For many trans women, hair removal can be a process that’s both empowering and frustrating. While removing facial and body hair can feel like a liberating step toward feminization, getting there isn’t always easy, even if the idea of a quick shave sounds like a basic answer.
For most individuals who are born male-bodied, facial and extensive body hair is an inevitable result of the hormonal changes that happen during puberty; so, trans women who are taking estrogen after puberty often find themselves dealing with persistent hair growth, even with deliberate and dedicated attempts at shaving, tweezing and waxing!
So then what?
There are two available and well-known techniques that work for permanent hair removal: laser hair removal and electrolysis. Both of these options can be quite time consuming, expensive, and often painful. But as a permanent option, the investment of time, money and energy is well worth it for many clients.
With that, here are five critical questions to ask your hair removal specialist before to ensure you’ll embark on a smooth journey…
1. I am considering hair removal. Do you recommend laser or electrolysis?
Whether you do one or both is really a matter of personal strategy. Many trans women choose to start hormones first, which can thin (or shed hair) and then go with laser all over their face and body to get rid hair in bulk that is more vulnerable. Electrolysis is often leveraged as the final stage of removal to get really tough and resilient hairs like those on your chin and upper lip.
So let’s discuss laser first. Laser hair removal is a simple procedure in which which the technician sends a pulse of light into the hair follicle; this light kills the root of the hair, which, in an ideal world, will kill the follicle too (a dead follicle means that hair will no longer grow). However, the “ideal” situation often doesn’t play out on the first treatment, and often times people need to come for a few treatments before the procedure can guarantee permanent hair removal.
In order to be a candidate for laser hair removal, you must have a contrast between your hair color and skin tone in order to experience good results. For instance, people with light skin and medium to dark hair get much better results than someone with light skin and blonde hair, or dark skin and dark hair.
Next up let’s discuss electrolysis. This procedure involves the insertion of a probe into the hair follicle, which then zaps the hair with a pulse of electricity. After that, the technician can tweeze it out (so make sure you don’t shave beforehand, as the hairs need to be long enough!) The good news is that everyone is a candidate for electrolysis, as hair and skin color do not affect the outcome. The only deal-breaker is if you wear a pacemaker.
2. As a trans person, how do I choose the right person to do my hair removal treatments?
A hair removal expert needs two things: knowledge and skill. The practitioner should know the biology of the hair follicle and what occurs during each phase of the hair-growth cycle. They should be able to explain to the client and discuss in detail the timing of each visit to obtain the best result. Finally, they should be able to carefully diagnose the level of skin color to apply the optimal settings for the best results. Skill is an important factor being able to make sure all surface areas are treated completely and safely.
Of course, intuition is also your best asset when assessing the person who you will work with during this process. Because it can be emotional for some (especially given the common element of physical pain), you will want to work with someone whose energy you respond well to, whom you are comfortable being with for long periods of time, and who makes you feel safe and ok asking questions and expressing your needs. For example, don't be afraid to ask, "how many trans clients do you have?" At Picone Spa, we have logged many thousands of hours of experience working with trans clients.
3. Are there any side-effects or contraindications?
When having laser treatments, skin should not be suntanned, sunburned or otherwise irritated in any way (that means no recent shaving or use of abrasive soaps or other products).
For electrolysis, no pacemaker is allowed. There are no side effects with multiple needle galvanic electrolysis.
4. How permanent is the procedure?
Laser hair removal may not be sold to you as “permanent,” though it often ends up working out to be a permanent method, despite sometimes requiring multiple procedures. Galvanic Electrolysis is always permanent.
5. Does it ever make sense to opt for both the laser and electrolysis treatments?
If you are a good candidate for laser and electrolysis, there is no reason that you can’t have both treatments done. Depending on the amount of work needed, it makes a lot of sense to get the laser done first to address a larger area quickly (e.g. legs, arms, back). Then whatever is left can be cleaned up with the electrolysis, which is a bit, more time consuming since the practitioner has to go into each follicle to address the hair. Doing both treatments is also more economical for addressing multiple areas.
In short, laser hair removal may be less painful and more expedient than electrolysis in a given session it can also end up being more time-consuming in the long-run, so keep in mind that each method contains unique pros and cons. As mentioned, in order for electrolysis to be effective, clients must let their hair grow longer first, which can be a tough emotional experience amidst the transitioning process. In both cases, it is important to recognize the challenges that the process of hair removal brings—and to be realistic and patient along the way.