My dog Beaudi. He graciously agreed to be the model.
As a kid, hearing about hair on your chinny chin chin was an amusing part of a fairy tale. As an adult female, having hair on your chinny chin chin is no laughing matter, right ladies? And not to leave the guys out …..having rogue earlobe hairs and feeling like a sasquatch may not be your thing, so the good news is that over the last few decades the options for hair removal have expanded and improved.
There are numerous methods available for hair removal, some of which are very temporary and some of which have the potential to permanently reduce hair growth. Notice I didn’t say permanently remove hair. I am a New Yorker to my core, despite living on the West Coast for many years, I’m gonna tell it like it is…if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is…so I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. As a dermatologist it is my job to provide facts, details and opinions so that my patients can make informed decisions. So even though this site is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any disease or ailment, and as readers you are not patients, I am committed to providing clear, concise (well maybe not that concise, I am known to ramble a bit) explanations of issues in hopes of being helpful.
So let’s start with the basics of hair. I am sure many of you have tweezed, shaved, waxed, threaded, sugared or “been lasered” only to be befuddled by the fact that some hairs stay gone and others rear their wiry heads way too soon. This is due to the fact that hair grows in three phases: the actively growing phase (anagen), which comprises about 80-90% of hairs. On the scalp this phase lasts about 2-6 years, whereas on the arms, legs, eyelashes, and eyebrows the phase is only about 30-45 days which helps explain why hair in these areas is much shorter than the scalp. The next phase or transitional phase known as catagen comprises 3% of all hairs at any time. This phase lasts for about 2-3 weeks. The last phase is the resting phase (telogen) which comprises 10-15% of hairs and last approximately 100 days. It is during the telogen phase when “shedding” occurs and about 25-100 telogen hairs are shed each day. The kicker is that hairs are not in sync with each other and while some hairs are growing, others are transitioning or falling out. Moreover, it’s only when hairs are in anagen (growing hairs) that they are responsive to removal modalities (i.e. electrolysis, laser).
Now that we have the basics down, how do you choose the best hair removal method? There are several factors to consider: convenience, pain threshold (a very subjective factor), cost, goal for temporary vs. more long-lasting results and anatomic location. Most of these factors are intimately intertwined.
For instance, shaving is very convenient as you can do it yourself, in your home, cost is lower (although the cost of razor blades these days is nutty), pain is minimal but the results are very temporary as you have to shave every few days because you are only trimming the hair not removing it.
Waxing/threading/sugaring: convenient as the service is readily available and it’s quick, cost is relatively low, can be done on most if not all external anatomic locations. The downside is that it can be painful and the results usually only last about 3-6 weeks. With repeated treatments the hair follicles may be disrupted/ damaged which may lead to permanent hair loss (but most likely patchy at best).
Electrolysis: So how does it work? An electric current is applied with a very fine needle-shaped electrode, or metal probe into each hair follicle to destroy the root. The pros are that this method has a good track record for permanent hair reduction and in some cases permanent removal. Since it targets the follicle itself, this method can be used on most skin types. The cons are that it can be painful, requires many treatments (can be upwards of 15-30) and can be expensive. Also operator dependent so results can vary.
Laser: Laser hair removal is one of the most commonly performed cosmetic procedures in the U.S. A beam of highly concentrated light penetrates into hair follicles. It is the pigment in the follicles that absorbs the light and this destroys the hair. The technology of lasers has advanced so that patients of color can safely have laser performed without damaging skin tone. As with other methods, only the anagen follicles are targeted so treatments need to be repeated every 6-8 weeks to capture more and more of the anagen follicles until the desired level of hair reduction is achieved.
The pros are that laser can be done relatively quickly depending on the site treated and the results are long-lasting. Treatments literally can take as little as 5 minutes! The cons are cost, number of treatments required (usually 6-12) depending on body part treated and pain. I can attest to the fact that current lasers are way less painful than lasers used in 2008 even, and that is saying a lot because I am a big wimp. Risks of treatment other than pain , include swelling at treatment site, burns (go to someone with expertise and experience, and have a test spot done first: settings can be adjusted to avoid this). Although with the advances in technology this does not happen as often, but lightening or darkening of the skin in the treated area can occur. The other issue with lasers are that they are best used on course hair: legs, back, bikini, underarm, men’s beards. Although they are used for women’s facial hair, the light colored, peach fuzz found on women’s cheeks, chins and lips is unlikely to respond as well. Lasers target a color and the lighter the hair the less there is to target.
Topical therapy: A serendipitous discovery of hair loss was noted when using an anti-malarial drug (eflornithine). The medicine is formulated under the trade name Vaniqua which is a prescription cream used to reduce facial hair growth in women. The mode of action is to block the enzyme that leads to hair growth. This ” blockage” is gradual and can take up to six months to take effect, during which time other hair removal methods would need to be continued. It’s a twice daily application and the downside is that once you stop using it…the hair growth is no longer blocked and hair will eventually return.
So as you can see there are many options…this is a good thing. The best expected outcome is permanent hair reduction and in some cases permanent hair removal may occur. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a glass half full kind of a girl (and if the wine is really good, fill her up’) but when it comes to issues in medicine I am a realist, and I hope armed with this information you will be too so that you can decide which if any of these modalities might work for you and you will not be disappointed with the result. If none of these float your boat, au natural is beautiful too!