To the Reader: This article was donated to me by a client years ago. I am sure that she would say that it is still valuable some 10 years later. LASER ELECTROLYSIS CANDIDATES please note…….this is still happening as of 2016.
This is a difficult letter for me to write, but one which I feel I must write for two reasons. First, I want to provide some guidance which might help some of you. Secondly, I need to work through this experience and writing down my thoughts and feelings is how I do that. This board has two primary functions: as a medium for sharing helpful information, and as a means to support those in need. I hope you will find what I have to say helpful, and by the end of this letter you will understand why I feel in need of support.
I will go through the whole story, but just to summarize upfront: I have been undergoing electrolysis now for a little over a year on my very dark facial hair. I have had just short of 250 hours so far, at a cost of nearly $11,000, and my facial hair is almost all gone. Unfortunately, despite the dearth of facial hair, I still have a very noticeable five-o’clock shadow, and very likely will for the rest of my life. I wish I could cry, but the tears won’t come. I did not take shortcuts, I was careful in researching and considering my options, I did everything according to the best of my knowledge at the time, and yet somehow I have failed bigtime.
Let me start from the beginning (well, almost…): By early 1998, I had been in therapy for nearly a year and had just started hormones. I began to look into the various methods for facial hair removal in the same way that most of you have: read articles and narratives on the Internet, interview professionals in the field, get recommendations from other TSs and my therapist, etc. Being an engineer, and also being obsessive-compulsive (I don’t use that term lightly, BTW — I really do have OCD), I thought I had done a pretty good job of learning everything I could before jumping in.
In early 1998, our monthly TS support group meeting was hosted by a doctor (an M.D.) who does aesthetic medical procedures, including skin resurfacing and hair removal by laser. I knew from my research that lasers had not (and still have not, to my knowledge) been approved by the FDA to advertise “permanent hair removal” — only electrolysis can legally make that claim. However, the FDA did approve one system, the EpiLight, to claim “permanent hair reduction”. This means that although there is no proof that the EpiLight system will stop hair from growing, they had demonstrated (to the FDA’s satisfaction) that their laser could make the hair grow back a lot finer. The doctor was very upfront about what we TSs might expect from this treatment, including side effects, and readily admitted that although she had used laser on male beards before, this was relatively new territory. She offered members of the support group a reduction on her usual rate ($100 per session vs. the normal $300), and said it would likely take five sessions spaced 4-5 weeks apart (because of the hair’s growing cycle) to take care of most of the hair.
Like I said, I weighed my options before jumping in like everyone else (you should seen the line making appointments after the meeting was over!). Here was my reasoning: First, I lived at that time in a small city two hours from the nearest TS-friendly electrologist. Given that my job keeps me on the road most of the time (and unfortunately, in the opposite direction of where I could get electrolysis), putting in enough hours on a regular basis would be nearly impossible. Second, I had thick, dark, dense hair. Think “Richard Nixon” — you know, where five minutes after shaving someone might ask “Decided not to shave today, huh?”. Reducing the thickness of my hair would certainly aid the electrologist later, and chances are that some of the hair would also stop growing — an added bonus. Third, I am somewhat familiar with how laser energy affect human tissue, since a few years earlier I had to learn the calculations necessary to design a small laser system which would be safe. Last, it was worth a try at only $500. If the results saved the electrologist only a dozen hours, I was ahead both in money and travel time.
I want to add here that is greatly offset by the difficulty in removing cooked follicles from the skin.
However, always the careful one, I had the doctor perform a test patch under my chin. The surface hair was removed immediately, and within three weeks, just as she said, the follicles ejected the remains of the hairs that were inside. No skin damage or discoloring (other than the bad sunburn affect immediately after the treatment), and the hair had still not regrown in that rectangle two months later. I booked my first full appointment for late July.
I have described my laser experience in some detail on this board a couple of times in the past, but for completeness’ sake, I’ll summarize it here. It only takes the doctor about half-an-hour to zap an entire face, but oh! what a half hour. You know the sensation you get when you pull a hair out of your nose? Well, imagine pulling 20 hairs out at once and sustaining this sensation over a third of a second (the length of the laser pulse). Each pulse would cover a rectangular area roughly 3/8 of an inch by 1-1/2 inches. She would start around my left sideburn, then methodically work her way around the cheek and under the chin toward the mouth area. When she had completed the left half, she would repeat this on the right side.
