As a cosmetology student, Lisia Cooley-Walch learned that she was not meant to cut hair. And although her aspirations to become a hairstylist were short-lived, the accidental streak of bad hair days she inflicted upon her mother was not. “Thank goodness punk was in at the time,” Cooley-Walch says. “They need warnings on those scissors—they’re not user-friendly.” Even in the face of scissor-shock, she was determined to avoid becoming another beauty school dropout. She was not adept at cutting hair, but she did show an innate knack for removing it altogether. Even so, when Cooley-Walch stumbled into the realm of hair removal, what she found surprised her.
“As an electrologist, you have women who come to see you, and they have a problem. I’m changing people’s lives, and that’s a wonderful feeling,” she says. After graduating from cosmetology school at Mecosta-Osceola Career Center in Big Rapids, Michigan, Cooley-Walch enrolled directly in Clark’s Electrology School in Sturgis, Michigan. At the tender age of 18, she opened Lisia’s Electrolysis in Big Rapids.
When Palomar Medical Technologies, Inc., and mentor Fox Anderson invited Cooley-Walch to Boston in 1995 to test the first laser designed for hair removal, she just knew that she was on the brink of something big. “It was as if we were going to be the pioneers of this invention that was going to change our industry,” Cooley-Walch recalls. She was right. The ruby red laser won her over, although she remains an electrologist at heart, and Lisia’s Electrolysis blossomed into Lisia’s Electrolysis & Laser Hair Removal. Even though the face of electrology is evolving constantly, for Cooley-Walch, some things never change.
Almost 25 years after she started her business, she still works in the same building that housed the hopes of a young girl brimming with the desire to help people. “These are women who get up before their husbands or boyfriends see them, and they shave,” she says. “You’re changing the way people look at themselves and the way they feel about themselves.” For Cooley-Walch’s clients, that change not only comes through clinical care, but also through genuine care—her desire to see the whole person who needs attention throughout the entire process. She would not dream of performing laser hair removal or electrolysis on a client who does not have an understanding about the underlying problem. “It’s not just the procedures,” Cooley-Walch explains. “I’m teaching my clients about how to take care of their skin, why they have a problem and how I can help them.”
For some of her clients, that help comes in unexpected forms. Cooley-Walch’s credo is simple: Treat others as you would like to be treated. This often drives her to transform effortlessly from clinician to friend. During the past decade, Cooley-Walch notes that she has treated many transgender patients who find the hair removal process to be much more than a superficial metamorphosis. “The hair removal piece of their transformation is what they say is the most emotional part for them,” she explains. “Not only are you their hair removal professional, you’re their confidant.” Cooley-Walch and her clients seemed to have unearthed the bittersweet sentiment in transformation, and it has left both inextricably changed.
Such experience has ignited a determined drive within her to fight for the future of her profession. As president of the Society of Clinical and Medical Electrologists Inc., an organization she has been involved with since 1989, Cooley-Walch lobbies against regulations that threaten to take medical procedures out of the hands of electrologists. As more and more physicians find financial lure in treatments that once were unique to the electrology industry, she refuses to stand idle. It is that very desire to move the industry forward that earned Cooley-Walch the Society of Medical Electrologists Inc.’s 2006 Bordier Award, which is presented to visionaries in the field. Activism is an everyday challenge for her because she understands that industry unification guarantees her survival in the profession. Cooley-Walch hopes to create fusion among her colleagues. “Help your profession, because that is going to be your livelihood,” she urges.
Although she strives to make big changes, it seems as though the little victories—such as the renewed hope in the eyes of a client who now sees the possibility for change, or the blissful confidence of a person freed from insecurity—are where Cooley-Walch finds her satisfaction. “I am extremely content right now,” she says. “I have no aspiration to make my business any bigger than it already is. I enjoy what I do. I make time for my clients and make sure they know that I am there for them, and that I care about what I do.”