Makeover Monday: The Hair Up There

Due to comments (pleadings?) made after last Monday’s post, we interrupt our previously scheduled Makeover Monday to bring you this hot topic: excess facial hair on women. It’s a condition many of us suffer, but not many of us talk about. Many of the guys, and possible a few of the women, who read here are wondering what’s the big deal. Well, if you’re a woman with whiskers, it IS a big deal—a big, fat, hairy deal.

This is an unbelievably long post, so if you’re not interested in the topic, I’ll pause here to thank you for stopping by. I hope you’ll stop by again next week! Continuing on, for the interested…

I’ll start with the usual caveat that I am not a licensed…anything. You would be far better served to discuss any issues you have with excess facial hair (real or imagined) with a dermatologist or licensed cosmetician. My knowledge comes only from my explorations in how to deal with my problems in this area. But feel free to tell them Cammy sent you. Maybe you’ll get a discount. :)

There are basically two types of body hair: vellus, which is the fine, thin hair we have all over our bodies. It’s purpose is to protect our sensitive skin, as well as to help regulate body temperature. The hormonal wallop of puberty usually causes some of these fine hairs to turn darker and coarser. These hairs are referred to as terminal. Their purpose is to irritate and embarrass those of us of the female persuasion and to look danged sexy on the males among us. (The same males who sneeze and lose 8 pounds. Grrr.) The amount of terminal hair we have is partially dictated by heredity and then influenced by hormonal changes or medical conditions. (See aforementioned referral to medical professional.)

When I was in my late 20s, two individual dark hairs popped out on my chin. I was amused and even chuckled as I plucked them out. Problem resolved.

As I entered by 30s, two chinny hairs had tripled into a half dozen or so, sprinkled all along my jaw. Still within manageable plucking capacity. No sweat.

Mid-30s: The Hair Explosion Years. Hair was suddenly everywhere–on my chin, my neck, my jaw, and even on my upper lip. I wasn’t quite a candidate for a circus show, but I sure felt like it. My self-esteem (always a little on the rocky side) plummeted. I was certain everyone I saw was one wrist-flick away from pointing and yelling, “Oh my God, would you look at that!” The fact that none of these people ever did that, or even appeared to notice my presence, I attributed to extremely fine acting abilities on their parts.

Anyway, it became clear that the plucking method of facial hair “management” wasn’t going to cut it anymore, and I began to explore other possibilities. There were many—some pricey, some relatively inexpensive. I’ll share all the ones I know about and give you my opinion on those I tried. (Some of these will sound familiar as they were also included on last week’s post on the hair down there.)

Methods of Controlling Excess Facial Hair

Doing Nothing – You may decide that the 100% natural way is the one for you, and there is nothing wrong with that. Customs, styles, and societal expectations are changed by people like you. Pat yourself on the back for accepting yourself just as you are! I, for one, admire the hell out of you for being the trendsetter I’m not, and you won’t catch me questioning your choice.

Tweezing – Simple, inexpensive, and the best solution if you have the odd hair here or there. Re-growth can take several days to several weeks.

Shaving – Simple, inexpensive, and painless, but if you have a lot of facial hair, shaving is not without a few cons. Since shaving doesn’t address the hair below the skin, re-growth generally occurs in 12-24 hours in the form of dark stubble. Shaving can cause skin irritation (razor burn) and depending on the shaving method you choose—wet or dry—nicks, cuts, and ingrown hairs are a few of the possible results.

Bleaching – There are a variety of creams on the market that will lighten unwanted facial hair. The ones I tried weren’t expensive and they worked really well on the upper lip, but not so much on the underside of my neck. (I have issues with being still.) I also wasn’t comfortable with putting such harsh chemicals on my face. There may be newer, less harsh products on the market today. Keep in mind that the amount of lightening depends on the color and texture of your hair. You could end up with an orange mustache instead of a brunette one.

Depilatories – These are chemical mixtures that effectively melt the keratin in the hair shaft, allowing the hair to fall out. I’ve never used one on my face due to the caustic, chemical-ly smells.

Waxing/Sugaring – I forgot to include sugaring last week, but it’s the same basic premise as waxing. Both techniques involve applying a layer of “sticky stuff” to the skin (cold or hot wax for waxing, or a paste of sugar, lemon, and water for sugaring), followed by the application of strips of cloth, and then the ripping out by the root of the offensive hairs. Hairs, plural. All at once. If you have trouble with tweezing pain, I’m thinking this would not be the option for you.

In all seriousness, the only waxing I’ve had done is the eyebrow area, and it does hurt for a couple of minutes. I’m also red in that area for a few hours after application. But then I’m done for a couple of months. Re-growth varies, anywhere from a few weeks to two months, and the hair is usually finer.

As mentioned last week, waxing and sugaring can be done at home relatively inexpensively, but this is one of those areas where it might be more prudent to seek out a professional. Wax can actually take off skin along with the hair (yikes!) if not done correctly, and sugaring can cause bruising.

Another important note about waxing/sugaring if you are using, or have recently used , Acutane or products containing Retin-A. These products contain chemicals that cause thinning of the skin, and waxing or sugaring could cause permanent damage to the skin.

Electrolysis – Another fun-filled hair-removal technique. As discussed last week, electrolysis involves inserting an electrified needle into the hair follicle and shocking the hair out. Well, that’s how I think of it, anyway. I’m sure there’s a more technical explanation of it.

I used electrolysis for almost a year. While it wasn’t cheap, it was affordable and while there was some pain, it wasn’t horrible. I stopped when it seemed as though I wasn’t having lasting results. Plus, the procedure sometimes caused a few blisters.

I’ve seen some “home electrolysis” gizmos on the store shelves and on Amazon, but it really doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. Definitely better to seek a professional on this one.

Laser Hair Removal – The Big Kahuna of hair removal and the only method that yielded long-term (though not 100% completely successful) results for me. Basically, this process involves using intense light pulses to attack the melanin in the hair shaft. In its early days, the process wasn’t useful for people who also had an abundance of melanin in their skin, because the lasers didn’t know the difference between the two and spotting occurred. Technology has changed, though, and the lasers are smarter. In fact, there has been some progress in laser technology with respe
ct to light-colored hair. For those of us with a generous amount of vellus, this is promising.

For more information on laser hair removal, here’s a good article on the American Academy of Dermatology website.

There are other methods of hair removal, including threading and topical creams, but I have never checked into any of those. As I said earlier, if you have a significant amount of facial hair and that bothers you, your best bet is to make an appointment with a dermatologist.

As for me, the laser treatments eliminated most of the darker hair I had, but there are residuals. I manage those with this nifty device and my tweezers. Since I’m barreling toward menopause and even more hormonal shifts, I’ve started a savings fund for additional treatments if I need them.

Whatever your choice, keeping your sense of humor about it is the greatest treatment of all. There are many, many ways your life could be worse.

Okay, enough from me. The floor is open for your thoughts, comments, recommendations, etc. I ask only that you be polite. I’ll pop into the comments if there’s a need.

On a side note, thanks again for all the birthday wishes! It’s a great one, so far! :)

Have a happy week!