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Information from Your Family Doctor
What Should I Know About Removing Unwanted Facial Hair?
Am Fam Physician. 2002 Nov 15;66(10):1913-1914.
Unwanted hair on the face is a common problem. It affects many men and women. Most methods of hair removal are simple and don't cost very much. However, permanent hair removal is not always possible.
Most methods of hair removal are available at your local drug store or grocery store. Some people have to be treated by a doctor or with medicine. If you have too much hair on your face, especially if you are a woman, it could be caused by a medical problem and should be checked by your doctor.
Why do I have too much facial hair?
Everyone has facial hair. In most women, it is very fine and doesn't show up. Some women just naturally have thicker, darker hair on their upper lip or chin. Some medical conditions and medicines can cause thick facial hair to grow. Also, this condition could run in your family. If your facial hair suddenly starts to grow thicker and darker, you should see your doctor. Usually, no major medical problem is found.
How can I get rid of facial hair?
There are many ways to get rid of facial hair. Shaving and plucking are the most common. However, shaving facial hair is not popular among women, even though it does not make hair grow back faster or thicker.
While plucking hurts a little bit and doesn't last forever, it is probably the most common method women use to get rid of facial hair. Waxing (with hot or cold wax) is a way to get rid of many hairs at one time. Chemicals (depilatories) can be used to dissolve the hair. These effects are also temporary.
Electrolysis is the only permanent way to remove hair. A thin metal probe is inserted in the opening in the skin where the hair grows. An electric current destroys the hair at its base. You may need to get this treatment more than once to get rid of the hair for good. Electrolysis is more expensive. It isn't done by a doctor. If you have a pacemaker, you can't use this method.
A laser beam can be used to get rid of hair by destroying the hair at its base. This procedure has to be done by a dermatologist (a skin doctor). It is probably the most expensive way to get rid of hair. In the future, it may become a permanent way to remove facial hair.
A new skin cream called Vaniqa can decrease hair growth. You'll need a prescription for this medicine. It is used twice a day for as long as the medicine is effective and well tolerated. The hair loss it causes is also temporary.
What are the side effects of the different methods?
Skin irritation and redness are the most common side effects of hair removal. Shaving can cause skin cuts and may lead to ingrown hairs. Plucking can hurt, especially if a lot of hairs are removed. Using hot wax can burn your skin. Chemicals that dissolve hair often smell bad and can cause allergic skin reactions.
Electrolysis hurts and in some people can cause thick scars (called keloids). It may also change the color of the skin around where the hair was removed.
Laser hair removal can also cause burns and color changes in the skin.
The new skin cream Vaniqa can cause acne and a burning feeling on the skin.
What is the best method of hair removal for me?
The right method for you is often the one you can easily do yourself without much pain or many side effects. Most hair removal methods are not permanent. Because hair removal is usually done so you look better, insurance companies will not pay for procedures such as laser hair removal. Your doctor can tell you more about the different ways to get rid of facial hair and help you decide which way is best for you.
This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.
Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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