, just as if it were a beauty treatment. Needless to say, I felt very embarrassed, so I started tipping. One day the manager called me into her office to tell me the 15% tip I was giving was more than twice as generous as any other tipper. She said a tip of a couple of dollars was customary. When I switched to a new electrolysis salon with almost exclusively transgender clients, I found that most of the other clients could not afford to tip. And although I could have certainly used the money for other things, I continued tipping. I’m glad I did, too. It showed that I appreciated my electrologist’s hard work, and it has put me in very good standing with her. Plus, she has a family and can use the money as much as I can. Because I was a preferred client, she has worked on me starting at midnight and rearranged her schedule to fit me in. She has gone over my allotted time to finish my face at no extra charge, and she’s even come in on her day off to accommodate my schedule. So, even just a dollar or two can make a big difference. I just figured it into my rate and didn’t even think about it.
In my worst month when I was trying to keep my face clear, I spent over $1,100 on electrolysis. Needless to say, I was extremely upset. However, I am very glad I didn’t stop despite the massive financial drain. Soon the cost was much more manageable, but there were some very difficult months early on. I and others have prevailed by using the following methods:
Show up on time
Write down your appointment time and date, especially if you don’t have a standing appointment. It’s easy to forget. You may be charged for the session anyway if you forget or blow it off. If you’re late, you are paying the same amount for less treatment. If you can’t make it, call as soon as you know. If they can reschedule the time, you might not be charged. Plus, you won’t get a reputation as a no-show client. Clients who skip sessions tend to get low priority when scheduling problems come up. If you do it enough, they may not even work on you any more.If you show up early you might be able to start early and get additional treatment time for the same price, or at the very least be on your way sooner. I’ve listed this tip first, because it’s the most common way people waste money. In fact, you’d be amazed how many people can’t get their act together enough to come in regularly. Don’t just blow off an appointment, and don’t be late. You’re only hurting yourself.
Buy a block of time in advance
This is a common practice that can save you money in the long run. I bought a 52-hour block and was able to save 25% on treatment time. Some places have different size blocks, and the larger the block, the bigger the discount. Buying a block means you have to plan very carefully, though. You have to save up for the first one, and if you plan to buy additional ones, you have to save up for the next one. You must set aside money from each paycheck, though, as if you were paying per treatment. It’s nice to go in without needing to bring a check or a lot of cash every time, and since I don’t have the money in hand, I’m not tempted to spend it on something less important. Remember, be sure to get a receipt for a block showing how many hours you paid for, especially if you are paying in cash.
Just do the thick terminal hairs
If you can’t afford to get all of them at once, you can just get the noticeable hairs and trim the long, fine ones with scissors or a beard trimmer (better not to pluck if you want to remove them permanently later). Some people eventually decide they won’t even bother removing the thin ones.
Shave between treatments
As many as 30% of your hairs are not growing at any given time, and these hairs don’t respond as well to electrolysis or laser. By shaving between sessions, you’re only treating the growing hairs that are treatable. Shave according to your practitioner’s instructions. An electrologist needs the hair out to determine its angle and to grasp it with forceps. If it’s too short, they spend more time trying to find the hairs than treating them. Some can get by with 12 hours or less, some can’t shave within 48 hours before treatment. On the other hand, a laser place may want you to shave right before treatment. Ask your practitioner.
Go to a training school
Having students do your face can save a lot of money, but you get what you pay for– in this case inexperienced people using you as a guinea pig.
Do it yourself
I include this suggestion, but I can’t personally recommend it. Read the section below on do-it-yourself electrolysis.
Do you have a marketable skill you could exchange for treatment? Some enterprising people have done handiwork like shampooing their practitioner’s carpets or making small repairs at their office or home. Some do painting and yardwork for them. Some have designed print ads or web pages. Some offer to do the books, take appointments or clean the offices at night. Someone I know took photos at my electrologist’s wedding in exchange for treatment time, and another gives her a ride home to get a price break. You are only limited by your imagination and motivation.
Plan on it
Think of hair removal like housing, food, and utilities– a necessity that must be budgeted for. Figure out how much money you’ll probably need that month for hair removal, and add that in with your fixed costs.
Do as much as you can before transition
The differential in salaries between males and females can make it difficult for the transsexual woman to afford hair removal in the new role. And imagine the difficulty if you happen to be fired for this! Do as much as possible while you have a steady income source so you won’t have to worry about struggling later.
Keep a progress chart
Your practitioner will probably keep a card recording the date and length of your treatments, and you might find keeping your own useful for planning as well as charting your progress. See the chart of my electrolysis progress.
Try a long shot
I don’t know anyone who has had success getting hair removal covered under insurance, but if you want to try, a correspondent has offered a few suggestions:
“I have seen insurance cover electrolysis only a couple of times in two decades. Before 1990, electrolysis was a tax deductible expense under MEDICAL. In recent years, electrolysis can be covered under flex-spending insurance plans. What flex-spending is, is a predetermined amount of money is taken, pre-tax, from your payroll check and reimbursed (not taxed either) when you have spent the money on the treatment. Flex-spending will often cover chiropractic, dental, regular check-ups and electrolysis. It is not paid for by insurance, but helps you pay less tax. The other thing I have had clients do is request a prescription from their physician for electrolysis on a particular area, then they use the total for a medical tax deduction.”
Anyone who has had success with this strategy, please let me know so I can pass your experience on to others.
Put it in perspective
I like to think of it in “zap units”– the cost of a unit of treatment. I could go out to eat with a friend to a nice restaurant, but that would cost a “zap unit.” Riding my bike to work for two weeks saves me one zap unit. I know it sounds silly, but if money’s tight, it can help you prioritize. Do I need that skirt I saw today, or do I need 1.5 hours of electrolysis? When I put it to myself in that way, the answer is clear.
Cut back on other things
For instance, I was spending a lot buying lunch at work. If I was grabbing food 3 times a week at 5 bucks a pop, that was coming out to almost $800 a year. Brown bag it, or skip lunch (that’s what I do now). Buying sodas and candy at work were adding up, too. Do you really need cable TV or that magazine subscription? Could you have friends over for dinner instead of eating out? Could you see the matinee instead of full-price, or better yet, rent a movie? Hold off on that new album till it’s on sale? I sold my car (and don’t miss it)– can you trade down to a cheaper one? Again, you are only limited by how austere a life you’re willing to live. See my section on financing transition for extensive information on dealing with transition costs.