Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My First Electrolysis Session

"After all this has passed,
I still will remain;
After I've cried my last,
There'll be beauty from pain."
-- Superchick, Beauty From Pain

On Saturday I had my first electrolysis session.

Not. fun.

I haven't done much in the way of hair removal thus far, mostly because I've never been very hairy, even before hormones. The hair on my arms is pretty light, I've never had any back or chest hair to speak of, and I can deal with shaving my legs on the rare occasion that I actually wear a skirt.

I have, however, been getting laser hair removal on my face for almost two-and-a-half years now. It was actually the very first step I took towards physical transition, and I started just a couple of weeks after coming out to Erin. I wasn't sure at the time if I'd end up transitioning or not, but I knew that I hated my facial hair enough to get rid of it regardless.

I spent more on it than I probably should have, but on the plus side, they gave me a two year guarantee, so I've been going back once a month since then without paying anything more. Laser has eliminated 95% of the hair on my face, but there are a few hairs it just hasn't cleared. Still, I don't regret starting with laser versus electrolysis, because it has saved me a lot of time and pain, while costing about the same in the long run. Laser was also enough to get rid of the beard shadow on my face, which helped me dramatically in passing as female.

I've now started electrolysis for two main reasons, to clear up what's left on my face, and to start genital electrolysis in preparation for surgery. To put it simply, in sex reassignment surgery, some of the outside skin gets moved to become inside skin, and I need to get any hair removed from those areas before then.

Back when I started laser, I did a lot of research on the differences between laser and electrolysis. The only thing I learned with any certainty should probably be obvious: never trust an electrologist or laser tech to tell you which method works better. Both fields are chock-full of the kind of propaganda and superstition that's spread around so often, even the pros believe it. The truth, as far as I can tell, is that both methods work, and both have many pros and cons.

As far as effectiveness, laser is more like lobbing grenades, where electrolysis is more like sending in a sniper. The grenades are quicker and easier, but you have to be more careful not to damage the scenery, and there's a lot more luck involved. (Yes, I'm a dork, but it's a good metaphor. =P) Electrolysis also seems to be more dependent on the skill of the technician, for better or worse, while laser is more dependent on the area being treated, the skin type, and how dark the hair is.

Technically speaking, most laser hair removal devices don't actually involve any lasers, but use xenon flashbulbs, which flash high-intensity light at the skin. The skin itself lets most of the light pass through, but the hair's melanin (pigment) absorbs the light. The hair briefly heats up, effectively frying and killing the follicle around it. The hair is then left to eventually fall out on its own.

An average session of laser hair removal for me involves lying down, and being given goggles to protect my eyes from any errant flashes. They then spread clear goo on my face to keep the skin cool. Next, the tech dials in the intensity for my skin type and progress, and presses the small flasher part against my cheek. The machine beeps, I feel a sting, the tech moves the flasher gun about a centimeter, and then repeats.

The pain is semi-intense, but manageable, though I usually forget to breathe until they stop, and it always makes my eyes water when they go over my upper lip. Each monthly session only takes about 15 minutes. When they're finished, they clean the goo off my face, apply lotion, and give me an ice-pack to go. After each of the first few sessions, the room smelled like burning hair, and my face was red and tender for a couple of hours.

Electrolysis, on the other hand, uses a tiny needle-like electrode. The tech inserts the electrode in to each follicle, next to the hair, and zaps it at the root with an electrical current. They then grab the hair with tweezers and pluck it out.

At my first session on Saturday, my electrolysis tech began by joking about how every trans person she's talked to says that electrolysis is the worst part of transition, which got me nice and psyched. =P

She wore medical gloves, and glasses with little telescope-y magnifiers attached. She also dialed in the intensity, starting low to see what I could handle, then raising it a few times as she worked. Though I couldn't see exactly what she was doing, it seems like inserting the electrode stings, but is bearable, since it's being inserted where there's already an opening in the skin. The zapping and plucking hurts much worse. The pain was pretty manageable at first, but as she slowly moved across my face, my skin became more sore, and the stinging became more intense. The only things I can compare it to are laser hair removal, and getting a tattoo on my back, but it easily beats both.

My upper lip has the most hair left, mostly because the laser techs were afraid to zap too close to my lips. While the electrologist progressed across my upper lip, my eyes were watering like crazy; If you've ever plucked your nose hair, it's like that, but more hurty. Thankfully, Erin came with, and at this point I asked to hold her hand. I also had to ask the tech to stop a couple of times, so that I could sneeze and blow my nose.

The session lasted a little over an hour, and she cleared most of the remaining facial hair. Hair grows in cycles, with one set of follicles being dormant while another set grows, so I'll have to have my face done at least a couple more times to clear everything.

Once she was done, she had me hold a metal rod with a cord sticking out, and I started wondering why she wanted to electrocute me. She applied what smelled like VapoRub to my face, then pressed a metal roller to my skin, and I could feel a very mild current as she rolled it around. Apparently this is called cataphoresis or electrophoresis, which reduces redness by causing pores and blood vessels to constrict, and helps transfer medicinal substances into the tissue. Who knew?

She asked me not to touch my face or wear any makeup for a couple of days, to avoid infection. Most of the redness went away after a couple of hours, but my face was sore for the rest of the day, and there are still some tiny red spots and slightly tender areas four days later.

I definitely plan on taking some pain meds before my next appointment on the 18th. Since I normally avoid meds, they're pretty effective when I do take them. That should be enough to get me through the rest of my face work, but I don't know what to do for the genital electrolysis. Some people go as far as using numbing cream, or even local anesthesia. I'm really not looking forward to it. =/

After just one face-clearing session, I wouldn't say that electrolysis is the worst part of my transition, but we'll see if I feel differently about it after the surgery prep work. *knock on wood*

1 comment:

  1. You are very lucky with your results from laser. I think laser sucks. I have far too much hair growing back on the areas I had laser done on. I have heard from the girl who waxes me that she has many client who have the same complaints as me. I do not believe that laser is permanent, no matter what the laser hair removal industry people say. I feel it was a waste of money for me. I don't plan to spend anymore money on laser, and am just going to go with electrolysis from here on out.