The information on this page is written for a transsexual audience.

For a general market discussion of electrolysis, please visit: hairfacts.com


How long will electrolysis take?

Contents

Summary

  1. Most transsexuals report facial electrolysis taking from 1 to 4 years, with an anecdotal average around 2 years.
  2. The amount of time it will take to complete electrolysis is the biggest variable.
  3. Conventional wisdom and widely accepted anecdotal evidence puts the average time to completion between 200 and 300 hours. Some people have been done in less than 40 hours, some in over 700.
  4. Electrologist skill plays the biggest part in treatment time needed. It's vital to get recommendations from local TSs who are done and happy.
  5. Most people require 1 to 5 hours a week in the early stages of clearing. Most then reach a stage where they have one weekly session of 30 minutes to two hours or more. In the final stages, most will only need an hour or two each month to get stragglers.
  6. Your costs will obviously be affected by the time you need. See the section on costs for more ways to reduce the time to completion.
  7. Your physiology is the other major factor: amount and coarseness of your facial hair, your hormone levels, your pain threshold, and your skin's tolerance of treatment.
  8. Your frequency and regularity of treatment will affect your treatment time. Do as much as you can afford, and stick with your electrologist's recommended schedule.
  9. Plucking and waxing can make electrolysis more difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, as well as increase the risk of skin damage.
  10. Many believe that the use of anti-androgens such as spironolactone can reduce treatment time, although they have little (if any) effect on existing facial hair.
  11. Many believe that one modality is better than others at reducing total treatment time, although there is no definitive proof. Electrologist skill is more important than modality used.
  12. Some hairs will regrow and require multiple treatments.
  13. Dallas Denny has reported her electrologist has an average treatment time that is one-third the generally accepted average, although this is based on a small sample (4), and should be considered exceptional rather than what to expect.
  14. See the section on when to start electrolysis for a discussion on planning for how long it will take.

An enormously wide time range

Treatment is measured in hours; completion is measured in years. Plan on the whole thing taking at least 12 months and up to four years or more. Treatments will take the most time at the onset when you are doing your initial clearing. After that, keeping it clear will usually begin at one to five hours a week, and will taper off over time.

Most people report electrolysis taking from 1 to 4 years, with an anecdotal average around 2 years to complete the face. Since there has been no large-scale scientific data on time to completion for transgender women, this may not be quite accurate. The lowest reported to me was 9 months, and the highest was 5 years.

Over the course of treatment, clients will need many hours of electrolysis, usually in several sessions a month. Conventional wisdom and widely accepted anecdotal evidence puts the average time to completion between 200 and 300 hours. One "executive summary" on the facts of transition states that "most people need around 200-300 hours." Another writes, "Up to five years may be required in some cases. Four hours per week is not unusual, of which maybe half could be spent on regrowth in the early stages." In her book on transsexuals, "In Search of Eve" (1988), Anne Bolin estimates that an average of 200 hours of electrolysis are needed to completely clear the average male face.

Although these numbers are not based on documented fact or rigorous research, I believe they are accurate, given the range reported to me so far. One person said she completed her face in less than 40 hours; another said it took her over 700 hours. Obviously, that's an incredibly wide range. That's why most electrologists are reluctant to give a specific number about what to expect. Christa writes, "As with hormones, there's more magic than science to it when you get right down to it." No two people will have similar results, even if their facial hair seems the same at the onset.

Most people require 1 to 5 hours a week in the early stages of clearing. While some are able to do even more than that, most are limited by how much they can spend or by how much treatment their skin can take. Most then reach a stage where they have one weekly session of thirty minutes to two hours or more. In the final stages, most will only need an hour or two each month to get stragglers and long, fine hairs (the kind genetic women have treated).

As I get results from my survey back, I will try to give a more accurate picture of time and costs, but at this time I can only report the generally accepted number and give the highest and lowest reported to me to give an idea of the range. I do not have a large enough sample size to make a credible estimate.

