Before we get started, I want to point out that I believe every person has the right to make the choice what to do with his or her own body hair. This blog post is not to encourage nor shame people to remove their hair if they do not choose to.
I think all bodies are beautiful and I really admire when people make the choice to do whatever they want with their one and only body. In the age of body positivity and acceptance, I want to make it a point here that I am aware I could have kept my body/facial hair. I hope one day, women with facial hair will feel free to rock their beards if they want to. However, this is just not the every day reality we live in. I remember feeling incredibly alone during the time when I struggled with male pattern hair growth, and I hope in sharing this blog post I can help remove the taboo unrealistic ideology that all women face at some point in their lives: we must be perfect, without defects, and anytime we aren't, there is something wrong with us.
Let's get to it!
Electrolysis is a form of permanent hair removal. It works by inserting a very fine needle into each individual hair follicle where a light electrical current is applied to destroy the follicle. We'll get more into the technical stuff later, but first I want to explain a little about my personal experience with electrolysis, why I decided to do it, and some of the experiences I had.
I first started noticing some strong black, beard-like hairs growing on my chin when I was about 22 years old living in NYC. I am not talking about fine peach fuzz. These were THICK AF. There were just a few at first. It was manageable, but they'd grow in pretty quickly. If I didn't pluck or shave them off right away, they'd be visible and one could feel the stubble by touching my face. I was in a relationship at the time when this problem began and I remember resting my chin on my partner's chest, looking up at him. He'd lift my chin up and lovingly say "You have scratchies on your chin! Can I pluck them off?" it was all done lovingly (he was one of those intimate, love-to-pluck-and-pop-zits kinds of guys), but I was nevertheless embarrassed by it. But honestly, I didn't think very much of it. I knew a lot of women struggled with facial hair and it was just something we had to deal with. Over the next year or so, the more I tried plucking the hairs, the more they grew back with a vengeance.
Little did I know this was the first sign of PCOS and the beginning of my battle with hirsutism, or male pattern hair growth. Hirsutism is the excess of androgen hormones in the female body, causing thick course hair on lower back, upper lip, chest, chin, neck, cheeks, breasts, belly.
I started carrying tweezers with me everywhere I went, and would pluck my chin morning, night or anytime I had privacy at work. What first started off as a few hairs quickly grew into patches of beard-like hairs around my chin and jawline. It was getting too much for tweezing. At age 23, I discovered these facial shavers designed for face hair on women and it only made the problem worse. I began shaving daily. It worked for a little bit. But soon, I had to shave at night too. My hormones were so out of whack that I'd get a 5'oclock shadow on my chin and jaw.
This is when it started to get shameful.
I know what I need to feel confident, beautiful, strong, and sexy. I love embracing the feminine side of myself, and having male pattern facial hair doesn't make me feel so hot.
The fact that I had to shave 2x a day left me feeling extremely humiliated. My confidence plummeted. I felt like I had a dirty little secret. I felt defeminized. Manly. Ugly. I thought there was something seriously wrong with me and I was too ashamed to even tell my closest friends.
It is safe to say my self esteem severely plummeted at this time. I was afraid to get too close to people, fearing that they'd notice the hairs on my chin and neck. I covered my face when talking to people or strategically place my hand over my chin when sitting across a friend at a coffee shop. I told no one of my secret. I was so embarrassed and felt so isolated.
The 2x/daily shaving game continued for a few years. It became apart of my daily skincare regime. The thick, course, black beard-like hair traveled to my upper lip and some parts of my neck. It also spread to the area between my breasts, areolas, and my happy trail. Again, we're not talking about peach fuzz here, I'm talking about full on, visible, male body hair on my female parts.
At age 25, I made the move out to Los Angeles and slowed down my life a little bit. I made it a point to prioritize my health and stop the partying lifestyle I was leading in New York City. This life shift is when I really began to notice the other PCOS symptoms that had made their way to to the surface (read more about my PCOS story here).
Things were getting out of hand and the body and face hair just kept coming. When I went into my endocrinologist's office and showed her the problem, she took my blood but already knew the answer: it was PCOS.
Pretty soon, I laid my hands on Womancode, and educated myself on hormonal health and getting all my ducks in a row without going back on birth control. I decided to take my life into my own hands and make some MAJOR diet and lifestyle changes to give myself a chance at a better life. My self esteem and health were so low that I knew there was no way to go but up.
