Every woman remembers the moment they discovered their first gray hair – it’s a rite of passage; one that most of us are not happy to reach. Even worse is discovering that one of the most vital tools that women of a certain age should carry at all times is a pair of emergency tweezers. The discovery usually occurs far away from the vanity mirror and the privacy of your own bathroom. There’s nothing quite like finding a long chin hair that has managed to go undetected until the most inopportune moment, or worse – someone finds it for you. Tweezers, stat! While strange hair growth is inevitable for both men and women as we age, what is normal and how much is excessive for women?
Hair follicles are found on every part of our bodies, except for the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet. While aging can bring new hairs sprouting in the most unlikely places, women are most concerned by hair growth on the face, arms, breasts and genital area. Hirsutism, or hormonally driven hair growth, is a common endocrine disorder affecting up to 10 percent of American women. It’s usually associated with hormonal health disorders involving the overproduction of androgens (ie, testosterone). Polycystic ovarian syndrome and overproduction of cortisol by the adrenal glands are the two most common health conditions associated with excessive amounts of hair growth in women. Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications specifically for treating hirsutism. There are many drugs being used “off-label” to treat hirsutism, such as glucocorticoids, designed to suppress androgen production in the adrenal glands, and oral contraceptives, which suppress androgen production by the ovaries. Best results are obtained through systemic therapy (drug) combined with mechanical hair removal methods.
There are many depilation (hair removal) methods, some are temporary and others offer more permanent results. Plucking, tweezing, threading, waxing or depilatory creams temporarily remove unsightly hair, but require frequent and diligent maintenance. Bleaching can lighten the hair so it’s less noticeable, but it can also irritate delicate skin, so we don’t recommend it.
Electrolysis or laser hair removal (laser or pulsed-light) offers more permanent results as it systematically destroys hair follicles, but it can be expensive and painful. Since hair grows in cycles, each individual area must be treated multiple times, with extended waiting periods between treatments. Patients are advised to avoid being out in the sun. Rare side effects include blistering, scarring and changes to overall skin texture.
Currently, laser removal is not a suitable option for blond, fair-haired or dark-skinned individuals as the light pulses work best on light skinned people with dark or coarse hair. If you do choose laser removal, it’s best to look for an experienced healthcare professional like a dermatologist, or a clinic where treatments are performed and supervised by trained and licensed professionals.