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Explainer

Here’s how laser hair removal is transforming the lives of trans people

Emma Finamore April 24, 2018

Laser hair removal is a method of getting rid of hair, follicle by follicle.

For many people in the trans community especially, being able to control hair – where it is and where it isn’t – is more than just a cosmetic preference, it’s a gender-affirming act.

The inability to remove unwanted hair – due to rules in prison, for example – can lead to a dramatic impact on peoples’ mental health.

In fact, The University of California, Berkley, added laser hair removal for transitioning students to their insurance plan last year, acknowledging how essential the treatment is for some.

The University of California, Berkeley has added laser hair removal to its student insurance package (Bob Collowan, Commons)

Related: Cabinet minister Liz Truss backs Mumsnet in transgender row as users call for ‘new Section 28’

Often a large problem for those transitioning to being women, body hair can continue to cause insecurities long after transitioning has begun.

The biggest problem areas tend to be the face and the chest, as hair growth in those areas can be distressing and significantly slow down the transition process.

For those who take anti-androgens, body hair does seem to gradually thin out; however, just taking hormones or taking nothing at all will leave the hair fully intact.

While results are different for each individual, some can go years without much reduction in body hair.

This is where laser hair removal comes in. One of the major advantages of the method is that it’s suitable for most areas of the body: legs, arms, underarms, buttocks, bikini line, back, chest and even nipples.

A British transgender model photographed by Bex Day (Adobe)

A laser hair removal session often starts with the practitioner marking out the area for treatment with white pencil.

They will then use a cosmetic laser – adjusted to your skin and hair type – to fire a beam of light towards the pigment in your hair follicles, killing each follicle at its root.

Each pulse of the laser treats an area around the size of a two-pence coin and takes less than a second – this means even large areas can be treated quickly.

The pain is minimal, like an elastic band being pinged against your skin, far less painful than waxing.

After the chosen area is complete, some aloe vera gel or other soothing treatment will be applied to cool your skin. The skin may go a little pink, but it doesn’t last long, so laser hair removal is a viable option even on a lunch break from the office.

Related: Mail on Sunday accused of ‘scaremongering’ about trans children after story about ‘DIY trans pills’

(Tanja Heffner)

Preparing for a laser hair removal session

A patch test is required at least 24 hours before starting a course.

Make sure the area of skin you’d like to treat is shaved as smooth as possible, as it’s just the root of the hair within the follicle that the laser focuses on.

  • You can’t get laser hair removal if you’re sunburned or tanned – wait a few weeks for your skin to recover from sun damage before a session
  • The same rules apply if you’ve had a wax recently
  • Laser hair removal works best on people with dark hair, so if you have fair, white or grey hair, check your suitability with the salon before you book

Potential side effects of laser hair removal may include:

  • Blisters
  • Inflammation
  • Swelling
  • Irritation
  • Pigmentation changes (usually light patches on darker skin)
  • Redness
  • Swelling 

It’s best to discuss the potential preventative measures with your consultant before your procedure.

How does laser hair removal work?

Dark colours get hot in the sun – the same rules apply to laser hair removal. The treatment uses an intense pulse of light that passes through your skin harmlessly and is absorbed by just the root of the hair follicle, effectively putting it out of action.

Laser hair removal can only treat hairs that are in the growth period of their lifecycle. This means most people usually need a number of treatments (from six to eight) to achieve the best results, and it’s advisable to leave a few weeks between each session.

It’s also worth noting that while clinics and salons in the UK can’t claim they give “permanent” hair removal for legal results, the results have actually been known to last for many years.

Users of the treatment may need top-up sessions as their hormones will occasionally prompt new hairs to grow, but for most these top-ups will be few and far between.

Related: Mumsnet chaos as whistleblower exposes users backing ‘new Section 28 for transgenderism’

What’s the difference between laser hair removal and electrolysis?

Laser hair removal involves the use of lasers to deliver mild radiation to the hair follicles, while electrolysis involves inserting a probe into the hair follicle and sending an electric current through it.

Electrolysis is commonly thought to be a more permanent route to hair removal, but it is expensive and can be painful and more arduous, sometimes taking years to work properly on thicker patches of hair.

More: hair removal, hair removal treatment, Trans, Transgender

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