As I focused on healing, I knew that permanent hair removal was the way to go for me. At first I went in to a local place called New Look Skin Center in Glendale, California for laser since I heard that it hurt less. I went in for 1 laser hair removal appointment and they performed a 30 minute session on my face. After my session was completed, they told me, "Sorry, laser is not going to work on your face, you need to use electrolysis". They still had me pay for my laser. In retrospect, this is totally unprofessional and is a sign that a place just wants your money and doesn't necessarily have your best interests in mind.
I went in for 30-60 minute treatments every 3-4 weeks for a few months. I was so desperate to remove my hair that I didn't care about their treatment of me as a person. And I have to say, the electrolysis was working. After each session, my skin would be a little red and I'd get tiny scabs, but it was nothing permanent or too horrible.
The hair totally went away, but about a year later it re-surfaced, so I begrudgingly made a new appointment at the same place.
a bad experience
In that year, a lot had changed at New Look. To my surprise, my old aesthetician was replaced with a different woman and a much different machine. As soon as we began, I could tell something was off. It felt much different than the first go-around. The pain was sharper, and the way my technician was handling me, my questions, and my skin just felt wrong. However, due to shame, fear, and feeling 'less than', I still didn't have the confidence to speak up and voice my opinions. I asked her many questions and she always seemed rushed, annoyed, and even said varying answers when I'd ask her about post treatment. Sometimes she'd say to use olive oil on my face, other times she'd say never to use it. When I said she was hurting me to the point of tears, my technician told me it was "supposed to feel this way" and kept going. "Beauty is pain" she said to me. HAH.
Then I hit a point of no return. One time, we did the upper lip. She continued to work on my entire upper lip for 45 minutes, causing massive amounts of swelling, scarring and redness that lasted for weeks. I later learned from other technicians that such areas of the body should never be done in one session. It works much better and the chances of scarring and permanent damage decrease if they split the lip into thirds and do a portion each session. It's taken 5 months of really intense skincare to get the redness down, but sometimes it still shows itself off when my skin is dry.
The above images are from September 2017 a week after a rough encounter with an in-experienced electrologist. As you can see, my upper lip is still swollen there is some scarring on my chest between my breasts.
finding a better technician
In November 2017 I set off to find a better electrologist who understood my skin and needs better. Upon google and some light Yelp researching, I discovered Electroyogi in Highland Park in East LA. I went in for a consultation and immediately felt at ease: they promoted and used holistic/non toxic pre and after care, they had calming music on, they answered all my questions and even had essential oil diffusers around the office. This was my kind of place! After our first session, I was shocked. Not only was the pain a quarter of the amount from New Look's, but the swelling and redness lasted about 30 minutes as opposed to weeks.
So far, electrolysis has been great for me. I have been doing treatments on and off for ~2.5 years. And the most important thing is, I feel better. Sexier. More feminine. Confident. I can go up to people and not worry about them noticing my hairs. But also, something has shifted within me in the past few months. I'm not so self conscious about it anymore if I have a few black hairs. Maybe its because I have publicly stated that I struggled with it, and that has helped me release some of the shame and false beliefs I was holding myself to before. Just talking about it with you guys has been extremely cathartic for me.
As you can see from the before photo above, my chin hairs are very sparse these days and I only go in for treatments when I need to. I am not exactly sure what spurs the hairs to re-grow after they've been dormant for so long. I do know that shaving or tweezing in between sessions is a big no-no, unless you are going in for a session shaving is recommended (see below for details and instructions) I don't go as consistently as I'd like due to travel and other commitments, but at this time I am very happy with my results and my commitment to treatment. I continue to go to Nicole, the owner at Electroyogi to this day and have nothing but fabulous things to say about her practice. She has been in practice for 20 years and is so knowledgeable, and I asked for her assistance in answering some of the common questions about electrolysis below.
The answers in quotations are from Nicole herself. Everything else written below is from my own experience and research.
Q: What is the difference between laser and electrolysis?
A: To get technical, "Laser cannot completely destroy the follicle, nor is it painless. Laser treatments only cripple the follicles, allowing for a period of decreased growth, thus reducing the size and thickness of the hair in the treated area. Additionally, laser hair removal has not been evaluated for long-term safety of the skin. Lasers are not ideal for all skin or hair colors nor are they capable of selectively targeting individual hairs." (Source) In short, "laser is not suitable for all skin types and hair color. The ideal skin type/hair color combination is very fair skin with very dark hair with high volume," Nicole says. Electrolysis is suitable for all skin types and is the only hair removal method approved by the FDA to be considered permanent.
Q: Does it hurt?
A: In short, yes. However, it should not be excruciatingly painful. It feels like someone is flicking your skin over and over (at least that's how it feels to me). Find a technician who works with you, not against you. Getting it done before caffeine consumption can help reduce pain.
Q: Who can get electrolysis?
