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Electrolysis: Do-it-yourself

Summary

  • Many have attempted to do their own electrolysis. Many failed.
  • I do not recommend attempting to do your own electrolysis. Generally, the drawbacks outweigh the advantages. See the discussion below.
  • Most home systems do not work. You must use a unit where you insert a probe into the follicle if you want permanent results. The only galvanic probe home unit widely available is the One Touch, available for about $30 at drugstores, some department stores, and beauty supply stores. Those interested in buying a personal or professional unit for home use should see my purchasing tips.
  • Most people, even those who had success, say that it's easier and more convenient just to get it done professionally. Some find it a good supplement for touch-up between professional sessions.

In the never-ending quest to save money, some transgender women have attempted to do their own electrolysis. Most who did felt they were forced by necessity to do so. The people who had luck with this had a LOT of free time and determination. It is very difficult, but not impossible.

Possible advantages of attempting do-it-yourself electrolysis:

  • You can save money.
  • You can do it in privacy.
  • You can treat yourself when it's convenient.
  • It's an option for those who cannot find or travel to a competent electrologist.
  • Maybe you don't trust your face to someone else.

Possible drawbacks of do-it-yourself:

  • It takes a massive time commitment and real dedication.
    • Often greater than getting it done professionally. Let's see-- at an optimal 30 seconds per hair (20 for electrolysis, 10 to remove hair and find next hair and insert probe), even with an optimistic kill ratio, you are quickly into a huge amount of tedious work. One correspondent took 2,000 (!) hours during her first year of at-home electrolysis. That's 20 times more than I did for my first year of professional treatment, and she still had hundreds more hours to do in following years.
  • You have no training.
    • This leads to the next problem...
  • You could cause permanent skin damage.
    • Is saving money more important than your complexion? Or just as bad...
  • You may may not get permanent results due to improper technique.
    • It's not easy. If you don't do it right it won't be permanent. Be sure to read as much as you can before attempting it yourself.
  • Potentially worse temporary side effects
    • Redness and swelling may be worse and last longer than with professional treatment.
  • Potentially longer treatment time and time to completion
    • It may take much longer to treat your own face than to have it done professionally.
  • Some areas are difficult to see/treat by yourself.
    • Working on yourself can be quite awkward, uncomfortable and prone to error. Imagine using your left hand to treat areas hard to reach with right hand. Imagine working under your chin or near your ear while looking into a mirror. Imagine having a friend help you-- do you trust their ability?
  • The more facial hair you have, the more work, and the less your chances for success.
  • Some find it much more painful than professional electrolysis.
  • There are real and hidden costs.
    • Some burned out several of the cheap home units before getting done, and professional equipment may be as expensive as many hours of professional treatment. There's a possibility it would end up costing more than professional electrology if you figure in how much your time is worth. For instance, had the person mentioned above spent her self-treatment time at a part-time job flipping burgers for minimum wage, and then used all the proceeds for professional electrolysis, she would still have had enough money left over for a few outfits.

I feel the potential drawbacks outweigh the benefits, so I do not personally recommend attempting to do it yourself. For a permanent result, a good TG-recommended professional electrologist is usually the best solution. But since there are those people willing or forced to do their own, I have included information on the two kinds of permanent systems that could be used by do-it-yourselfers.

Buying home electrolysis kits or used professional units

The American Medical Association's Committee on Cutaneous Health and Cosmetics "recommends limiting self-treatment to readily accessible areas, such as the lower parts of the arms and legs. Because working on facial hair requires use of a mirror, and, therefore, reversed movements, this area is best done by a professional."    

--FDA hair removal overview, July, 1996

The cheapest of the cheap do-it-yourself approaches is a home electrolysis kit. Most home systems do not work, especially electric tweezers such as IGIA, etc. You need to find one that emulates real electrolysis, with a probe you insert into the follicle to conduct current to the hair root.

Only a galvanic probe system like One Touch can be permanent. Don't bother with anything else. It's a battery-operated gizmo with a stylet that looks like a mechanical pencil. One end has the retractable probe like the one on a professional electrolysis machine, and the other end is connected by a cord to a 9-volt battery on the main unit. There is a metal band around the stylet at the place where you hold it like a pencil during the treatment. The probe is on a spring so you can't insert it too deep and puncture the skin. When the probe touches the moisture of the papilla, the circuit is completed and the unit makes a 5-second tone. You hold the probe in place another 15 seconds for the galvanic current to work, then try to remove the hair with tweezers.

If it doesn't give, try again, but don't try the same hair more than twice. The unit has an adjustable "comfort control" (a euphemism if I've ever heard one!).

