Thoughts on Facial Hair Removal

So… My GP referred me to a dermatologist to look at a couple of red spots on my face. The dermatologist recommended I suspend IPL facial hair removal, which was apparently causing chronic inflammation. And the dermatologist, in turn, referred me to a clinical/medical electrologist.

During the seemingly interminable hours of my electro treatments, I’ve talked at length with the electrologist about facial hair removal for MtFs and learned a lot about the special challenges male beard hair presents to the hair removal practitioner.

Male beard hair does not respond to hormone therapy the same way that body hair does. Once established (at puberty) a male beard will remain as coarse and heavy and deeply rooted as it always was – even in the face of high doses of hormones – whereas, over time, body hair tends to become finer, softer and less dense on the arms and legs, and especially on the torso, where it may actually regress to a normal female peach fuzz. (Just keep shaving…)

Because male beard hair is generally so much coarser and more deeply rooted than body hair, it stands to reason that it will resist the usual hair removal techniques more tenaciously than natural (finer, less deeply rooted) female body and facial hair, which the conventional techniques were developed to deal with in the first place.

My electrologist asked what kind of facial hair removal treatments I had undergone before seeing her. I told her I had had a course of IPL laser blasts and that progress had been slowing recently. I admitted that  I had an exceptionally heavy beard and I recognized that exceptional measures would be required to beat it into submission.

She laughed.

First of all, she informed me, IPL is not a true laser. The acronym stands for ‘Intense Pulsed Light’. A true laser operates at a different light wavelength which penetrates the skin more deeply and delivers follicle searing energy more effectively than IPL equipment. While IPL might be a perfect solution for natural female body or facial hair, or TS body hair softened by hormone therapy, it cannot totally, permanently remove well-established male facial hair.

I was shocked to learn that, in fact, only one commonly-used ‘laser’ hair removal device, the LightSheer, is rated (by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) as capable of performing truly permanent hair removal. That’s largely because the LightSheer is a true laser, not an IPL device.

Alas, LightSheer practitioners are fewer and much farther between than IPL practitioners. That’s probably because the LightSheer system costs up to ten times more than a typical IPL machine, putting it financially out of reach for many salons and spas. As a consequence of its higher cost, LightSheer treatments often cost many times more than IPL treatments addressing the same hair locations on the body.

Another factor which older MtFs must confront is the presence of light grey or white hairs in their beards. While a mark of distinction in a middle-aged man, they present perhaps the toughest challenge to the older TS and her hair removal practitioner.

My electrologist (who, it turned out, is also a licensed Clinical Lasertrologist) notes that hairs must contain a certain minimum amount of dark pigmentation to respond favourably to either IPL or true laser treatments. We all know that dark colours absorb light energy much more efficiently than light colours. The sad truth is that no IPL or laser system available today can obliterate light grey or white hairs, on your face or anywhere else.

That’s why, says my electrologist with a wink and a grin, her specialty is unlikely to fade into obsolescense anytime soon — in spite of constant claims by IPL and laser practitioners that needle-based hair removal techniques are poised to go the way of the Dodo.

The moral of the story is, TSs (and especially we older gals with significant infestations of white hairs) need to monitor our hair removal progress closely and critically. When we no longer see any significant improvement from treatment to treatment on IPL or laser, it’s time to switch to electrolysis. My electrologist says shop around. Get sample treatments. Choose the practitioner who feels right for you and with whom you feel most comfortable. In general, she says, electrologists with clinical/medical accreditation, those with more experience and those who use a magnifying device to aim their needles will be more likely to achieve a better kill rate than the ‘operators’ you’ll find in most neighbourhood spas and salons. Bottom line: Higher kill rates mean fewer painful sessions to endure and less money you’ll need to shell out to clear your face of hated hair once and for all.

(Reposted, from a private blog.)

3 Responses to “Thoughts on Facial Hair Removal”

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