Eileen Reilly: Martha’s Vineyard’s electrologist

Ms. Reilly in mid-session with a patient. — Photo by Lynn Christoffers

A big part of many women’s beauty regimens involve tweezers. But, electrologist Eileen Reilly warns that tweezing and waxing can actually be detrimental in the war against unwanted facial hair. Ms. Reilly, who has been a practicing, licensed electrologist on the Vineyard for 16 years, explains the tricky nature of facial hair in the area below the nose.

“The facial area known as the hormonally targeted area is the upper lip, the chin and along the jaw line, and below the chin. Eyebrow hairs have a life span. You pluck them for 20 years and they’re going to pretty much stop growing. That’s the opposite of what happens with your upper lip and your chin. Plucking stimulates growth and makes them coarser.”

Clients come to Ms. Reilly for hair removal in a number of areas – underarms, bikini area, breasts, abdomen, and toes, but she says that 95 percent are focused on facial hair. Unfortunately, she notes, many of these women have been tweezing or waxing for years and that, according to Ms. Reilly, is the number one factor in permanent hair removal.

“The longer you’ve been plucking them, the longer it will take to get rid of them,” she says.

Men are a small percentage of her clients, mostly interested in getting rid of mid-eyebrow growth and hair on external ears, the back of neck, isolated patches on the back or hard to shave areas such as the nostril crevice.

Some women have a genetic predisposition to excess hair. But hair growth can also be affected by medications, stress, and any hormonal changes.

“Women have the potential to grow hair on their face til the day they die. I can’t prevent that, but I can clear up what you have growing,” Ms. Reilly says.

Permanent hair removal is not a simple, one visit process, whether lasers or electrolysis is employed. Either method requires multiple assaults on hair follicles. Fine hairs may disappear after one or two treatments, but the thicker or coarser the hair, the longer it will take to get rid of.

Ms. Reilly explains the process she uses this way. “I insert a very fine needle into the hair follicle. The needle is about the same diameter as a hair. With the aid of very powerful glasses, I can see very clearly. I set the machine to the amount of current that I need to dehydrate the bulb and then I remove the loosened hair.”

Multiple treatments are necessary. “That little bit of current is cauterizing the blood supply, so as other hairs grow in that hair follicle they’re getting less blood, so they’re coming in finer until finally it’s sealed off and nothing can grow from it.”

Electrolysis is not a good option for areas with a lot of hair growth, like the back or legs, since the removal takes place one hair at a time. Lasers can cover large patches with multiple hairs.

However, laser treatment is not always an effective option since, according to Ms. Reilly, “a laser needs to be attracted to the melanin in the hair. It works best with contrast, with light skin and dark hairs.” She notes that electrolysis and laser hair removal are good complementary methods. Laser treatments can be used on large areas, but sometimes to complete the process, electrolysis may be needed. “You need many laser treatments with subsequent treatments, and after the hairs come back in they grow back finer but also lighter in color. Electrolysis can work on any color hair.”

The number of electrolysis treatments needed depends on a variety of factors, according to Ms. Reilly, and it is impossible to determine at the onset of treatment how long the process may take. As for the discomfort level, that too varies from client to client.

“It starts with a little bit of a pinch, Ms. Reilly says. “Depending on a person’s tolerance, it can feel like a mosquito bite or a little bee sting. The pain is over immediately.”

Some people may have slight redness in the area post-treatment, but many experience no lingering side effects. Treatments last from 10 minutes to an hour. Although Ms. Reilly instructs people not to tweeze in between appointments, trimming hairs is acceptable. “The two methods – tweezing or waxing and electrolysis – are mutually exclusive,” she says. “Your tweezers are now only for your brows and getting out splinters.”

More on Ms. Reilly

Ms. Reilly moved to the Vineyard in 1985 to help her sister set up The Farmhouse B&B in West Tisbury. After her daughter Alison was born in 1987, Ms. Reilly noticed some “hormonal presentations” including facial hair. She discovered that there was no one on-Island doing electrology, so she travelled to Quincy to complete an 1,100 hour course and take a state exam to become certified. She set up practice in the same space, at 97 State Road in Vineyard Haven, that she still occupies. There is currently no one on-Island offering laser hair removal, and Ms. Reilly is the only local electrologist.

“I love what I’m doing,” she says. “I’m on a mission, one woman at a time. It all fits for me. I like working one-on-one. I like working with my hands. Finishing what I start. I meet a lot of great women. It fits my personality really well.”

Ms. Reilly is an engaging, articulate and well-informed woman who can talk on a number of subjects with her clients, and she says many just need a little therapy along with their treatments.

“They’ve had a long day, and they need someone to listen to them. Like a bartender, I get to spend a lot of intimate time with people.”

For more information, visit hairfreemv.com.

Gwyn McAllister of Oak Bluffs is a frequent contributor to The Times.