If this still sounds like something you want to try, you will probably want a magnifying mirror and very bright light. Better yet, work in direct sunlight. You may also want to invest in rechargeable batteries to save money. They recommend doing no more than a square inch at a time. The probe bends very easily, so be careful not to brush it against anything. The One Touch system requires that you mix a saline solution and keep your fingers moist, "but not too moist," as you proceed. If you get it too moist, it will set off the tone before it should go off.

You may find it helpful to do it with a friend. Some areas are nearly impossible to do yourself. That means you have to trust in your friend's ability, too. If using a machine with someone else, always disinfect and never use the same probe that another person uses.

Michelle writes, "I bought an older machine that my electrologist had stored away in her closet and have been doing all the areas I can reach myself. It is set up right next to my computer and I can do a few at a time and I know my pain threshold by direct feed back and it is easy to learn. I highly suggest that many of you ask your electrologist if they have any older equipment they want to get rid of. Mine was glad to get it out of her storeroom. Especially if you notice they have just bought a new machine."

See my pages on purchasing tips and do-it-yourself tips for more details.


Success stories

There are certainly success stories out there. I've included all I've found so far:

Kare Ross has been cool enough to write extensively about her experiences with home electrolysis. The following is edited and excerpted from several informative posts and letters. (Emphasis and categories mine. --AJ):

Worth the time and effort

How badly do you want to be rid of the beard? I wanted it gone very badly. I lived in a rural area and I was poor. I really had no other option.

In retrospect I'm very glad I removed my own. It was one of the best transition decisions I made.

Yes, the galvanic needle devices are *slow*. They require great patience and self-discipline, but the galvanic needle devices do work and work very well. The device I used was a "Perma-Tweez" by General Medical. The "One Touch" by Inverness should work as well. With proper technique, you'll have essentially zero regrowth.

Ironically, it's the cheapest devices that work best. Those that cost about a hundred dollars and claim "no needles" don't work. I thought for a long time that the device I used, the "Perma-Tweez," was no longer available. There are still some out there, especially used ones.

Background

In late summer of 1971 I made my decision to transition whatever the cost. The first thing I did was to get a job which gave me some independence and allowed me to leave my parents' home. The job moved me across the state, and I had my first apartment by myself. I immediately started a diet and shaved my legs. The next thing I did was send away for a home electrolysis device.

I used it almost daily. Some days I used it a couple of hours. Some weekends I'd do 12-14 hour sessions. I began my self-electrolysis in November of 1971. Sometime in late March or early April 1972 was the last time I ever shaved my face. By that summer, the last straggler hairs were gone. The beard removal has been permanent and left no scars. It's as good as any professional work I've ever seen and better than most. It cost me less than $100 but it did take a lot of time and real self-discipline.

Treatment time/time to completion

In terms of the time necessary to remove you own beard, I devoted something between 75 and 100 hours to remove mine. The amount of time needed will depend upon the extent of the beard and the level of skill you develop. And by the way, it's a skill like riding a bicycle - you never really lose the needle placement skill. A while back a friend asked me to remove some of her eyebrow strays. :-)

If, like me, you are dedicated and use a large portion of your spare time, you can remove most of your beard in a small number of calendar months by spending a lot more time on the project than you could afford to spend if you had to pay someone else to do it.

I was lucky that my beard was all concentrated in places I could easily reach and treat myself. I had a friend remove her beard as well. She had beard over a wider area. I'm not sure how she did some parts. If I had that problem today, I might try using my camcorder with macro focus and a TV to see those places and guide my hand.

*Everyone* I've known who seriously tried has succeeded - but it is a small sample size. I might see my experience as more of an exception except that I gave my Perma-Tweez to a TS friend and she removed her beard with it, too. She had more beard than I did and she removed hers with no scarring. I've known several who have done it, and those who were serious about it succeeded. None of them had any scarring, either.

No skin damage reported

For simple galvanic electrolysis it doesn't take any training. It mostly requires some practice, common sense and reasonably clean and sterile technique.

Galvanic electrolysis can produce more redness and swelling and it can last longer. But, properly done, it has less permanent damage to the skin, in my experience.

I've never known anyone that damaged their skin doing their own electrolysis using a needle *galvanic* device. I've seen a post or two with such comments, but never met anyone who said that. On the other hand, I've met a number of examples of the opposite experience. If you follow the directions, you don't *very badly* over-treat individual hairs, and you keep everything clean to avoid infections, you will almost certainly have less skin damage than any professional would do.

