Unwanted vs. Abnormal Hair Growth
Unwanted hair is troublesome for many people. In some people hair is abnormal in amount or distribution whereas for others it is normal but simply unwanted. In the former, an evaluation by a dermatologist is needed to determine the reason for the abnormal hair growth and the best options for treatment. In the latter, the question is which of several methods of hair removal is best to remove the unwanted hair for that particular individual.
Causes of Excess Hair Growth
Heredity and ethnic background influences hair growth in both men and women. For women, pregnancy, menopause, hormonal problems, and taking certain male hormonal supplements for birth control, weight loss/muscle firming, or at menopause are common causes of abnormal hair growth.
Abnormal Hair Growth in Women
Many women grow hair on their face and feel that it detracts from their appearance. Often it is fine, light hair; but many also have dark or gray, stiffer hairs sprinkled about caused by changes in hormones as we age. Some women have a true moustache or beard caused by more significant hormonal issues, or as a familial, genetic, or racial characteristic. While the hair itself detracts from appearance, often the results of attempts to remove it are even worse. Plucking can cause ingrown hairs and red bumps. Picking to try to remove the regrowth results in chronic red bumps that later turn into dark spots or scars.
Shaving the surface of the skin does not affect hair follicles under the skin where hair is formed. Shaving simply can't change the thickness, color, rate of growth or number of hair follicles. On the other hand, plucking and waxing are a different story. Plucking and waxing rip the hair out of the follicle by the root, stimulating more growth. Over time this also distorts the angle of the follicle so that hairs may be more likely to in-grow. Then you pick at them, and on and on. Depilatory creams dissolve away hair but are often irritating, as are facial bleaches to lighten hair.
The answer for the fine, light facial hair is to buy a "personal" disposable battery powered razor, which has a head about an inch long. Shave the hair off, just like you do to your legs. Yes, it will feel a little stubbly when it grows out, just like your legs. So you shave it again.
If you have a sprinkling of darker, coarser hairs, either keep shaving them too, or consider IPL or laser hair removal. No IPL or laser hair removal gets rid of the light fine or coarse gray hair no matter what anyone tells you. The IPL or laser light can't "see" it.
You may want to consider also applying the prescription cream Vaniqa (Eflornithine) which slows growth of facial hair in women by blocking the enzyme that stimulates hair growth. It will not remove hair, change the color, or make it stop growing. Sometimes it makes it finer. It may cause irritation or acne.
Some women also grow abnormal body hair in a pattern that is typically "male." The hair may occur on the chest, nipples, lower abdomen, or upper thighs, and is often due to a hormonal imbalance.
If you have a significant amount of darker hair on your face or body that is not familial or ethnic, or if you have acne, difficulty with weight gain or irregular menstrual periods, you may have a hormonal disorder called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Make an appointment with your Dermatologist or Gynecologist for diagnosis and to discuss your treatment options.
Unwanted Hair Growth
Both men and women may have hair growth that is normal in amount and distribution but is undesirable to the individual. The definition of what is desirable varies by gender, culture, generation and lifestyle. IPL or laser hair removal is commonly performed on both males and females to reduce unwanted hair. Most patients have good results with long lasting reduction in amount and coarseness of hair. Some patients have less satisfactory results because of hormonal factors, skin or hair type, or because an optimal treatment series was not completed.
Hair must be treated during the active (anagen) phase of the growth cycle. Hair grows in staggered growth cycles, so multiple treatments are required for all hairs to be treated during a growing phase. The number and frequency of IPL or laser hair removal treatments vary by site and for each individual.
Ethnic facial hair growth is the hardest problem. It is genetic. It is most commonly seen in women of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, or Southern European descent and less often has a hormonal component. Because it is often dark hair on skin with a lot of natural pigment, IPL or laser hair removal is significantly more risky. The best treatment is shaving, Vaniqa, very careful IPL or laser hair removal in selected patients, and treatment of any hormonal component.
IPL and Laser Hair Removal
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) and Laser hair removal use noninvasive light that is preferentially absorbed by the melanin in the hair bulb without damaging surrounding skin. The heating of melanin destroys the hair bulb. Best results are seen on darker hair rather than very light hair, because higher melanin content in darker hair absorbs more energy.
Since Intense Pulsed Light and Laser hair removal are most effective and safest for dark hair on light skin so it's important to avoid sun or tanning bed exposure for 3 weeks before treatment, and use a broad spectrum sunscreen to areas not covered by clothing. Certain medications increase light sensitivity and need to be discontinued briefly before treatment after approval from your prescribing physician.
Discuss with your treating physician if you are/have: pregnant, using medication which prohibits exposure to sun, have taken isotretinoin in the past 6 months, history of keloid scarring, porphyria, iron storage disorders, seizures, or photosensitivity diseases such as Lupus.
About IPL Hair Removal
Number of Treatments— hair alternates from an active growth phase (anagen) to a dormant phase (telogen) and back again. For successful reduction in hair growth it must be treated in the anagen phase. The percentage and duration of anagen phase varies by body location. Multiple treatments are required at 4-6 weeks intervals to catch new follicles entering the growing phase.
Results—usually long lasting reduction in the amount and coarseness of hair growth. Some patients, however, because of hormonal, skin or hair type, or because an optimal treatment series was not completed, have less satisfactory results.
Time to See Results—finer hair and less hair growth may be seen starting in 4-6 weeks.
Duration of Results—since the causes of excess hair remain, maintenance treatments are needed to maintain optimum results. They are long lasting rather than permanent hair removal. The length of time the hair is gone and the completeness of removal vary. The hair that regrows may be lighter in color and finer in texture.
Discomfort—feels like a brief mild "grease pop" lasting for only a few seconds. Numbing cream can be used before the procedure.
Recovery Time/Side Effects— Redness, swelling or bruising may occur around the hair follicle lasting a few hours to a few days. Rarely crusting or blisters may occur. Treated area can turn darker or lighter, may take several months to fade or rarely be permanent. There is a small chance of scarring. Patients with tanned skin or whose ethnic ancestry includes darkly pigmented skin have an increased risk of complications. All patients must follow pretreatment instructions regarding sun exposure and sunscreen use.