The following faqs were culled from various sources, including online research and reports from other trans people, as well as my own experiences. They should not be considered medical advice and I recommend doing your own research as information may have changed over time. Also, see Hormones - estrogens and anti-androgens
The effects of hormones can depend on several factors including genetics, age when starting, weight and your body's receptivity to estrogen. Generally, the younger one is the more dramatic the changes. The ideal time to start HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) is in one's teens during puberty to early 20s. (I started at 23 and the effects were dramatic, to say the least!) Estrogens bind with the estrogen receptors in your body and put you through a second puberty.
In the beginning most of the changes are internal. Estrogen is creating millions of new female cells and can interact with genes! Depending on your body's receptivity to estrogen and age, you can see changes in as little as one month that can include breast development and soreness, skin softness, fat distribution in the lower body and face, a change in body odor and hair texture. There are psychological and emotional changes, as well.
If you don't see noticeable changes in 4 to 5 months have your hormone (estrogen & testosterone) levels checked. Estrogen should be within the 200 - 400 range, testosterone 50 or less (normal male is 400 - 800). You may need to adjust your dosages or try another hormone. It can take up to a year for your body to get the idea you want it female. If you start young enough you may be able hinder beard growth.
There are no best hormones. The best hormones are the ones that work for you. It may take some experimentation with different types and dosages to find out what produces the best results.
You may get better results from injections. They are easier on the liver since the estrogen is injected into the muscle, usually your gluteus maximus, bleed directly into the blood and bypass the digestive system and liver. The downside is your estrogen level will go way up, then taper off. Estrace is often taken sublingually (under the tongue) that also allows by-passing the disgestive system.
Estrogen, or progesterone, creams do nothing internally since the amount absorbed through the skin is insignificant. When I tried a progesterone cream all I noticed was a softening of the skin with some temporary breast plumpness, though that could've been from the wet look of the cream on my skin. Save your money for prescription pills.
As for sterility, I'd estimate 6 months to a year (this is not medical advice).
Yes, facial fat can develop and redistribute, usually moving to the lower half of the face, making it look rounder and more feminine. Your lips may become fuller and your whole facial shape may change, but again, this varies depending on genetics and the age you started.
Yes and no. It depends on the dose and length of time one is on hormones. You can take a moderate dose and remain functional for years. If you feel they're suppressing your function you can take a break and your libido should return. Estrogen is an effective birth control in men and sterility is possible with longterm use, as well as tissue atrophy.
Herbal phyto-estrogens and anti-androgens produce minimal results at best. I've heard of no more than a small A cup. There are many herbs that have anti-androgenic, or mild estrogenic, properties such as chasteberry (from monks who took it to suppress their libidos), saw palmetto, black cohosh, hops, etc. If you're going to be on herbals for any length of time don't waste your money on Feminol, Evanesce, etc. Buy herbs in bulk from herb shops or health food stores. Get some gelatin capsuleslocal or onlineand encapsulate them yourself. You'll save money.
Encapsulators can be bought for a few bucks online or at some health food stores, though I found doing one at a time took about the same time. An electric coffee bean grinder does a good job of grinding up herbs that aren't already in powder form.