People who've met me in person will attest that I got no scarring or pitting. You'll never find a professional job with less skin damage than my result. Those friends of mine who've done their own have gotten no scarring or pitting that I can see. On the other hand, I've never seen a professional thermolysis or blend result that didn't have some scarring and pitting - and I've seen a lot of them. I'm sure there are some that got no scarring, but I haven't seen them.

Why do I think self-electrolysis is better? Because when you do your own, you can control current flow based upon what you *feel*. You are also sure that "the operator" really cares about killing each hair and not over-killing the skin. Of course, if you know you're sloppy, can't pay enough attention to observe a reasonable sterile technique or don't give a rat's posterior - pay someone else to do it.

Discomfort

I never had electrolysis on my face by a pro, so I can't compare [pain]. On the other hand, not counting the upper lip, I found the discomfort quite manageable without any pain killers. (But the professional electro on my crotch prior to labiaplasty would have been *intolerable* without the local anesthetic. Eeeeouch! How do I know? There was one small patch that didn't get enough local!)

Except for the upper lip hairs under the nose, which are bad no matter how it's done, the people I've talked to who've had straight galvanic, blend and thermolysis have generally found simple galvanic to be less painful. The key is to reduce the current level and extend the time to compensate. High current rate is more uncomfortable and can hurt. Low current rate takes longer but isn't as uncomfortable. It's a trade-off. But when you do your own, you can make that trade-off yourself based upon what you feel - for each hair. A pro can't do that because they can't feel what you feel. That's why doing your own can be far less painful than having a pro do it. Of course if you can afford E-2000 of have Guy at Wave Electrolysis do it with a local from Dr. Joy, well that's probably the least painful method - after the injections are done.

(Oh, and a tip - for my upper lip, I took Dristan an hour before zapping to keep my nose from running. It also had some painkiller in it, as I recall.)

Preparation

[Visiting a pro to see how it's done is] only worthwhile if you find a professional that will do straight single needle galvanic. How many operators will/can accommodate that request? Getting thermolysis or blend is *nothing* like getting galvanic so it won't be of any use understanding what doing your own galvanic electrolysis is like.

If you try the Perma Tweez, batteries can be a problem. I think Radio Shack may now carry a suitable battery. I got tired of buying mine from General Medical (back in 1972), so I modified an old battery and the device to connect to a 12 volt lantern battery. I was at least 3/4 finished before I did that (probably three to five batteries - I don't recall), but at least I never needed another battery after I adapted it to the lantern battery. When I gave my Perma Tweez to a friend who used to to remove all of her beard, she never needed a new battery. :-)

I don't recommend [using a 9v wall adaptor]- too much risk of serious electrical shock. Batteries are completely safe. Wall current is dangerous. An adaptor can short and send wall current through you face. Use rechargeable batteries (2) and a recharger if you want to save money on batteries. Use one battery while the other recharges.

I could get at everything I needed to zap. You might not. In case you have a fair amount of such hairs, you probably would prefer using a pro to zap those. Working on a friend can be...um...touchy. :-)

Invest in a high quality lighted magnifying make-up mirror. A good mirror makes all the difference between a difficult chore and an ordeal that you'll abandon. I mostly worked at night - [direct sun is] unnecessary if you have a really good lighted mirror.

Especially ignore the tweezers that tip the Perma Tweez. They seem to be especially worthless.

Most folks fail because they lack sufficient discipline.

Face vs. body: test areas and treatment

[I had recommended, "Practice on an area other than your face." Kare replied:]

WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!! This is the single most common piece of *bad* advice I've encountered. Beard hairs are *very* different than hairs anywhere else on your body. They are much easier to zap yourself than any other hairs. For most people *it hurts less* to zap beard hairs than other body hairs. I removed my entire beard without a pain problem. But there's no way in hell I'd ever try to remove leg or arm hairs that way - too damn difficult and too damn painful!!! OUCH!!

For your first attempts, pick beard hairs on the lower margin just under you chin. They're still easy to see and reach. In the *very* unlikely event that you screw-up so badly that you actually level a scar or pit, it won't be noticeable. (I did my whole beard without leaving *any* scars or pits!) In addition, it's much easier to learn needle placement on coarse easy to see beard hairs. The larger diameter follicles easily accept the extra bulk of the needle.

Small hairs are difficult because expanding the tiny follicle to accommodate the extra bulk of the needle requires a much larger stretch of the tissue in terms of the total follicle size. And finally, the current flow needed depends upon a number of variables. Facial beard follicles and skin are different. The time and current needed for arm or leg hairs will generally not apply to your face. In general, only experience doing your face guides you on how to do your face.

