Facial hair removal is an important part of male to female gender transition. Hormones do not remove the pesky facial hair that is a product of our genetics and so we need permanent hair removal in order to have a smooth face and never have to shave again. It can be an incredibly expensive and time consuming process, sometimes taking years and tens of thousands of dollars. Electrolysis is the long established "go to" method for hair removal for MtF transsexuals, but laser hair removal has gained a lot of popularity for those who have the right hair and skin types for it to have a chance of working. Still, the FDA only rates laser for "permanent hair reduction" and recognizes electrolysis as the only method approved for permanent hair removal. Everyone's experiences are different. My journey so far with hair removal has been extremely interesting and quite unique. This account is the fist time I have completely shared my adventures in the often frustrating process.....
My Experience with Laser Hair Removal:
This was such a traumatic experience that I have never fully written about it before but in sharing my experience with facial hair removal I am going to describe my experience with laser. About 2.5 years ago I went to a licensed hair removal business in Cary, NC. The provider I went to see had the highest rating of anyone in my area and in addition to electrolysis, she was a laser technician. I had been studying hair removal for more than a year and after doing my research, decided that electrolysis would be the best way to go for me considering my extremely sensitive skin type, hair color and the way I react to the sun.
Despite my research, almost everyone I talked to was advising me to do laser first, then finish the job with electrolysis as I had some light hair and some grey hair on my face in addition to mostly dark hairs. So I decided to go to this particular technician partly because she was so highly rated at electrolysis and partly because she did laser also. I was not full time or on hormones yet but at our first consultation she told me that she worked with many trans clients with great success.
She strongly advised me to have a number of laser sessions first and that after maybe 6-8 sessions the dark hair should be taken care of and then she could move on to electrolysis and finish me up in a much shorter time than if we started with electrolysis. I had a bad feeling about it but I agreed to do a test laser removal session. This was not a test on a small area of the face (In hindsight I would strongly advise anyone trying laser for the first time to do a small test area first!) and I paid full price, which with her was about $260.
It didn't hurt too bad and after a couple of days I noticed shedding and a great reduction in the dark hairs on my face. She told me the first 48 hours were the time to watch for any adverse reactions that I might have and to let her know if I had any persistent redness, swelling etc. during that time. A week or so passed and I thought I was out of the woods and maybe getting laser was a good decision.
After that I began to experience itching and redness on my neck, particularity on the sides. It was not severe but it seemed to get worse over the next couple of weeks and finally I went to a dermatologist to have him take a look at it. By this time I was experiencing constant redness, some puffiness and intermittent itching and soreness on my neck. The dermatologist diagnosed me with Poikiloderma.
"Poikiloderma of Civatte refers to erythema associated with a mottled pigmentation seen on the sides of the neck, more commonly in women. Civatte first described the condition in 1923." Medscape
He described it as a form of sun damage he could not treat but he referred me to another doctor at Duke University who treated Poikiloderma as part of his practice. I went back to see the laser practitioner and she was perplexed. She had never seen anything like this before and was not familiar with the condition. She wished me luck and wanted me to report back after I saw the doctor at Duke.
Duke University Hospital is a premier medical facility and the doctor I met with there told me he could treat my condition using a different form of laser (Pulse Dye Laser) with a blue laser beam instead of the red one used for hair removal. He also told me that this laser would not remove hair and that this was a cosmetic procedure that would not be covered by my insurance. I was looking at a series of treatment that would cost me about $800-$900 a session and I think I ended up doing 5 treatments. The first treatment removed the redness in circular shapes and subsequent treatments removed the rest of it until it was all gone.
Both doctors told me that this was a condition caused by sun damage, usually long term exposure to the sun. My skin is extremely sun sensitive and for most of my life I have not been good about wearing sunscreen or protecting myself from the sun. Part of my job during my 13 year fisheries career put me outside for long periods of time at all times of the year and I also had a lot of sun when I was younger. One of the posters in the doctor's office stated that the majority of sun damage occurs before we are 18, even if it shows up later in life.
I will never completely know if this skin condition arose simply because of long term sun damage or if the laser treatment played a big part. I did have some very mild, persistent discoloration on the affected areas prior to my laser treatment so my feeling is that I may have had a mild form of Poikiloderma before my laser session but it became magnified several fold in a very short period of time after the hair removal session. I will never know but I feel like this is something a dermatologist might have caught f I had gone to a doctor who also does laser hair removal. In fact, the doctor at Duke also performs laser hair removal, but after my experience I no longer wanted anything to do with any lasers.
Today I think I am free of the Poikiloderma although I have other issues with sun damage. A follow up visit to the dermatologist I originally saw revealed that I had a very small skin cancer less than an inch away from eye. For this he sent me to yet another dermatologist who performed Mohs surgery which removed the Basal Cell Carcinoma but left me with a scar between the bridge of my nose and my eyeball. The little bump that was diagnosed as skin cancer was smaller than the tip of a ball point pin but the area of skin that was cut out to the bone was almost the size of a dime. The part I could see on the surface was just the tip of the iceberg for this cancer, it seems. The scar isn't too bad but it is another scar on my face.