Factors affecting time to completion

The length of treatment needed to complete the process depends on many variables, presented roughly in order of importance:

Your choice of electrologists
As mentioned above, using someone who knows what they're doing is paramount. The better the operator, the more hairs treated per session. Plus if they're good, the kill ratio is higher, and you're done faster.
Your density of follicles
The more follicles, the more hair, the more time it will take.
Your facial hair coarseness
Some people's facial hair is coarser than others. Coarser hairs may take more than one insertion to come loose, and may be harder to kill.
Your pain threshold
The lower your pain threshold, the lower the machine must be set, and the longer it will take.
Your skin sensitivity
There is a limit to how much current your skin can take. For some people this is lower than their pain threshold. Trying to use a setting stronger than the skin can handle may result in skin damage.
Your frequency/regularity of treatment
It is vital that you maintain a regular treatment schedule set up by your electrologist. Do as much as you can afford. The sooner you get hairs after they emerge, the less time they have to strengthen. Some people miss appointments because they forget, they can't afford to pay that week, or they don't want to deal with the pain that day. Sporadic treatment will greatly lengthen the time needed to finish.
Your behavior at treatments
If you stop frequently to take a break from the pain, to go stretch your legs, to smoke, or to go to the bathroom, you will be cutting into your treatment time. Also, if you fidget a lot or talk a lot (especially while you're getting work done near your mouth), your movements will slow down the whole process.
Your past methods of hair removal
If you have attempted to remove your facial hair prior to electrolysis, you may have made the task harder for your electrologist. Shaving shouldn't pose a problem, but if you have plucked your hairs, the hair roots could be curved and distorted, making it difficult to insert the probe to the necessary point.
Your androgen levels
You don't have to be on hormones for electrolysis to work, but it probably helps. While there is no definitive study on this, it is generally assumed that hormones (more specifically, anti-androgens like spironolactone) retard facial hair growth (although they have no effect on existing hairs). If you can, it is wise to get on a testosterone blocker like spironolactone before electrolysis.
Your age
The general assumption is that the closer to puberty you are, the less your beard will have come in. Of course, there's a certain age where your facial hair is probably as thick as it will get, but this varies widely. And in general, the younger you are, the more resilient your skin is.
Your skin condition
If your skin is unhealthy or broken out, an electrologist may have to avoid an area until it's healed.
Your modality of treatment
The different modalities of electrolysis (thermolysis, galvanic, and blend) all have their adherents and detractors. There has been no proof that one method works better than others in the long run, although you'll certainly hear strong opinions for one method or the other.
Doubling up on treatment
Some places offer work done by two electrologists at once. Nicki writes, "I get twice the hours of work for the same number of hours of my lying there being tortured so it's much quicker to make progress... It definitely is worth asking around to see if any electrologists in your area work in teams."

So, as you can see, it depends. As mentioned earlier, figure it will take between 100 and 400 hours total to complete facial electrolysis.

Clearing your face versus completion

Here's a little semantic deception that threw me off early on:

When I went in for a consultation at a now-closed chain of salons, I asked the salon manager how long it would take to clear my face. She gave me a deceptive answer of 10 hours. I thought, "Cool. I'll just get a couple of hours a day for a week and be cleared." I was in for an unpleasant surprise. What she meant (she told me later when I complained) was that the initial clearing would take that long, but that treating regrowth would require additional time. I thought you zapped the hairs once and were done. Sadly, that is never the case.

She wasn't even right about how long it took to clear my face the first time. My first total clearing came after 48 hours of work (4 months averaging 3 hours a week). That's because we'd start each session getting hairs that had popped up in areas that had already been treated, then using any extra time to enlarge the cleared areas.

In fact, it took me about 7.5 months to get to the point where my face was kept clear with one session a week. During that time I was averaging about 4.5 hours per week, usually done in two or three sessions. It's vital to stay on the schedule set up by your electrologist for the most effective treatment. Plan on making electrolysis a part of your life (and your budget!) for a couple of years.

A note about "completion": most people who consider themselves "done" may still need to come in for brief sessions a few times a year to get long, fine hairs here and there. This is true of most genetic women as well. However, after a couple of years and who knows how many hours of intensive electrolysis sessions, these little clean-up sessions are a breeze.

One of the greatest divergences in treatment times I've discovered is the difference in what some people consider "completion." If you have treatment primarily on terminal hairs, and then you deal with vellus hairs in another manner (shaving, trimming, etc.), this can make an enormous difference in treatment time. My vellus hairs aren't noticeable except in direct sunlight, but I've been having anything longer than a couple of millimeters removed. This "fuzz-picking" has taken about 90% of my facial treatment time for the past 9 months. While it's not necessary for me to remove them to pass, I want to get them anyway, as they're the type a lot of genetic women have removed. Had I not done many vellus hairs, my treatment time would easily have been halved.