In my experience, with a galvanic device like a One Touch, testing it on arm leg or body hairs is a poor choice. Beard hairs, except for the mustache hairs under my nose, were far easier to remove and much less painful than any body hairs I tried. Beard whiskers were about the only hairs on my body that were reasonable to remove, for me. I would never consider clearing my legs with one - just too painful. Coarse whiskers also provide a solid hair shaft that is much easier to use to guide the needle into position in the follicle than a fine body hair. I believe that the follicles of beard hairs are larger which also make needle positioning easier.

I also read that some folks seem to panic because they get a larger welt from galvanic than from thermolysis. The larger welt and large pink area does not necessarily translate into scarring. I got large welts and redden areas that were obvious for several days after each session. Yet I never got any scarring. It's simply that the body reacts differently to the two types of electrolysis. I removed my entire beard with *zero* scarring as people who've met me in person can attest.

Thick coarse dark beard whiskers are the easiest to remove by galvanic electrolysis. The thick hairs have wider follicles and it's *much* easier to slip the needle into place. Once zapped, they lift cleanly from the skin with a much higher kill rate because the needle placement is *so* much easier. I absolutely *hate* to try to do electrolysis on pale and fine hairs. And, in my experience, fine hairs hurt more, for some reason. They are too hard to see and too hard to place the needle in their follicles. I have very pale skin. My beard hairs were dark and coarse. It gave me a shadow so bad I never even *tried* to cover it with make-up. That's why I made removing my beard my number one priority. My beard was gone before I ever said a word to any type of professional about my intention to transition.

Treatment

*Galvanic* home electrolysis is about as certain as any electrolysis can be. The technique is simple. You place the probe needle parallel to the hair shaft in close contact to the hair shaft. Slide the needle against the shaft down into the root until it stops (at the bottom of the root).

The needle is actually blunt. It shouldn't pierce the skin - it should just slide into the follicle along side the hair. The low level current (a few milliamps) will flow. Time the flow (how long the needle has been in place). I just watched the second hand of a watch. When sufficient time has past, you withdraw the needle and use a pair of tweezers to lift the zapped hair from the skin. If you have applied enough current for sufficient time, the hair lifts easily from the follicle without tugging.

The zapped hair will have (usually) a gelatinous sheath around the base of the hair when it is removed. That indicates that the hair was killed. In my experience, the hairs that lift free without a tug, and particularly those that lift free with the gelatinous sheath, *never* grow back. From time to time more than one hair can share the same pore in the skin. There are often hairs in close approximation that need to be killed separately. Those are often on a separate growth cycle. Sometimes it may seem like it's the same hair re-growing, but it isn't.

There is no free lunch. Professional electrolysis is likely to be much faster - if you can afford it. E-2000, is probably THE answer for those who are well heeled. For those who have a lot of free time but little cash and have good vision and hand-eye coordination, doing your own electrolysis is an option. Notice, however, that if you have a lot of beard on your neck or at the back of your jaw where it's difficult to see and reach, you'll probably still need some professional electrolysis.


Melanie Anne Phillips writes of her experiences:

It did indeed work very well. In fact, I burned out five of them by the time I stopped using them. For the record, the machine in question is the "Inverness" home electrolysis unit. It sells for about thirty dollars and runs off a single nine volt battery. It is much less painful than regular electrolysis, but requires many more treatments to do the same job. For me, It took forty hours EACH WEEKEND for a year to keep my face cleared. What a pain that was, sitting in front of a make-up mirror for FORTY HOURS once a week!!!

I used the machine for two or three years, and by that time I was down to a couple hours a weekend, and only had the clear hairs left. After that, I decided to go back to regular electrolysis (actually "thermolysis") and have been doing that for about 18 months as of this posting. I go in once a month or so for about an hour. That keeps everything absolutely fine for the next four weeks, and I will probably be more or less done in another year. (This stuff takes forever!!!) Of course, for the whole month, I don't have to worry at all, so I have no more concerns in that area, even under the most intimate conditions.

A word of warning though... The home unit IS very powerful. It has power settings from 1 to 10. I did all of my work at 1 or 1.5. I tried 10 once and a piece of my skin just baked and dropped out on the spot!!! Fortunately, that healed, but I suspect if you go higher than 1.5 you are going to get some eventual scarring, and if it is high enough the scarring will be immediate AND PERMANENT!

In other words, Melanie spent over 2,000 (!) hours the first year alone, plus hundreds (!) more hours over the next couple of years. Even after all that work clearing her face with a home unit, and expects to supplement that with 30 hours of professional electrolysis over the course of 2.5 years after stopping treatment with her home unit. That's about 10 times as many hours spent for about 1.5% of the cost of professional electrolysis.