Needles to say I do not leave the house without wearing sunscreen even for 5 minutes now, summer or winter, cloudy or sunny day. My little foray into laser hair removal cost me over $4000 and set me back over a year on facial hair removal as well as causing me a lot of pain and, for a time, an unsightly skin condition covering most of my neck. Maybe the silver lining is that because of all of this, the skin cancer was discovered. The surgeon that removed it told me that if this cancer was left untreated it could have taken my eye or worse.
My final thoughts on this fiasco is that when I first sought hair removal I may have had a very mild skin condition that was not noticeable and probably not worth treatment. Over time that may have changed but the fact remains that after this single laser session this condition escalated at least 10 fold at least in a matter of weeks. I don't know the laser caused the condition but I do think it exacerbated it to the point of making it intolerable and I am just thankful I was able to find a specialist and had the resources to treat it.
My experience so far with electrolysis:
After the laser hair removal fiasco in December 2011, and the with treatments for Poikiloderma beginning the following Spring, my start with electrolysis was delayed until mid 2012. I found a provider in Raleigh, recommended by my therapist, who had 25 of years of experience with thermolysis (a form of electrolysis), so I began seeing her weekly for hour long sessions. I found out that electrolysis can be just as painful as most say it is and it also seemed to be a slow process, as far as noticing progress. This electrologist spent the hours randomly selecting hairs on different areas of my face and I didn't let her work below my jaw line because of the continuing Pulse Dye Laser treatments at Duke.
My doctor prescribed some numbing cream containing lidocaine that, when applied topically, made the electrolysis bearable, though still painful. I was also researching places I could go that would clear my entire face at one time, which I thought would be a much more effective treatment with quicker results. My main problem there was that I would have to travel out of state and, since I was not out to my family yet, I did not know how I could pull that off.
After about 30 hours of treatments with the lady in Raleigh I noticed a problem, areas of minor scarring along my chin that I had not noticed before. I found out that electrolysis can cause scarring if not performed correctly, so that was it, I cut my losses and was finished with that electrologist.
My next stop in the electrolysis journey is detailed in this post, about my Electro Thundersnow Adventure. This adventuresome trip to Charlotte, NC proved to me that electrolysis did not have to be extremely painful, with the right operator and machine, and that I would need to travel out of state to receive the full facial clearings I was looking for. The technician there was just too slow and unsure that she could clear my entire face in even two full days.
Right after this trip I had the skin cancer next to my eye removed, as described above, and it would be June 2013 before I started hair removal again. By that time I had come out to my family and been full time for nearly 6 months.
Last June I made the drive to York, Pennsylvania to get my entire face cleared, as I detailed in this blog. This was quite an experience and took almost 14 hours over 2 days. I used the lidocaine cream on sensitive areas of the my face, but even though the first clearance is by far the toughest, I did not experience any real pain. For some areas of my face, it was the first time they had ever seen or felt the electrologists' needle.
So far, I've had 4 full facial clearings with James Walker of Executive Clearance. I decided to go to to him because he was highly recommended by a couple of friends, one who had experienced scarring at another business specializing in full facial electrolysis clearings. He was also one of only three providers I could find nationwide that specializes in the full facial clearing. I was fortunate that one of my friends had some pre- paid time with him that she could not use, so she sold it to me at a very good price, and that he was doing work in the York, Pa. area which is half the distance from my home to his office in Buffalo, New York.
Having extremely sensitive skin, I don't seem to be a good candidate for most facial hair removal providers. I have been very pleased with James Walker's work and I will say my experience with Executive Clearance is night and day compared to what I have gone through with other providers since starting the hair removal process. For a day or two after a massive session I might have a couple of small bruises but no real redness or swelling. The main thing I am noticing now is the real reduction in facial hair. People that I encounter say they cannot see anything on my face at all, no shadow, and the only makeup (foundation) I typically use is BB cream.
I've made three trips to York and one to Buffalo and have another clearing scheduled two weeks from now in York. I can easily go a day without shaving now, maybe 2, if I want to and still pass with no makeup. After my fourth clearing I am seeing the biggest difference. The hair does come back in a day and I can feel it a little bit, but it really isn't visible in that short a time. There are some areas, mostly where I had electrolysis in 2012, that now seem to be hair free. The best part about my experience with James is that I am experiencing no skin damage or scarring. For me and anyone concerned about their face, going to the right provider who uses state of the art equipment makes all the difference.
With my 5th and 6th clearings set up before I go to Canada in June for SRS, I feel I will be good shape for the summer. I am not where I want to be with hair removal, as I would have liked to have been completely clear before going full time, but the full facial clearings will have me caught up to where I Need to be, for now. Electrolysis continues....
|Me with light makeup the day after a massive, 8 hour full face electrolysis session...only a a little, barely noticeable bruising on my neck that was soon gone and no swelling.|