The upper lip is by far the most painful. It always took her five zaps to cover that completely, and how I dreaded those five zaps! She would ask me if I was prepared (mentally steeled), I’d say yes, then I’d hear the little “beep!” which told her that the unit was charged and she could pull the trigger. In a Pavlovian-type response, whenever I heard that “beep!” my body would go rigid because I knew what was coming. You know those scenes on ER where they restart someone’s heart with the defibrillator? That’s pretty much what my body did — flail wildly for that split second. Then I’d go limp, my eyes watering, she would squeeze my arm and say, “You O.K., Honey?”, and when I could regain my composure I’d tell her to go ahead with the second zap, and the third, fourth, and fifth. We were both relieved each time that part was over.
I always left her office with the equivalent of a badly-sunburned face, raised skin, and the smell of burned hair (not the most flattering perfume ;-). By the second session, some hair on my cheeks and neck had grown back, but nearly all of the hair on my upper lip and around the mouth had come back as well. We decided to change the settings on the laser (I say “we” because it was a joint decision — as I said, I do know something about how these settings affect the quantity and intensity of the energy delivered to the skin). By the third session, I had lost most of the hair except for that around the mouth (including, unfortunately, the dreaded upper lip). But this time an EpiLight technical representative was present for observation. She and I and the doctor discussed the results from the first two sessions, changed the settings again (things like pulse width, number of pulses, pulse intensity, and wavelength), then proceeded with zapping.
By the fourth session, I was getting discouraged. I was happy that the hair on my cheeks and neck was mostly gone, but the area around the mouth was the most noticeable, the biggest detractor to passing, and it was still pretty much all there. We changed the settings again for that session. The fifth session produced no different results, so I felt it was time to proceed with electrolysis. All-in-all, though, a partial success: I had a lot less facial hair for the electrologist to remove.
(I apologize for drawing this out so long, but like I said earlier, my purpose in writing this is not only to provide all of you with some useful information, but to help me work through my emotions right now. Part of this is retracing my steps and convincing myself that I am not to blame for this.)
As before, I feel I chose my electrologist with care. She is experienced with working on TS women, she came highly recommended by my therapist, and many TS women in the area whom I knew use her and recommend her. The method she prefers is thermolysis; that is, the hair growing mechanism in the follicle is disabled by heat. Galvanic electrolysis uses DC electricity to create lye which kills the follicle; blend uses a mixture of both. Interview 20 TS women on which method is best and you will find rabid proponents of each method. The general consensus of all of the articles and narratives I’ve read on the Web is that operator skill and the regularity of treatments makes significantly more difference in the results than does the method used. Since this woman uses thermolysis and gets good results (based on what others have said), I went with that method.
I had had about 70 hours of electrolysis by the time I went full-time last May — clearly not enough to get rid of everything, but I felt we were getting close. Remember what was said about the FDA not allowing laser hair removal to be advertised as “permanent”? Well, they’re right. At about this point, six months after my last laser treatment, most if not all of the hair which the laser had so nicely removed started to grow back. Thinner perhaps — it’s hard to tell, really — but the hairs had definitely only taken an extended vacation, rather than having been deported. So now what had looked like “50 more hours” was looking like “100 more hours — at least”. Throughout last summer, I averaged about 8-10 hours per week. By August, things were looking promising.
But something concerned me. Even after having a portion of my face cleared, there was still this general impression of there being a shadow. When I asked the electrologist, she told me that this was probably from the hairs which had been zapped during a previous session but which had not yet popped through the surface yet (keep in mind that the hair follicles produce hair in cycles, and that it can take several zaps to permanently kill any given hair).
In addition, though, my face was taking progressively longer to recuperate after each session. Whereas in August my skin was looking back to normal in 2-3 days, by October it was taking around two weeks! Most distressing, though, was the fact that I could not shake that “shadow” on my upper lip and around my mouth. In the back of my mind was this undefinable feeling that I should not be using the thermolysis — that we needed to use the blend instead. I reasoned that maybe the hair follicles in those areas were such that they were not responding to the thermolysis needle (which only affects the point where it touches — a problem if the follicles are curved or distorted). Maybe we should use blend, since the lye it creates can get to areas where the needle can’t.
