Steph's Place

How To Cope With IPL & Electrolysis Pain

IPL can be painful, as to can electrolysis. Here are some tips.

Many people have to deal with the pain of permanent hair removal. Irrespective of it being by Laser, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) or Electrolysis there is no gain without the pain.  As IPL has in most saloons replaced laser, I will mainly ignore it in this text, but the issues are much the same for both. The methods of pain relief that I suggest in regards to IPL also applies to IPL tattoo removal. 

And in some regions of the body IPL pain can be excruciating.

I remember sitting in SKN once waiting for some minor procedure and down the stairs came a young woman in a flood of tears apologising for her screams which I must admit I did not hear much because of the excellent soundproofing. She went on to explain she was going on holiday to sunny climes and wanted to wear a bikini, so the intimate areas needed to be cleared by IPL. She openly declared to everyone in the waiting room, (much to the embarrassment of the SKN staff), that she had never been in such pain in all her life.

And I could sympathise with her - and while I certainly did not say it, I thought that actually electrolysis could be much worse.

The problem with IPL is that it works on dark hair, but not light.

Your skin colour also affects how strong IPL shots can be. If you are light-skinned that is fine but darker skin absorbs the light creating burns and in consequence, some people can’t have IPL at all.

IPL is much quicker than Electrolysis - as a rule, six to eight treatments every six weeks or so will often be enough to clear an area of unwanted hair.  But it should be noted that IPL is not guaranteed as permanent. Sadly, sometimes the hair may come back even after a few years of the original treatment, though I have never experienced this.

Electrolysis is (eventually) a permanent method of hair removal. However, it is essential to find a highly professional clinician to avoid scarring. Depending on the hair growth cycle any removed hair may return, albeit finer and sometimes a different colour.  Like IPL, it does take time and a lot of investment to clear an area of unwanted hair. Given time though, generally, after three or four treatments of an area - electrolysis is guaranteed as permanent.

To clear large areas like the face, be prepared for several hundred hours of treatment. After a time it does get easier except perhaps on the sensitive areas around the lip and nose. 

Dealing with IPL pain is slightly different to coping with electrolysis pain. Electrolysis pain can be described as a constant onslaught of bee stings. IPL pain is short and sharp.  

So here are my tips having suffered around four hundred treatments of IPL and electrolysis over five years.   

In relation to electrolysis, my first rule was making sure skin is as clean as possible both pre & post-treatment. Soap can be very drying so I would recommend a product called “Dermol Lotion” which is an antimicrobial emollient soap substitute. I believe it is not recommended for the face, though I have used it on my face without any issues at all. Using Dermol for a few days before any treatment will help get rid of any lurking nasties and soften the skin, which makes it easier for the therapist.

Another tip, again appropriate for electrolysis is just before seeing the therapist is to wipe the skin with surgical spirit. The therapist will probably do that anyway, but some tend to do a “quick flick” while I did it rather more studiously just before entering the salon.  

Pain killers are a big plus too. I would start a couple of days before treatment using ibuprofen and paracetamol then about 90 minutes before a therapy take a strong co-codamol together with ibuprofen. Make sure you don’t overdose – timing your doses are essential. Also, be aware that co-codamol contains paracetamol and to get a strong co-codamol, you will need a prescription from your doctor.

For areas like the lip, some numbing creams are beneficial. The best I found was Emla cream, but technically it is a prescription medicine, and in all likelihood, your GP will have to prescribe it. However, some pharmacists may consider dispensing it directly under certain conditions. The moral here is to do your homework before asking a pharmacy to dispense it.    In the case of trans folk having genital hair removal, it is incredibly challenging to get additional pain relief other than if your therapist has access to an anaesthetist.

Never drink alcohol before a treatment – I found it makes the pain worse.

When having electrolysis treatments music is a good distractor of pain. I experienced over 340 hours of electrolysis, and, when clearing a beard area, it is not possible to chat with the therapist. 

I was fortunate that my therapist, who became a great friend over the years was very much into music. Before a treatment sometimes lasting two hours at a time we would plan our playlist which invariably centred around classical or brass band music. Music gives the opportunity to “trance out”, and for me, the music worked very well.

Stress fuels pain, and music helps to break the cycle. Learning to relax is vital.  

Post electrolysis treatment keep the area clean for at least twenty-four hours. I just wiped the treated area with surgical spirit. 

To keep redness and swelling down an ice pack immediately after electrolysis or IPL treatment is also very useful. But please bear in mind if you have had electrolysis ensure it is wrapped in a clean cloth or a clean plastic bag as the skin will be open.

Do not wear make-up for at least twenty four hours after treatments and bare Minerals powders are probably best as a foundation as they are less likely to cause breakouts than a liquid or cream.

I do hope you have found this information useful. If you found this page via a search engine can I ask you to check out my “Home” page and  “My Story” page? It is a great read, and you will learn lots about trans people and the pain that we suffer every day.

Thank you,

Steph xx


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