So, it's possible to put a huge dent in the amount of professional electrolysis you'll need, but it takes a MASSIVE commitment of time and energy. Most people would prefer the extra 30-odd hours each week if they could afford it. As I said earlier, if you have 15 to 30 hours a week to devote to home electrolysis, it might be better to get a part-time job and use the money for professional electrolysis.


Amy writes of her experiences:

Yes, I have extensive experience with home electrolysis. Actually I find them cheaper than $50, mine cost me $40, and its the Inverness One Touch Deluxe unit. I've been through a couple of them now and wiped out large areas of facial hair with them.

If you are considering this its best to bear in mind that you are going to have to have the patience and commitment to it to develop a refined skill that's not easy to master. Not many actually have the will to stick with it long enough to get anywhere with it, or even to develop the skill needed, and still fewer can deal with the pain or the idea of inserting an electrified needle into their face and zapping their follicles until lye oozes out of their pores (though personally I really dig on it).

I've usually do this on Saturdays to give the swelling time to go down before I go to work on Monday, and I usually epilate between 600 and 800 hairs in about 11 hours of work, though any more I'm running out of enough hairs to meet this kind of quota.

I like to keep off that metal band until I've completed the insertion because I don't want it to start heating up until I'm down in there. This can be a bit tricky and takes practice, but you have lots of hairs to practice on and lots of time.


Danielle writes:

I managed to completely clear the right side of my face. I leaned over a mirror laid out flat and a lamp with an electronic (fluorescent) bulb lying next to it. Using an 11w bulb meant that it was cooler and I could lean closer to it to get a higher degree of illumination. It's difficult to advise people as it is something that you have to find your own way of working with.

It took me about 6 months, using it for up to three hours per day to clear the right side completely. Each day, whatever hair was visible, was electrolysed. Because I was working with very short hairs I kept my slant-edged tweezers well aligned and 'sharp' using fine sandpaper.

Although I permanently removed the hair, I did cause some permanent surface blanching (scarring) although it is only visible when I point it out, under bright light. This happened because I treated the hair too aggressively sometimes, due to impatience, so I would advise people to be very careful of over treating themselves.

Because there is a high risk of scarring I would say always go to a properly qualified, experienced electrologist. On the other hand, if there is no way you can afford to, then using One Touch is definitely better than doing nothing. I found it impossible to clear the left side of my face as the angles were too difficult. Being ambidextrous would be an advantage!

I used One Touch because I found it far too difficult and embarrassing to grow any hair out and then travel in public to a professional clinic. In the end I had to do it for the left side of my face anyway, but I managed this by just growing out one small patch at a time.


Heather worked on her face with an Inverness unit from March to November 1994, and spent approximately 40 to 50 hours before she could stop shaving. She says, "From time to time I still find one to zap," but she has not shaved since late 1994. Heather writes of her positive experiences:

I too went this route for 3 reasons:

  1. I am a miser.
  2. I live in the middle of nowhere and 50 miles from a salon.
  3. I live in Redneck Central Alabama.

I got the Inverness Clean + Easy (Yeah Right!!) Deluxe Electrolysis Kit. But first I did go for 3 professional sessions to see how it was done. Yes it hurt! But I found after time I was somewhat numbed by the pain. And yes it takes a strong will.

What it takes is for you to look in the mirror and say something has got to go-- "Them hairs or me"!

It is that same will, if any of you have ever stopped smoking. But I found the machine set on 10 did well on thick virgin hairs as I had never plucked before, and yes again I say it hurts at first..

Now I do not know if it is that you de-sence the pain in time or you learn how to work the machine.

But I do say when I started I could not stand the mustache area at setting of 1, and as I was ending treatment around 48 hours later, I could take a full 10 setting under the nose..???? So there again, I am not sure how you cope with the pain, but by will or experience you do! Keep at it...

I also found to maintain constant results, invest in a wall pack that has a 9v plug tail on it.

Anyway-- Just wanted to let you know there are some of us who made it.

I am including a photo of me so you may see what I look like... proof to no huge scars or pits. [Heather's photo shows no evidence of skin damage. --AJ]

Anyone trying this at home: My heart goes out to you, and may your will be like the balls I got rid of!!! LOL

Suggestions? Well keep at it. It takes a while to learn how to do it-- at first you burn yourself. Starting out, I would say do it on the arms some first, or if you got those pesky 6 or 7 hairs on the base of your fingers they are a good place to practice.

Remember it is your face, not mine-- do what you will if you think you know all you need to know from the cheap piece of paper they give you....