A: Electrolysis is the only hair removal modality that can be used on any hair color or skin type, and any hair color/skin type combination. "As long as the hair is visible, it can be removed" Nicole says.
Q: What's the cost?
A: It totally depends on the studio. On average, a 45 minute session costs around $60-80.
Q:What are some pre and post care treatment tips?
A: Pre care:
- Hydrate! This is the most important pre-care action that you can take. Make sure your skin is hydrated from the inside out and outside in. Drink tons of water the days leading up to your appointment and on the day of the appointment.
- Moisturize the few days before treatment.
- Try to avoid caffeine on the day of treatment if you can as this dehydrates skin which can lead to longer healing times
- Shave the area 3-5 days before each electrolysis appointment to ensure your hair is in its optimal growth cycle. A hair that has not been shaved for months is not in its active growth cycle, so the electrical currents will be less likely to kill it. "Shaving also preps the skin for electrolysis and can prevent irritation", according to Nicole.
- Keep the area out of the sun: try to avoid direct sun exposure for 24 hours. If you must go outside, use SPF50+. Make sure it's nontoxic! I love Coola, Manda, and Erbaviva sunscreen brands.
- Face oils are great for after care- use them 2x a day to keep your skin super hydrated and protected.
- Colloidal silver, aloe vera, and calendula are also very beneficial for the face in the few days after treatment. Here is how I love to use aloe!
- It's okay to sweat/workout, but make sure you wash your face with mild soap or non toxic face wash right after your workout.
- Try to go makeup free for the first 24 hours. This will only help heal the skin faster.
- Continue hydrating with tons of water.
- Don't touch your face this alone is a big tip for keeping your skin free of bacteria, but especially so during post-electrolysis since your pores are already open.
- Keep it clean.
- It's okay to take a bath, contrary to popular belief.
Q: What can I expect after I get electrolysis?
A: Redness and swelling are normal. It depends on many factors on how long this will last, but in general the swelling should go down within the first 24 hours. The first few sessions will be the hardest to recover from, since your skin is not used to this sort of treatment. Sometimes, there will be little red scabs for up to 5 days post treatment. This is normal too. whiteheads and sometimes even breakouts are normal as well. I've had all of these happen to me after electrolysis.
Q: How many treatments does it take?
A: This depends on each person. It also depends on "what the person has done to their hairs, prior to treatment" says Nicole. Nicole also notes it takes on average "18 months in order for every hair to bloom and make its presence known". Hair grows in cycles, and 18 months is about how long it takes for each hair cycle to express itself. Nicole states on average, it can take up to 2 years to be completely hair-free if you are consistently getting treatment. It can take more or less time, this is just what she has found and tells her patients so they have realistic expectations.
Q: Are there things we can do to reduce facial hair in the first place?
A: If it's hormonal hair, Nicole says, it all comes down to diet and lifestyle. Below are some of her tips for hormonal hair problems.
- Keep stress in balance
- Eating a healthy diet and balance your blood sugar correctly. Eating low glycemic foods like fish, healthy fats, lean protein and tons of vegetables are great for helping balance insulin.
- Staying at a healthy weight
Basically, it sounds like keeping your hormones in check is the way to go to prevent hirsutism and other hormonal hair growth issues. Womancode is a great place to start for learning how to balance your hormones through food. You can also read my Top Tips for PCOS here. It's important to note some hair growth is not hormonal, but genetic or due to other lifestyle changes like pregnancy, new medication, menopause, puberty, the aging process.
Q: Are there any longterm negative effects of electrolysis?
A: According to Nicole, there are none at this time.
Q: What should I look for when looking at electrologists in my area?
- Make sure you are working with a licensed electrologist. In 17 states in the US, it is not required for them to have a license. In these states, look for someone who is licensed. This will ensure they have the sanitation, bacterial, and dermatological background for best treatment practices.
- Make sure they are using up to date equipment. Some electrolysis businesses have machines that are 40 years old! Ask your technician how old the machinery is. It should be as up to date as possible.
- Read reviews online from real people.
- Go into the office for an initial consultation. Often, we can pick up vibes from a place that we can't from photos or through the phone. I definitely recommend chatting to your technician in person before your first session. Ask them questions. Hear her pre and post treatment care tips. Observe their office and systems. If possible, try to find an electrologist who is familiar with holistic treatment care.
- Trust your intuition. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.
Have you had electrolysis done? If so, what were your experiences with it? ALSO, if you have a good electrologist in your city/area please comment below! I want all readers to find good technicians through this community. Please share them below! And, remember, this is a SAFE PLACE. Please, no triggering comments, criticism, or speech here.