Don't give up!

Remember, it always takes longer than you think, but don't give up hope. Some hairs will be killed on the first outing. Some may grow back 7-8 times or more before they give up. The hairs are on all different time cycles, too--some of them will come back in 10 days, some in 20, some in 45-60, etc. Also, about one third of your facial hair is dormant at any one time -- hence, there is always hair you cannot see that will need to be treated later.

The good news is that once you've done your initial clearing, you will be able to live without five o'clock shadow. I was passable in the facial hair department after the first initial clearing, although it was noticeable again within a couple of days (albeit thinner).

Once you have gotten to the point where you're clearing the whole face in a single weekly session, things just keep getting better. The time between when the redness subsides and when the hairs begin to appear again gets longer and longer. Soon, you aren't spending as much money. Plus, less treatment time and less electric current needed to remove hairs mean faster skin recovery. Any regrowth will come in thinner, and eventually the coarse hairs give way to lighter hairs you can feel but can't see (except in bright light).

When you're near the end, the hair will all be fine long ones-- the kind genetic women have treated. These require even less time and current. By this point you should look presentable within a few hours of treatment, and new hair that grows between treatments won't be noticeable to the casual observer. If possible, try not to shave between sessions. The last time I shaved my face was in November, 1996. Had I been full-time while doing electrolysis, I would have had to continue shaving for another 9 months, because my regrowth was noticeable. As I'll discuss later, there are several benefits to completing electrolysis before going full-time.


Notes on a recently published article

In the July '97 (vol 12, #2) of The Journal of Electrology (The Journal of the American Electrology Association) there is an article by Dallas Denny and Ahoova Mishael titled "Electrolysis in Transsexual Women: A Retrospective Look at Frequency of Treatment in Four Cases." This article has also been included as a chapter in a new book on TS issues edited by Dallas, titled "New Synthesis." The article has useful information, especially for those who want to give a primer on TS issues to an electrologist with no prior TS clients.

Dallas and Ahoova cite Anne Bolin's estimate of 200 hours for the average male face, and they state that similar estimates are echoed in TG publications and in conversations with TS women. But they point out that Ahoova "has been successful in clearing the faces of the majority of her transsexual clients with far fewer hours of treatment."

They aren't kidding. The article describes four cases of TS women, chosen as representative of Ahoova's clients, and how long facial/neck clearing took from start to finish. The shortest time was 48.5 hours, the longest 105.25, averaging 67.3. Time to completion ranged from 14 months to 28, averaging 19.25. They add that after ten hours there should be a significant reduction in the amount of time it takes to clear the face.

Dallas wrote to me to emphasize the main point of her article:

The point of our article, which we couldn't exactly say, is that most electrologists are ineffective at removing hair from MTF transsexuals... The four transsexuals we studied were representative of Ahoova's pool of subjects, but the fact is she can clear anyone with a similar beard pattern with a similar amount of hours... The real issue is the difference between effective and ineffective electrologists. Transsexuals should expect competent treatment, and if they will take the treatment holiday we suggest, they will be able to ascertain whether their electrologist is effectively killing their hair. The fact is that most electrologists are ineffective and MTF transsexuals are NEVER finished with electrolysis, no matter how much money they spend. What should not be in dispute is how fast and effectively facial hair can be permanently eradicated. That's why we presented the data, to show what can be done, and not what is the norm.

I have absolutely no doubts that the numbers presented in this article are accurate and truthful. As Dallas points out, the article's numbers were not presented for help in estimating your own time to completion. The number of cases (4) is too small for making any generalizations, and since they are all from the same extraordinary electrologist, your treatment time will probably be much higher. The article's average number of hours cited for completion (67.3) is about three to four times lower than the average in cases I have informally gathered.

The following is from my correspondence with Dallas concerning her article's data. Dallas had written, "The article was primarily meant for electrologists, although of course, lots of transsexuals will read it... I do hope a lot of electrologists will take the data as a wake-up call." I expressed the following concerns about TSs who may read her article:

I think 4 subjects is an extremely small sample size, even if chosen as representative... I suspect that randomly choosing data from any 4 TSs in the country would yield numbers around three times higher than Ahoova's.

