Electrolysis or Laser? (Darkish Skin)
November 30, 2018 11:10 PM   Subscribe

I have a lot of facial hair, and have darker skin. I consulted with both a well-regarded laser clinic and electrolysis one, and went with electrolysis. But now I have concerns.

Sorry for the essay: I am posting this anonymously so I won't be able to come back to respond easily!

My skin tone is darkish -- maybe Zoe Saldana or a bit darker and I have brown hair, so not a lot of contrast. I have PCOS and a lot of facial hair. I used to pluck, wax and thread, but now I just shave. I finally decided to do something about it. I went to a well-regarded laser clinic, and they seemed great and have a special laser for dark skin -- I think it was the ND:Yag. But the technician said she couldn't clear me for treatment because I said I told her I have some discoloration on my stomach (common for black people, I think). She said she would need a dermatologist to confirm that it wasn't vitilgo.

This put me off a bit because 1. I am in the UK, and seeing a dermatologist is both expensive and a bit tricky, but also 2. It just made me even more nervous that laser would discolor my skin, even though I know I don't have vitiligo. I was also wary of laser because my sister had it years ago and it never really worked for her and I have read people with PCOS who said it made their hair WORSE. That said, I do think the new lasers sound a lot better than the ones my sister used. I know one black person who was discolored by laser, but again, that was about 10 years ago.

My aunt had a good experience with electrolysis on her lip about 10 years ago. So I went to an electrologist who is certified by this organisation. I liked her, and the test patch was fine so I scheduled my first session. WHOA! It really really hurt, took 90 minutes to clear my chin and neck, and it left me with these awful bumps everywhere. Some of my hairs were very strong (I already knew this -- many threaders have told me this) so she had to put up the intensity for a bit and yikes! Anyway, it still looks pretty bad about 24 hours later, but better than it did right after. She said it was normal when I left, and it will clear up. I have been using the aloe vera gel and an antibacterial wound cream, but still -- bumps.

So now, I'm re-thinking my decision. I've read that electrolysis is so slow, it's expensive, and really, I just looked (and still look to some extent) awful. In the back of my mind, I'm now worrying that these bumps are going to be there forever, though I'm trying not to panic for another few days or so. (Any tips on this appreciated -- I didn't ice afterwards as I've read online but she hadn't mentioned that.) I have read some forums about electrolysis where people did remark on the bumps, and that they go away so I'm clinging to this. But there's obviously potential for scarring. So I'm thinking of going back to the laser clinic and just sucking up for the cost of the dermatologist visit.

Anyway, any thoughts for anyone who has tried either of these? My biggest fear is that I will lose the hair but be left with discoloration and/or scarring with either of these (or worse that I'll have these AND the hair still.) But the thought that I will have this hair forever makes me sad, and I was all psyched to finally do something about it.

Also, just in case anyone asks, my PCOS is otherwise pretty under control. My periods became regular after my kiddo was born, and besides the hair, I don't have any other obvious symptoms. I think the hair is just there no matter what (and may just be genetic -- my mother who does not have PCOS also has this issue).

Thank you! Would really appreciate any insight into this at all, especially personal experiences.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm white — I had to do electro because my hair is so light, not because my skin is dark — and my understanding is that some darker-skinned people are more prone to scarring than white people are. So YMMV.

But for me, yeah, the bumps all went away. You might wait and see if they do that for you before going in for more sessions, but the outlook is probably pretty good.

Also, has your electrologist talked to you about numbing creams? I used a lidocaine cream that helped a lot with the pain — it still hurt a bunch, but it was manageable and not excruciating. The best way of doing it that I found was to apply the cream a half hour before my appointment, cover it with plastic wrap to help make sure it all absorbed into my skin, and wipe off whatever was left at the last minute.

I can't speak to the discoloration thing from personal experience. But electro is so expensive that if a dermatologist appointment costs a couple hundred dollars and might let you switch to laser, you might actually end up saving money, depending on how many electro sessions you'd be in for.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:27 AM on December 1, 2018

I'm a woman of colour (Fitzpatrick 4 or 5) who was spending about 1 hour + daily plucking my stubborn and heavy chin hair. I have tried electrolysis and laser. With electrolysis, after my initial appointment I was spending about a half hour weekly getting it done, and still needing to shave every day, but you are supposed to let the hair grow out for a couple of days before your appointment as well, which is truly awful, and not seeing a real change. It was expensive, painful and left the bumps like you mention. (The bumps should go away in a couple of days, don't worry! Gentle exfoliation is your friend). Because there was so much hair and it was so thick, electrolysis was basically ridiculous; I couldn't keep up with it via tweezing and electrolysis is electric-tweezing.