And also the tip! Use your own judgment on this.....

  1. Take and dip the tip, hair size part of the needle into a clear nail polish.
  2. After it dries place it back in the machine.
  3. Extend the tip and use a fingernail file or fine emery paper and sand the tip.

This will keep it from burning the hair shaft pathway and get all the voltage to the root where it needs to be.

I am a Electronics Technician and have modified my machine some-- not so much that your results should vary from mine, but I upped the voltage to 12 V.

CAUTION: you need to learn how to use the machine first so you don't blow your face up. I took out the buzzer and placed an amp meter on mine so I could watch the load drop as the hair root was drying up.

Don't tear your machine up trying this unless you know what you are doing. It really does not need it. It works fine from the box on a wall 9V pack as it is. And don't try to put 12v to the 9v tail-- you will burn up the 555 IC timer.. It can't take it!


Rachel writes:

It took about 60 hours to clear one side of the face and one side of the upper lip. However, I could not reach the side burns or under the neck, so I go to an electrologist to take care of those areas. I am hoping to be completely finished by December. The One Touch did a wonderful job on about 3/4 of my face including the beard area and the upper lip. The hair on my face was full, but most of the hairs were soft, light hair with just a few strong black hairs in between. I am experiencing some regrowth, but most of it is really fine and white.

I would recommend the machine, but I would like other girls to understand that just like going to a professional electrologist the One Touch might not work as well for everyone. Some might zap the hair once and it will never return, while others might battle the same hair for days. Also just because you can buy it at a store for a cheap price does not mean that it is a toy. The One Touch is very powerful and you could hurt yourself. The current is strong enough to burn skin.

Also I would recommend that only the very patient and steady people use it. I am a painter and I used to paint these really large oil paintings with a little tiny brush. I would be very obsessive and paint these really thick paintings in a circular motion it was very tedious and time consuming. So I guess I have the right temperament for the One Touch.

All in all I think the One Touch is worth it and it was a big help for me not only because it worked but also the psychological factors involved. At the time I started using it I could not afford an electrologist so the One Touch helped me get started and made me feel a little better about myself. However, the One Touch can not be expected to complete the whole job. The electrologist is still necessary. I was able to complete a little over half of the total area (in 6 months) with the One Touch. I still use it for Touch up work.


Julie uses her One Touch primarily for body work. She adds:

I'm one of those people who found it's easier to use a professional.

I also found that for "touch-ups" between visits, or for light hair on the breasts, they are kinda practical. But for heavier hair, or lots of hair, I still see my professional zapper.

The body parts which I set out to clear were cleared. I started to clear my pubic region for SRS. I found that a 1 cm^2 area took an hour. I decided against it after estimating the total time at "pretty damned long." But to this date, that part of my pubic region has zero hairs in it. I've also done parts of my face, the hairs immediately around my nipples (which I haven't cleared 100% because "some hair is normal"), and the upper range of the hair on my sternum. My next project is to clear some hairs from my labia that are where I don't want them. I'm done enough on my face from my regular zapper that I am letting her shape my eyebrows and clear the rest of the hairs on my sternum.

My approach has been to slowly attack areas which I don't want to pay a professional to handle or which would be too painful if they were done by someone without anesthetic -- the pubic hairs I've killed were done with no pain relievers.

I have also used it to pick up a few stray hairs. When it took more than two or three hours to clear out the remaining growth on my face, I'd kill some of the hairs which were more out in the open myself. I found that helped me reduce the amount of my face that I needed to shave or the amount of makeup I was wearing (and the trouble I went to to apply it) to cover up the few hairs which were away from the bulk of the beard.

I have no self-inflicted scars on any area that I'm the only one who has worked on the area. I have some pitting on my face and a fair amount of scarring in the pubic region from flash thermolysis.

Kill ratio

My experience is the same -- the hairs that I knew were dead after I zapped them never grew back. I permanently removed some 400 hairs from my upper lip during a time when I couldn't afford to see my regular zapper (I was busy spending money on crotch electro ...). That was about a third of my total upper lip and was done in my spare time in the evening. That was about 1/3rd of the total number of upper lip hairs and was probably less than 5 total hours time. I'd just go in the bathroom, wash up, make up some salt water (per the "One Touch" instructions), and kill a dozen or two hairs. If I'd had more hairs on my face (this is when it took less than two hours remove any strays on my face with professional thermolysis), I might have been more dedicated, but I just wanted to thin out what there was on my upper lip, as I could do it with much less pain than via flash thermolysis.

The hairs I've had the best luck with killing, and which go most rapidly have been relatively thick, coarse, dark hairs. The only exception have been pubic hairs which seem to have Roots From Hell(tm).

