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Published on: 02 Jun 2009 by leirah
I went to the laser clinic once every 4-6 weeks, in order catch some hair in its growth cycle. Those are the follicles we aim to damage when we get laser hair removal--the active ones. I went the first time without any local anesthetic for two reasons: one, I didn’t know what it would feel like, and two, I didn’t want to walk into the office with saran wrap stretched over white cream on my chin, as I had seen some women do. I preferred the average person to have little or no clue why I was there until I went into that particular door.
I lay on a beige chair rather like a dentist’s chair, which the technician (who had also been my consultant) reclined most of the way back. She took off my glasses (and commented every time how she would like to steal them), disinfected my jaw line, and squirted cold gel onto my skin. It came from a plastic bottle resembling a diner ketchup bottle, and because I couldn’t see what she was doing, the slurping sound and sudden chill of the gel always startled me. The laughing afterward helped to break the ice.
Then she started up the laser with a gentle humming sound, and distributed eye protection to everyone in the room. My mother often sat in with me, possibly out of curiosity as well as moral support. She and the technician got to wear orange lab goggles. The protection I had to wear as a laser-ee was the much less stylish tanning booth kind that basically blocked the world right out.
The laser was about one or two centimeters in diameter, and she held a plastic gun-like apparatus to my face before she zapped. Sitting in the dark, I could always prepare myself that way. An elastic snap is a good way to measure the pain--it certainly wasn’t any more intense than that. But for myself, it felt less like a snap against the area and more like a one or two centimeter square of needles poking my skin for a fraction of a second. I could feel the heat flow down each hair shaft into the follicle. Some areas were less painful than others. I found the point of the chin, where the hairs were coarsest, caused a more vivid sensation. Some hairs under the jaw made a close second. As soon as I would jump in surprise at the feeling, it was gone. She would always ask if I was all right before continuing. I always was.
Though it did hurt, I was very gung-ho. I liked feeling each of the offending little follicles burning. Sometimes, you could smell it.
When it was done, she took away the goggles and wiped the rest of the gel off my face. She spritzed it with something light and cool that smelled like lavender, and my skin which was beginning to feel like I’d been out in the sun, was relieved. The last thing she spread on was a light SPF 45 cream, and handed me my glasses and an ice pack.
I thanked her, said the procedure wasn’t bad, but that I would like to use the anesthetic cream from now on. She gave me a small tube and explained how to use it, we made our next appointment, and I was on my way. Though a little singed, I felt excited about this path I had embarked upon. That very day the family--the family who doesn’t know about my facial hair--was going up to a resort for the weekend. No sooner did I come home than we were in the van and on our way. There was still growth worth shaving on my face the next day, but that was normal. The follicles, the technician explained, were shedding, and then a new cycle of hair would begin in dormant follicles. I slathered some SPF 45 on after my shave, and some foundation over that, and I went on as normal. The skin was red and irritated, but not much worse than a shave could do.
The next time I went back to the clinic, I was prepared. I unfortunately have forgotten the name of the topical anesthetic I was given first. It was the kind that has to be applied with plastic over top and left to sit for half an hour. I was advised that I could wash it off before I set out for my appointment, so that is what I did. After I had used up that tube, though (in about two appointments I might add) I was given something new called Maxilene 5, which contains lidocaine and is used for things like burns, insect bites, and hemorrhoid relief. It was much less of an inconvenience to apply, because although it had to sit for just as long, I didn’t have to keep plastic over it which made a huge difference. I found myself thoroughly entertained by the effects of the anesthetic. I could still feel pressure, like fingers on the skin, but I could not feel temperatures or textures. It was fascinating--but as a word of caution, don’t get it near your mouth. Lips lose their feeling very easily, and it can be very unnerving.
Did it work? Well, it certainly improved the situation. I would wash it off before getting in the car so the feeling in my skin was returning by the time I got into the chair. I was still gritting my teeth by the end of each session, but it was a big help.
I began to look forward to my appointments. The technician was lovely, and I was glad to be doing something about my hirsutism. I wasn’t seeing any difference overall, but then, these were always new hair cycles starting that hadn’t been affected by the laser yet. Every now and then, a treated follicle would give up and release the entire hair and it would come out on my washcloth. That was a thrilling event in my day.
When I came to my sixth session, however, she was going over my skin before applying the cooling gel and said, “Huh. You’re not noticing a difference at all?”
I told her no, and she went very quiet for a moment. “By now, you should be. Did your GP get you to take a blood test before referring you here? You know, to check for hormonal abnormalities and such?”
“No,” I said darkly. (I must segue to add that this was the third time my GP had jumped to a conclusion without making any more investigation than a few pokes and a flurry of questions. That’s why I am currently and voluntarily without a GP.)
My wonderful but now slightly flummoxed technician said she would be sending the order for a blood test to my local lab, and in the mean time, this final session was on the house. She said I could call back in about three weeks for the results, and we would go from there.
After the session, I stared out the car window on the way home, realizing for the first time that it was very likely this had all been for nothing. That was the time my mother asked me, “Would you rather have this--or would you rather be fat?” Anything but this, I thought. Anything but a bearded freak--especially one who doesn’t know why she’s bearded.
I took the blood test as soon as I could, and called back in three weeks. My technician wasn’t there, but the woman who answered the phone was very confused about my request for my results, and said I should probably calling the dermatologist who referred me. I thought that was odd, because I had very little to do with that dermatologist since starting treatment. But I called his office, and the lady who answered that phone was just as baffled. She said the doctor was on vacation and she had no record of it here, but I should probably call whoever had ordered the test in the first place. Disheartened and more than a little annoyed, I can’t recall if I ever contacted anyone after that.
But then, after about four weeks, something curious happened. I took my washcloth away from my face and noticed several full hairs lying there, root and all. I scrubbed again. More came away. I peered into the mirror. Could it be there were less hairs than usual? I almost cried.
Gradually, the damaged follicles released their hairs and no new ones grew in. I still had the odd dark vellous strand, but the terminal ones had disappeared completely. That summer, I didn’t shave once, and rarely plucked. I went on a houseboat trip with my family and could wake up in the morning and climb right onto the top deck without having to worry about my face. I had three wonderful, carefree months, as far as my face was concerned.
Then fall came, and I began to have to pluck more. It was identical to my first onset of hirsutism. When I was spending far too long each morning plucking, I moved on to bleaching. And when bleaching became too much of a chore, and was turning the terminal hairs golden instead of blond, I went back to shaving. And here I am, nearly four years later, in the same boat I was when I started.
See, the thing is, I don’t know why this happened to me. I haven’t had the heart to break down doors to find out what happened to this rogue blood test. I can’t say that it’s not worth it either, because I had three months of freedom from all tweezers and blades, so something there was working for a while. The results have been even better for some, I’ve read. It is absolutely worth a try.
Would I do it again? Yes. If I had the money to spare and knew it might only give me a quarter of a year of hairlessness, you bet I would. In a twisted way, it was enjoyable to be doing something about the way I felt about myself.
Originally posted November 12, 2008 in All Kinds of Fur: Confessions of a Bearded Lady - http://allerleirah.blogspot.com