Meet Your Merchant: Eileen Reilly of Vineyard Electrology

Vineyard electrologist Eileen Reilly in her home office in Tisbury. — Photo by Sam Moore

Updated Wednesday June 22

The Times recently spoke with Island electrologist Eileen Reilly, who recently returned to the Vineyard after some time away. Ms. Reilly started her electrology business in Vineyard Haven on March 6, 1996, and came back just in time to celebrate her 20-year anniversary with the Island community she had been missing. Here’s why she came back, and what’s behind the science and technology of her trade.

What kind of work were you doing before electrology?

I was a house painter. Before painting, I had jobs in food service and retail. (Hasn’t everyone worked in food service at one time or another? LOL.)

How did you (originally) end up on the Island?

I came to the Island in 1985. My sister and her then husband had bought a summer house, a fixer-upper, in West Tisbury. He was a builder, and they worked a few summers renovating it, and decided to make it into a B&B [The Farmhouse]. I came up that spring in 1985 to help them for the summer season.

How did you begin work in electrology?

After I gave birth to my daughter in 1987, I noticed that I had grown some facial hair. I remembered my mother had electrology services when I was young, so to the phone book I went. There was no one offering electrolysis (the actual process of removing the hair) on-Island, so I started to look into the possibility of providing it to the Vineyard community.

Are you in the same office you previously occupied?

No. The new address is 55 Skiff Avenue in Vineyard Haven. I was formerly at 97 State Road in Vineyard Haven, and operating under the business name Eileen T. Reilly, R.E.

How long were you off-Island?

I left in June 2013 and returned in August 2015.

Did you practice electrology off-Island?

I did. I opened an office in the town of Stockbridge.

What inspired you to return?

This is a much more complicated question, but I dearly missed my daughter, my clients, my friends, my contacts … the ocean! I knew shortly after I’d left in 2013 that I wanted to return someday, somehow. I am grateful to my core to be able to return. Not many people can.

What is electrolysis?

Electrolysis is a method of removing individual hairs from the face or body.

How does it work; what’s the science behind it?

A small probe or needle is inserted into the hair follicle and a pulse of current of varying strength and duration is applied. The current shrinks or coagulates the bulb that holds the hair, and the hair becomes loosened to the point of separation from the bulb. I then remove the hair with a pair of small forceps. Two things happen: I remove the hair and I also cauterize some of the small capillaries that provide nutrition to the follicle. The next time a hair grows from that follicle, it will be thinner and/or weaker. Eventually a follicle will be completely cauterized, so even if there are hair cells inside, they won’t result in a hair because there is no blood supply to support growth. The hair cells will then slough off like skin cells. Many hairs can be removed in just a 15-minute appointment.

How is it different from laser hair removal?

Electrology was founded by a doctor in Rhode Island in the late 1800s. He devised a way to use electricity to remove an ingrown eyelash hair. The original devices required the patient to submerge their hand into water to complete the circuit. Happily, today’s modern equipment doesn’t require a client to do this! It is also referred to as “needle epilation.” I work on one hair at a time.

True laser hair removal is much different. A laser is one color or wavelength from the full spectrum, and it is quite powerful. Laser works by seeking out the pigment in the hair, and works best on areas of the body that have a lot of hair: bikini line, underarms, legs, arms. It can do many hairs at a time, so it’s great for the aforementioned body areas. But because the hair needs to have pigment, candidates need to fit a profile. The best candidate has very fair skin color and darkest hair. After a series of laser treatments have been properly administered, a permanent reduction of hairs will result, but the remaining hairs that continue to regrow are now lighter in color and finer in texture. At this stage, laser is no longer effective because of lack of pigment and scattered pattern of hair growth. Clients switch over to electrology at this point to get rid of the remaining hairs.

The other offering in some salons is Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), which uses a full-spectrum light for many skin applications as well as hair removal.

Where are the most common areas it is applied?

Most of my clients are concerned with facial hair. I also shape eyebrows. On the body, I can work on breast hair, abdomen, underarms, and bikini line. Some people have odd singular hairs showing up on the underside of the bicep, forearms, fingers, toes, earlobes. I can work everywhere on the body, but facial hair is probably 98 percent of my service.

Is it permanent?

It is permanent, but to achieve this, a regular schedule is imperative. Heredity, hormones, and temporary methods such as tweezing and, much worse, waxing, result in varying degrees of severity and heavily influence how long it will take. If someone never tweezes or waxes their face, the offending hairs will go away much faster. I have to educate women all the time as to the danger of waxing the hormonal areas of the upper lip and chin areas.

Can it work for everyone?

Yes, electrolysis has a long history of being extremely effective when a client is dedicated to the suggested schedule of appointments. If someone has a more complicated diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or other hormonal disruption, electrology can only keep the growth under control. Hormones or other medications may be necessary to take care of the hormonal disturbance first before electrolysis can be expected to work successfully.

What is the craziest method of hair removal you’ve ever heard of?

At-home electrolysis gizmos and electronic tweezers.

How has electrolysis changed over the years?

The method of needle epilation is the same, but the epilators themselves have changed. Some have many bells and whistles that I think are probably unnecessary, but you know how new toys are! Many operators still use the first machine they purchased. I have had three, and now have one of the best machines on the market. It’s capable of many combinations of both electrolysis and electrocoagulation. These combinations are known as “blend” treatment.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an electrologist?

I love to work with my hands and I love LOVE tools! I’d be a carpenter … making furniture. My fantasy? A dancer. I should have pursued dance as a youngster.

Vineyard Electrology, 55 Skiff Avenue, Vineyard Haven. For more information, call 508-687-9121.