Pain

My experience is that do-it-yourself galvanic can be relatively painless if you adjust the current down low.

To give you an idea, [my electrologist] Guy zapped a few hairs in the pubic region where there was no anesthetic. They hurt like sh*t. I killed an estimated 80 - 90 hairs in the exact same region and did it without shedding a tear or getting drunk first. My regular zapper always makes me cry doing my upper lip and can get serious flinches out of me doing the rest of my face, especially along the jawbone. I have very little pain, mostly mild discomfort, when I do any of those areas.

Part of the motivation for doing the upper lip hairs I mentioned before was that flash thermolysis has become extremely painful up there. Doing them myself was significantly less painful. The remaining hairs, however, are now so fine that I have the problem [Kare] mentioned in her posting regarding fine hairs.

Face vs. body for starting/testing/learning

The area where I learned the most was around my nipples. I could see what I was doing and it helped me learn how to time things, get a good insertion (what does a good insertion feel like?) and so on.

Preparation

I never did buy [a lighted mirror], but then most of the time I've spent has been on places I could see directly. To do my upper lip I sat on the counter. To do various odd pickups on my face, I could often see that one stray hair well enough to do it without.

But if I were doing more of my face and less of my body, I'd get a nice table, comfortable chair and the mirror as suggested.

The tweezers that come with the "One Touch" are hard to use -- I reground the surfaces with a sheet of 1200 grit (I think that's what it was -- it came in a model rocket kit I bought two years ago) wet-or-dry sand paper.

Treatment

I never found [direct sunlight] necessary and would often work at night with just a single 60w bulb at the other end of the bed. I'd just put a CD in my computer, click on Workman, and kill hairs until the CD was over. The bathroom was a different matter when I was working on my face. The vanity had 4 40w bulbs and that was more than enough light for the small number of hours I spent doing that.

My recommendation is to avoid retreating an area too soon so that you can see if the hairs were killed or just plucked. Had I done that I'd have started "real life" with a much thinner beard. I also would have saved nearly $3,000.


Gail writes:

I have hit just about 60 hours of DIY electrolysis. It's amazing how many hairs are under your nose! I've just about got the "reverse goatee", with the center of my face clear (out to about 1/4 of my cheeks) and a small spot under my chin. I've got a small hairy place about the area of a quarter under my right nostril (about six hours) and a line just above my jawline (maybe another six hours) left. The parts I have clear, I don't shave any more, just hit them once a week. Can't wait to get out on my cheeks again; it goes a lot faster there!

Recommendations so far:

Work with your "off hand" at least half the time, and whenever you cross the centerline of your face. It will pay off when you get around by your ear. You'll be a lot more ambidextrous when you finish!

Work clean! Remember that if you pick up bacteria on the probe, you are injecting it under your skin, and giving it a lovely soup of blood, fried tissue, etc., to feast on. Don't think that the heat and electrical current will sterilize it for you. I use liquid Dial on my hands, and keep my tweezers and probe clean with the little alcohol wipes that the nice nurse (that's me, remember) swabs you with before she gives you a shot. They cost about $2 for a box of 100 at your local pharmacy, and they stay moist for about fifteen minutes in my dry winter kitchen. Figure it out- that $2 gets you through about twenty-five hours of zapping, well worth it. Put your tools down on a nice, fresh paper towel, change it every session, and clean your tools thoroughly before and after each session.

Buy good tweezers. You will have no idea how important this is until you finally get a good pair. The ones to get are Tweezerman slant-tips, which are the standard model; they cost about $18. Tweezerman's website (www.tweezerman.com) has a dealer list! Get them, keep them clean (pull your alcohol swab through the jaws often), don't drop them. You'll want them for your eyebrows long after your face is clear! For now, keep them with your zapping supplies (I've got a card table set up in the kitchen), don't use them for anything else. I can't stress how important these tweezers are; my working speed is two to three times faster with them.

Take your time, enjoy the process. It's wonderful to watch the pink areas grow! You are going to have many hundred hours to learn to do it right; I started to get confident with my probe placement at about thirty hours. I know- as yet I have no idea how effective my work is, the whole process hurts a lot, and my skiing and winter surfing have been seriously cut back, not only because of the time involved, but because my skin is so sensitive to the sun and the cold. Whatever the outcome, not a minute of my time will have been wasted. I spent a long, long time in a cold, dark, empty place of my own making, and the feeling of "earning my way out" is wonderful. I'm planning on having Dr. O. do my forehead; I could well be that much ahead this way.