After close to 20 (yes) laser treatments, about every 5 weeks, my coarse chin hair is almost totally gone. Laser only targets the coarse hairs, not the downy facial fuzz everyone has, which I appreciate as it's a more natural look than bald.

I have a few stubborn individual hairs that might benefit from electrolysis now and I will have to get the occasional top-up laser for the rest of my life but it was absolutely, 100% worth it.

With laser you're in and out in 10 minutes, you can keep the area closely shaved right up until your appointment, and you're less likely to get scarring from improper needle use. Each treatment hurts less as the hairs are killed and honestly, my chin was so hardened from tweezing, epilating, burning depilatory creams, electrolysis etc. that the pain didn't bother me that much.

I didn't experience any discolouration. A good tech will start you at a low intensity and increase it on future treatments after determining that your skin could handle it. This takes longer and more treatments but is safer for you. Always wear sunscreen especially right after the treatment. The fact that your tech is so diligent about your skin health and safety suggests that they are a good tech.

My life is so much better, I can't even tell you; I actually forget to check my chin for hair before going out sometimes. I wonder if it's possible for you to get confirmation from your ordinary GP that you don't have vitiligo, but if I had to do it again and had to pay for a derm visit first, I absolutely would.

If you decide to continue with electro, go to someone else. They shouldn't just be cranking up the intensity without first determining that your skin can handle it with a lighter session. They should put emla (numbing cream) on you before and offer you ice or a cool washcloth after and should explain aftercare and safety to you. This person is sticking an electrified needle in your face; they need to be careful.
posted by windykites at 6:54 AM on December 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

There are three types of electrolysis - electrolysis, thermolyses and the blend. I had great success with the blend (olive skinned white lady) and no success with 4-5 treatments of laser. Yes elec hurt like hell but like others have said, my hair days are completely forgotten and so worth it.

I found it really depends on the technician - does she tug the hair or cook the follicle until the hair slides out with no tugging? If you feel tugging go somewhere else. My blend lady would cook the hair till it slid out and in like eight months of every 2wks to once a month they were all gone. Sadly I moved away but I miss her so much. Good luck!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:13 AM on December 1, 2018

I'm mixed, probably can go from pretty light medium to deeper medium depending on what time of the year, but also definitely not white (neither of my parents are) with very dark hair who started getting electrolysis earlier in the year for hairs on my chin that are dark and stubborn and seemed to be increasing as I grew older (haven't been diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance or anything, just something I personally noticed). And I definitely was leaning towards electrolysis because I wanted a more permanent solution if possible even if it took longer.

One thing I didn't expect to hear during my consultation was the person telling me that for facial hair or other areas that hair growth is more affected by hormones. She said there's a chance it would just grow back or, as you mentioned, a risk that laser hair removal could encourage hair growth. So she just avoids lasering those areas in general. Now this is one thing I had not heard of when looking up electrolysis vs. laser hair removal, and I wanted to make sure she wasn't just trying to push the pricier (because of amount of time/sessions) option. So when I went back home I researched specifically on that to find it is a thing people do mention. Again this is just internet searching, not that I'm an endocrinologist or anything. So I don't know, if your condition is under control it might not be an issue. You could maybe go back/call back and ask about that to the laser technician. Like if the laser technician can explain what they're using and why in a confident way around that issue, might not be a problem, but who knows.

Basically, though, repeating what's been said above, from what I researched what everyone stresses is either way the technician should be skilled and should know what type of laser/temp they should be using, etc. There's also so many different technologies around both treatments, so someone's testimonial could be specifically on one piece of equipment and from years ago, which might be different from something available currently.

At the end of the day, I did want something more permanent, regardless of my skin concerns, so I went with electrolysis and just made sure to keep an eye on how my skin reacted in initial sessions. I'm satisfied with the results so far. Not everything is gone, but I definitely notice a decrease. I can't speak on the pain because I think I have a higher pain tolerance/patience for powering through pain so to me it's just an annoying series of little pinches or it doesn't bother me as much. However, when I began my technician did ask about the pain in order to adjust depending on my response. I haven't noticed any scarring. Maybe a white head or two depending on the session in the beginning, which I've heard is a thing that happens, but I haven't gotten those in a while. Again not sure if that's due to my technician's skill or my own skin's tolerance for things, or both, but my technician was also careful to check my skin and see how I was healing and asked each session in the beginning if I noticed anything like inflammation and whatnot.
posted by kkokkodalk at 12:34 PM on December 1, 2018

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