The difference in electrolysis and laser hair removal is the difference between getting bit by an army of mosquitoes and being blasted by the death star from Star Wars. You can achieve the same goal (i.e. destroying a planet) with the mosquitoes, but it takes a really long time.

Gray hair is immune to the blasts of laser light, and I have my share of gray in my beard, scattered randomly around my face and clustered around my chin. There’s nothing to be done except to get each gray hair follicle killed individually through electrolysis. So in between laser sessions (once every 4-6 weeks), I get electrolysis on my beard.

My operator, a middle- to older-age woman named Opal, does a fine job in 60 minute intervals. I counted a pace of approximately 1 hair per 4 or 5 seconds, thus making our progress 12-15 hairs per minute or 720-900 hairs per hour, which costs $52, or about 6 or 7 cents per hair.

Opal isn’t too talkative and isn’t too quiet — she strikes me as someone who has done this a long time and knows just how to respond to different kinds of people, sort of like a barber.

She lays me down on her table, turns off the big light and turns on her highly-magnified work light, swings it over my chin, and begins. She’s got a foot pedal that she taps 2 or 3 times per follicle, sometimes more, before satisfying herself that the hair is dead. She then pulls it out with tweezers. If the resistance is too much (maybe 1 in 10 hairs), she zaps it again, which always does the job.

It feels like a pinprick or a mosquito bite when she’s applying the current to the follicle. Depending on the proximity of the follicle to a nerve ending, the feeling is sometimes painful and sometimes barely noticeable. After she’s worked in an area for a while, the feeling isn’t so intense, probably because the area has become accustomed to those pinpricks. When she moves to a new area, however, that first zap feels pretty uncomfortable.

It’s easy to doze off, as the session lasts an hour and it’s a bit warm in Opal’s room, so the pain can’t be that great, can it?

An alternative to these 1-hour sessions would be E3000 in Dallas, a service specifically for male-to-female transsexuals. Their philosophy is to clear your beard and neck at every visit, so the first one can be an extremely long appointment. They use 2 electrolysis operators at the same time and they also numb your face with novocaine so you don’t feel a thing. They’re relatively expensive, but more and more MTF’s are using them, even if they fly to Dallas from Seattle, London, or New York — the complete clearing of your beard in one fell swoop is simply worth it.

[See also “What is Laser Like?“]