Since Ahoova can only treat people in a limited area, I worry that people who don't have access to someone of her skills (as in my case) might be lulled into thinking everyone is as good as Ahoova, even though your article states that conventional wisdom puts the number at 200-300. It may also lull electrologists with little or no TS experience into taking on a TS client, expecting 67 hours and winding up doing five times that (as in my case).

Had I not been planning for that extra $10,000 I needed for my own electrolysis, I would be in dire financial straits right now. My fear is that someone will set out a timetable and budget and end up having to postpone SRS or other major purchases because they thought they'd do as well as Ahoova's clients. As you say in your letter, since Ahoova's results seem extraordinary, they should be presented as the standard everyone should be striving for rather than as what to expect.

You also said, "I doubt if most people will find an electrologist as good at treating transpeople as Ahoova." We are in complete agreement, but I don't think this comes across in your chapter as strongly as I would hope. While you do have caveats, I think your numbers will be what people focus on and take away, as your chapter title invites them to do.

[After I collect my data], perhaps others around the country will follow suit and we can get a better sense of what TSs can expect, as a complement to your data on what they should ideally expect.

Regarding the potential misinterpretation of these numbers, my concerns are echoed in the following internet chat I had with someone on October 31, 1997:

  • Me: Are you able to clear your face with each session?
  • Erin: Not yet, but I am hoping by the end of the year, but I am usually over optimistic. Some days I think the hair is winning. I did just see a study with 3 TS, and the average was 84 hours
  • Me: Dallas' thing?
  • Erin: ... yes the study by Dallas

I told Erin that I was concerned her over-optimistic tendencies would be worsened by relying on Dallas' numbers to estimate her own completion time. So, please don't use Dallas' numbers to estimate your own time. They were not presented for that purpose.

Christa Dyne notified me of Dallas and Ahoova's article and added:

Now to me these numbers seem incredibly low. Ten hours isn't enough time to clear the face in most cases, not working against the tide with untreated follicles coming in. One hundred and five point two five seems a very low number as a max. Forty-eight point five hours rather low as a minimum. Certainly there are people who will reach clearance in forty-some odd hours or even less, but I would expect that to be the extreme minority. Most people I've known, even those that went the E-2000 route, went for well over 100 hours. Most have been in the generally described 200 - 300 hour range with several going much higher. In my own case, I'm well over the two hundred hour mark (albeit with about 100 hours having been spent with a less than effective zapper and I honestly don't know exactly how many hours I've spent) and I'm in what I call "maintenance mode" - I figure it'll probably be about 250 hours by the time I'm finished.

I agree with Christa's estimate and add that my own unscientific collection of friends' clearance times is between 200-300 hours. Linda DeFruscio, who writes an Electrology column for Transgender Tapestry magazine, claims her experience with clearing faces has been from less than 80 hours to as high as 400. I have personally received reports from less than 40 to over 700.

Natalie from the Looking Glass Society writes:

As for treatment times, I think the ballpark figures on your site are about right. I'm happy to start collecting data on my TS clients and let you know, although of course this is only quite a small sample. As you point out, it's *very* dependent on the skill of the electrologist, so it would be preferable to get a sample of clients across different electrologists. For instance one of my clients came to me after 200+ hours with other electrologists, and although her hair was thinning out quite a bit, was nowhere near throwing the razor away. After a couple of dozen hours with me, she's stopped shaving and now happily goes to her job without makeup! Of course, she's delighted. Does this mean I'm a better electrologist, or did I just get lucky with the timing? I don't know. My partner has had about 60 hours, and only needs to shave a few areas every few days. I'm pretty sure she'll be able to stop shaving well before 100 hours are up (but of course it could take many more hours to finish the job). The quickest clearance I've ever seen was in a strongly intersexed person with very light facial hair growth -- she threw the razor away at about 30 hours, and didn't need much more to clear up the regrowth.

As I get results from my survey back, I will try to give a more accurate picture of time and costs, but at this time I can only report the generally accepted number and give the highest and lowest reported to me to give an idea of the range. I do not have a large enough sample size to make a credible estimate.