I’m a fair-skinned Italian girl with dark, thick hair. Which is nice for the hairs on your head, but not so nice for other parts of your body, namely the upper lip. For years (decades) I’ve been embarrassed about it, but thanks to electrolysis, no more — and never again.
There’s a lot of things for a woman to feel self-conscious about. Her weight, her height, her clothes, her hair, her laugh, her voice, and her moustache. If you’re a lady who’s never experienced the misery of trying to keep facial hair under control, be grateful.
Otherwise, you know what I’m talking about. There’s waxing, of course, which hurts like a #$!@#%. Once the redness dies down, it looks pretty good. But it grows back. Then there’s threading, which I’ve never tried; I’ve heard it hurts kinda less than waxing, but still does. And it grows back. There are bleaches and creams, but as a friend once said, you can bleach that stache all you want, but it’s still there — it’s just golden-yellow now. Usually these didn’t even work for me and the cream is all burn-y and hurts. And the hair comes back. And there’s shaving, which is easiest obviously, and takes almost no time at all, and doesn’t hurt unless you’ve got really unsteady hands. The hair comes back right away, though, and even better: you get shadow, not just at five o’clock, but really all the time.
My personal method, btw, was plucking. I had it down to a science. A tedious, painful, required-growth-in-between science. But — you guessed it — the problem is, it always came back. (It turns out, it comes back worse — more on that later.)
Then my friend Amy Oztan (who blogs at SelfishMom.com) told me about electrolysis. I’d heard of it, but didn’t really know what it was. She told me how successful it was for her, but she didn’t sugar-coat the pain or the expense. I hemmed, I hawed, and finally, after my very awesome husband gave me the go-ahead, I made my first appointment.
I should tell you in advance that while a lot went right at that first appointment, I didn’t care for the practitioner I’d found at all. She was professional and good at her task, but she was also… well, uppity, and controlling. We listened to her weird Enya music which I didn’t care for and she wouldn’t change, I wasn’t allowed to speak during the treatment, she would only work according to her treatment plan (how often, what parts of my face to work on, and how long), with no input from me. She also informed me she was raising her price, at the end of that first appointment, from what she’d quoted on the phone. I wasn’t happy, and I promptly started looking for a new electrologist. Happily, I found Michelle Robinson from the Electrolysis Treatment Center. Michelle is just as professional, warm, comfortable to be around, and let me be the one to decide what my priorities were, and how we would proceed. If you are on Long Island and looking for an electrologist, I cannot recommend Michelle highly enough. If you’re from somewhere else, just make sure you find someone you like. This isn’t a process you want to go through with someone who isn’t willing to work with you in a helpful and professional way.
Electrolysis is the only method approved by the FDA for permanent hair removal. It works like this: a professional electrologist inserts a very fine needle (usually thinner than the hair being treated) into the natural opening of the hair follicle alongside the hair shaft. A tiny amount of electrical current is then applied to destroy the hair growth cells. Here’s more from the American Electrology Association on treatments:
Hairs have differing cycles of growth, many of which are not visible on the surface of the skin at the same time. The follicle produces the hair from the blood supply, and discards it eventually through shedding. The process of growth, rest, and replacement are known as the hair growth cycle. Since individual hairs are in different phases of the cycle at any given time, multiple treatments may be required to remove unwanted hair.
So, in other words… you go in for a treatment. The electrologist inserts a fine needle along each hair shaft, then there’s a flash of heat that kills the cells. The hair is then removed with a tweezer, having been severed off — in other words, you’re not tweezing the hairs out manually (tweezing alone can actually stimulate hair growth activity, so I was essentially making matters worse all those years!). Are you done in one session? No. Why not? Because hair has a growth cycle, and you will catch them at different cycles. Some hairs take multiple sessions to completely zap away. Also? You have more hair follicles than you think you do. Anywhere from 100 to 1000 to as many as several thousand per square inch. They just aren’t all activated or showing at the same time. So you think you plucked a hair away and that it grew back shortly thereafter, but that’s really from another hair follicle, nearby.
So here’s the nitty gritty: how long, how much, how painful?
Well, as I said at the beginning, I’m blessed with a full head of thick, healthy hair, and that unfortunately extended to parts of my face (upper lip, chin, etc) where I didn’t want it, and my hair is fairly thick. So at the beginning, I went in for a half-hour treatment every week. After about four months, we went down to every other week. At eight months, we dropped down to every three weeks. And just recently, at eleven months in, we shifted to every four weeks. Keep in mind, you could go every four weeks right from the beginning, if that’s what you want. You’d just see a lot more hair growth in between, especially at the beginning, and the entire process would take longer. For me, I wanted to go at it aggressively and stick with it. Eventually I’ll need to go even less often, every two months, three, four, and so on.
Does it work, by the way? Oh yes. Before, when I was waxing and plucking and shaving and so on, honestly, the hair would start to grow back almost right away. It was all just a maintenance game, trying to stay ahead of it, never really satisfied with the results. If I’d let it go and done nothing? I’d have been stubbly in days and Billy Dee Williams after two weeks. Now, after four weeks since my last treatment, there are just a few stray hairs here and there, easily taken care of at my next appointment. And the ones that are gone are gone, gone, gone.
How much electrolysis costs will depend on prices in your area, how often you go, and so on. Maybe the easiest way to say it is that in the past year — which was the first, most intensive year of treatment — it’s cost me about — brace yourself — $1200. Yeah, I know. It might be more than you’re willing or able to spend. You might not need as many treatments as I did, though — we’re not all this hairy — and your situation might be different. All I can say is that it is absolutely worth it, that it works, that it’s not a penny wasted. The shame and embarrassment I used to feel over unwanted facial hair made me miserable, and being able to put those feelings behind me is priceless. Plus, it’s permanent.
Well, you know, in a word? Very. While the American Electrology Association says “you may feel discomfort”, I’d like to politely disagree completely with them on that score. No, to be candid, it hurts like nobody’s business. Now, much like getting a tattoo, some places hurt more than others. Chin, for example, was not really that bad. I find it itchy, more than anything else. But upper lip? Yeah. It’s not so great. Especially the little hairs right under your nose, you know the ones I mean? Just think about it, and try not to cringe. You can get a prescription for Lidocaine cream, to number the surface of your skin, and that helps a little, but not always. It hurts like the dickens. But it’s quick and then it’s over, and the result, to me at least, is worth it.
In the end, it’s up to you whether electrolysis is something you want or need, and whether it’s worth the cost, the time, and the discomfort. My mother used to brush the tangles from my hair and say, “It hurts to be beautiful.” And in a broader sense, she had a point: anything worth having requires effort, and anything important enough to you is worth whatever it takes to get it. Electrolysis has changed my life and made me more confident and happier with myself. For me, it was well worth the cost and effort involved.
(By the way, to anyone reading: if you have any questions about what it’s like to get electrolysis, feel free to comment or message me privately if you’d rather not discuss it in a public setting.)