I coerced my electrologist to buy a blend machine — even paid her 30 hours in advance so she could afford it. She doesn’t like doing blend because it’s so much slower (and it is), so when the new machine arrived in November, I had her do only my upper lip with blend, the rest with thermolysis. But after we both admired her work at the end of each looooong session, she would always add something like “…but think of how much more we could have gotten done with the other machine” or “think of how much faster we could have done this”. Me being the weak-willed gal that I am, I caved in and we went back to using solely thermolysis in December.
About three weeks ago, I realized that virtually all of the hair is gone on my upper lip, but I still have a shadow — a quite significant shadow, in fact (I’ll bet it’s darker than most of you with blond hair who have never even had electrolysis). There was no longer any way to deny the truth: the shadow is not due to dark hair — it’s from something else.
It was about then that someone posted a message on this board (“Hair removal”) with the website address of her electrologist friend Susan Laird. If you haven’t yet visited Susan’s site, I suggest you do. It’s at http://hairzapper.com. Read not only what she has to say about the different methods for hair removal, but also why she says those things. She talks about the effects of thermolysis and also laser hair removal. I would like to quote for you some of what she wrote:
Excerpts have been taken from an earlier site.
As regards skin damage, there are four basic kinds that have been brought to discussion so far and they are:
Often, these types of damage may occur by themselves or in various combinations. The insidious side of thermolysis and its improper use, is that all of these types of damage may not be apparent for weeks, months, or in some cases, years. This is also a consideration with the net result of the newest process for killing hair, thermolase. Again I stress the demands to rush through transition as being instrumental in creating one’s own hell.
As best as we can determine, the “shadow” we are seeing on my face is due to the imbedded debris described in 2., above. It is probably a result of both the laser treatments and the thermolysis. Trying to cover it with make-up is fruitless; not only is it extremely dark, but because of skin damage (see 3. and 4.), the texture of my skin in the area where my facial hair was treated is entirely different. The make-up actually tends to enhance the differentiation between my smooth skin and those areas where my beard and moustache used to be. The effect is to make it obvious to anyone closer than 10 paces that I am covering up a 5-o’clock shadow, except that this one is not caused by facial hair!
This probably goes without saying, but when I read the information on Susan’s web page, when it began to sink in what this shadow was and that in all likelihood I will be stuck with this for the rest of my life…
I did my level best to do this transition right, to not rush into anything, to be patient and careful and methodical. I sought the best advice, I paid whatever was required to get the best professional help I could find for therapy and hormones and hair removal. In short, I approached this transition as a responsible consumer…
…and yet somehow I have utterly failed myself on this all-important issue.
I am actually a relatively pretty woman, especially for 46 (I’m usually pegged for about 10 years younger). I am tall but slender — 6-foot-1 and 158 pounds. I still have virtually all of my own hair and it is not yet gray. Dr. Ousterhout did a wonderful job on my forehead, nose, and chin last year, and when he does my jaw in a few months, I have hopes that I will not only be attractive but desirable. Or at least I DID have hopes until this came up. Who on Earth would want a pretty woman with a beard shadow?!
Well, I guess that’s all I have to say. I hope that some of you can get something from all I’ve written, even if it just serves as a warning to you. I am emotionally exhausted. I don’t mind having spent more money than maybe I should have — money is always replaceable. I don’t mind having lost the extra time to a process that wasn’t working — it’s too bad I’ve had to endure what I have, but that is in the past now, water under the bridge. But the thought of having to live the rest of my life disguising a telltale sign of maleness…..like I said in the beginning, I wish I could cry, but the tears won’t come. I did everything I should have, dammit! I didn’t cut corners, I didn’t knowingly take chances, I followed all the rules…..this just isn’t fair!!! I worked so hard for this…so hard…..
This client and I spent approximately 4 hours per week for the next 4 years recovering the color and trying to reduce the damage as much as possible. The expense of this re-work came to over $25,000.