Unwanted Facial Hair
Prevention and Treatment
Remember that before starting any treatment regime it is important to first rule out any underlying medical condition. If you are experiencing a rapid increase or sudden onset of facial hair growth, and signs of increased male characteristics, make sure to first see your physician.
While Unwanted Facial Hair (UFH) generally isn't preventable and tends to be a long-term issue, a logical starting point is to determine if there are ways to control it. If you are overweight, losing weight will be key to reducing the amount of hormones in your body that are associated with increased facial hair growth.
There are numerous ways to remove or treat UFH. Available options can vary in effectiveness, degree of discomfort and cost. Treatment for UFH most often involves a combination of hair removal methods and medications. Therefore, a solid understanding of the various pros and cons of each treatment is a worthwhile exercise as part of your decision-making process. This guide will provide you with an overview of the various treatments available by grouping them into the following categories:
1. Hair Removal Methods
2. Prescription Therapy
Hair removal methods to deal with Unwanted Facial Hair (UFH) include depilatories, which remove hair above the surface of the skin and epilatories, which remove the entire hair including the part below the skin. Here are some examples:
- Shaving. Shaving is quick and inexpensive, but it needs to be repeated regularly since it removes the hair only down to the surface of your skin.
- Chemical depilatories. Generally available as gels, lotions or creams that you spread on your face, chemical depilatories work by breaking down the protein structure of the hair shaft. Some people are allergic to the chemicals used in depilatories.
- Bleaching. Instead of removing UFH, some women use bleaching agents. Bleaching removes the hair colour, making the hair less visible against some skin tones but potentially more noticeable on darker skin. Bleaching may cause skin irritation, so test the bleach on a small area first.
- Plucking. Also referred to as tweezing, plucking is a good method to remove a few stray hairs, but is not useful for removing a large area of hair. While plucking may hurt a little and doesn't last forever, it is the most common method women use to get rid of UFH.
- Waxing. Waxing involves applying warm wax on your skin where the unwanted hair grows. Once the wax hardens, it's pulled back from your skin against the direction of hair growth, removing hair. Waxing may sting temporarily and sometimes causes skin irritation and redness. Results usually last a few weeks.
- Threading. This is an ancient method of hair removal originating in the Eastern world. Practitioners use a pure, thin, twisted cotton thread which they roll over areas of unwanted hair, plucking the hair at the follicle level. Unlike tweezing, where single hairs are pulled out one at a time, threading can remove an entire row of hair, resulting in a straighter line. As a larger area of hair is removed at once, however, it can be relatively painful.
- Sugaring. This is used in much the same way as traditional waxing for removing UFH although the ingredients used are few in number and all-natural, typically consisting of sugar, lemon and water. Proponents of sugaring say that it can be done more frequently than waxing with the same benefits and that it causes less skin irritation, among other benefits.
- Home electrolysis. These tools work by applying an electric current through a pair of tweezers. They are good for small areas, and are quick but can be painful. Results may last for many weeks or months. These kits can be costly and may produce skin discoloration.
Other facial hair removal treatments can offer numerous advantages and, although they tend to be expensive, their popularity has made them more widely available with many estheticians and spas. The risk is that the level of expertise and competence of the practitioner is sometimes questionable. Not all laser treatments need to be performed by a doctor but it is advisable that the treatment be administered in a facility when there is a doctor present on-site to supervise the therapy and to ensure that any adverse effects are properly dealt with. The most common facial hair removal therapies include:
- Electrolysis. This type of therapy involves inserting a tiny needle into each hair follicle and emitting a pulse of electric current to damage and eventually destroy the follicle. Electrolysis results in permanent hair removal, but the procedure can be painful. Some numbing creams may be spread on your skin to reduce this discomfort. Side effects include lightening or darkening of the treated skin and, rarely, scarring. As one hair is treated at a time it is a very slow process that requires many repeat treatments. It is best used for small areas.
- Laser Therapy. Laser therapy is a procedure in which a beam of highly concentrated light (laser) is passed over your skin to disable the hair follicles and prevent hair from growing. With laser, there is permanent hair reduction and in some cases permanent removal. Lasers work best for those with fair skin and dark hair. Individual sessions can last from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the size of the area being treated. Hair on the upper lip and particularly on the chin may need many treatments as they are in very hormone sensitive parts of the skin. However, a treatment for the upper lip takes only about a minute. After treatment, some people experience long periods without hair re-growth, while others may need occasional touch-ups to remain hair-free. In between treatments, the hair is trimmed or shaved as the melanin target, which is the hair root, has to be present for the laser light to be absorbed. Laser therapy can be uncomfortable, it may cause redness and swelling and can, in rare cases, cause burns or colour changes in your skin. This can be minimized by not treating the skin if it is tanned. While the cost of laser treatment can be high, it may in many instances be more cost-effective due to the longer-term benefits. The most important thing is that the correct laser is used in the right situation and at the appropriate power setting. Make sure to do your research and select a facility with a great reputation and experienced staff.
Two classes of prescription therapies, used to treat hormonal issues, are also used to help manage Unwanted Facial Hair (UFH). The first are hormone blockers, which are drugs that inhibit androgens (male hormones) from working on hair growth. The second are growth inhibitors, which are drugs that block enzymes in the hair itself to inhibit growth.
- Oral contraceptives. Birth control pills, or other hormonal contraceptives, containing the hormones estrogen and progestin, treat UFH by inhibiting androgen production by your ovaries. Oral contraceptives are a common treatment for UFH in women who don't want to become pregnant. Possible side effects include dizziness, nausea, headache, and stomach upset.
- Anti-androgens. These types of drugs block androgens from attaching to their receptors in your body. The most commonly used anti-androgen for treating UFH is spironolactone. Anti-androgens usually take at least three to six months to work. They can decrease the amount of new hair growth, but they are less likely to change the amount of hair you already have. Possible side effects include drowsiness, nausea, irregular menstrual periods, electrolyte disturbances and diarrhea. Because these drugs can cause birth defects, it's important to use good contraception while taking them. Do not take this drug if you think you are or may become pregnant.
- Anti-diabetic. Metformin, a drug normally used in the treatment of diabetes, has in recent years shown to be beneficial in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, a key cause of UFH.
- Eflornithine hydrochloride. A topical cream which is applied to the skin, called eflornithine hydrochloride, is the first topical prescription medication that has been approved by Health Canada specifically for slowing the growth of UFH in women. It is indicated for use along with other hair removal techniques. Eflornithine hydrochloride is not a depilatory and does not permanently remove hair or "cure" UFH. What it does is reduce or slow down the hair growth to improve the condition. It is applied twice a day to the area to be treated and, when combined with other hair removal techniques, such as the ones described above, enhances the overall effectiveness of other treatment types.