K writes:

When I was a teenager I ordered the $19.95 Perma Tweez electrolysis unit from General Medical Co. in Los Angeles. The unit was largely ineffective and frustrating. However, I began to use salt with hot water in a small dixie cup to keep my index finger moist. The unit then became highly effective. I learned with time to always remove the battery in the unit when my electrolysis session was finished in order to preserve it. Although I needed to replace batteries and stylets over time, I was able to remove more than 95% of my facial and body hair. I even removed all the hair in my genital area prior to sex reassignment surgery. During the time of my hair removal I used professional electrologists occasionally for 1 or 2 sessions with little to no success. Having dark hair and large pores probably were helpful in contributing to my success for removing hair. I have no scars or unsightly after-effects from my electrolysis. Although I continue to receive 28 mg of biweekly delestrogen injections post-surgery, my several years of self-inflicted insertions with an electrolysis stylus make those injections painless. The gal who gives me the hormone injections refers to me as "the human pincushion" - ha!

Thanks to everyone who's been willing to share their experiences and advice so generously! They're doing a great service for our community!


A sampling of failures reported

OK, that's every success story I've received. Now for the other side: space does not allow me to list all of the failure stories I've received. The stories below are representative.

Here's my own experience: I found it excruciating on the machine's lowest setting of 1, and I can take full-blast professional electrolysis with just a couple of Advil. Plus, the few hairs I treated left me with angry raised red bumps worse than any I ever got at regular electrolysis.Plus, the time it took to do just a few hairs made it seem like an impossible task. When I bought mine, the cashier told me they were very hard to use and that they get a lot of returns, so save my receipt. I can see why. There are people who cut their own hair, change their own oil, do their own plumbing, etc. Not me. I decided this was another thing I'd rather not deal with, and just had it done professionally.

Jennifer writes of her home unit, "The level of discomfort using the unit is slight and I have found that this is not intolerable. My largest concern however is that the time, incredible patience and agility required to attempt usage on one's entire face is beyond the realm of the normal individual. It took me about 1 hour to do 10 hairs. This I am sure is due to my inexperience using the unit. One experiences a lot of hit and miss attempts which requires you to re-zap the same hair(s)." She concludes, "Large scale areas should be left to a professional electrolysist. It's more effective and less painful. That's worth the money to me!"

Leveaux weighs in as follows: "I've tried just about every machine that claims hair removal. Almost all of them seem to work for me, but I've just found it more convenient to do the electrolysis. If money is the main issue, I still recommend having it done, since the outcome will be affected. I just don't want to see anyone scar themselves or anything like that (I have three dot sized marks on my underchin, not real noticeable to others, but it is to me). I've healed already from my other attempts at home hair removal... and unless you have really fine hair, these products won't work at all."

The British TS website maintained by the Looking Glass Society doesn't mince words: "These items are widely available on the retail market, and are generally very simple, low-powered, galvanic electrolysis units. In practice the power levels developed are quite insufficient to treat male-type hair, and again these products are quite useless in the treatment of transsexuals. In addition, the needles supplied with these units are generally not disposable, non-sterile, poor quality and excessively large in diameter. In the opinion of the present authors these kits are a recipe for permanent skin damage."

Jay says: "The ones that use a needle are not nearly as effective as the equipment used by an electrologist, but they do work. I tried one for a while, and the small number of hairs I removed have never grown back. I gave up, because it was just too hard and took too long. Try taking an ordinary needle - blunt it a bit first - and with the aid of a mirror, poke it into the hole that one of your hairs is growing out of. It not only has to go into the hole, it has to connect with the hair root. You'll see what I mean. I know such kits have been used successfully by some people, but you need literally years of time and lots of patience."

Christa adds: "Mine's still in a drawer in my bathroom, along with the home waxing machine (caused horrible bruising), an ancient bottle of Nair (made my skin red and itchy for weeks), and a few other things - kind of a museum of failed desperation. I tried the One Touch exactly once; it burned a hole in my arm that took weeks to heal. How anyone with anything short of rhino skin could successfully use one of those things without becoming one big scar is a mystery to me."

Another person writes, "I also tried the One Touch. I found it to be so frustrating to use that I threw it away. In fact, to remove the temptation to take it out of the trash, I smashed it with a hammer."

While I have included success stories to show that this can work, I should add that I get many more who report complete failure for every success story I've received.

Conclusion

For the vast majority of us, going to a professional is the fastest, cheapest, safest, least painful way. While there are success stories from do-it-yourselfers, I do not personally recommend do-it-yourself electrolysis. If you decide to attempt at-home electrolysis, please let me know how it goes!