Every woman experiences unwanted facial hair at some time. You may be happy to let the odd stray hair grow on your upper lip or chin, or may choose to shave daily. As a doctor, I was first alerted to the problem when an elderly lady I loved resorted to using a pumice stone (which I don’t advise). At the age of 90, her quality of life was transformed by a simple depilatory cream.
Many effective ways to remove female facial hair are now available for home use without the embarrassment and hassle of seeking medical advice or visiting a hair removal clinic. Here are my personal and professional opinions on the best ways to remove female facial hair.
What causes excess facial hair?
Excess facial hair results from increased sensitivity of hair follicles to circulating levels of androgen hormones, such as testosterone. Although testosterone is known as the male hormone, it is also made in small amounts in the female ovaries and adrenal glands and helps to control female sex drive.
Androgen hormones activate some hair follicles to produce hair that is thicker and longer than usual. If levels of androgen hormones increase. Or if hair follicles become more sensitive to them, then the fine, downy hair that normally grows on the face can become thicker, longer and more noticeable
Facial hair and hormone imbalances
In some cases, increased levels of testosterone are associated with polycystic ovary syndrome, but the balance between male and female hormones also changes with age.
As the menopause approaches, oestrogen levels fall so that the relative influence of normal low levels of testosterone hormone increases. Women usually start to notice a few stray, coarse hairs on their chin during their late-30s to early 40s and these slowly increase in number. By the age of 65, almost one in two women also have noticeable hair above their upper lip.
Genetic influences also play a role. In women with darker, coarser hair, excess facial and body hair is naturally more noticeable than in a woman with blonde, fine hair. If you are worried about the amount of hair you have on your face or body, do see your doctor who can check for hormonal imbalances.
The following methods can deal with even profuse, unwanted facial hair.
Use a magnifying mirror
A magnifying mirror is essential to accurately pinpoint and remove facial hair. If you haven’t used one before, you will be amazed at how much easier it makes to identify each individual stray hair, when standing in a good light (such as a brightly lit window).
I’ve found that hand-held mirrors with a magnification of x10 or x15 work best – those with a magnification of x20 are less easy to focus on individual hairs. Some come with stands and back lights, but it is much easier to use a simple, hand-held version that you can take to the window or other strong light source with you.
If you do nothing else after reading this feature, I urge you to try a hand-held magnifying mirror, which will transform your tweezing experience.
Tweezers for plucking excess hair
The best tweezers for plucking stray hairs are, without doubt, slant-ended Tweezermans. Don’t bother with round ended tweezers which are less effective at grasping hairs. Similarly, avoid pointed tweezers whose only benefit is in winkling out coiled, ingrowing hairs. If you choose to use pointed-ended tweezers, take care – they can damage the skin and trigger inflammation and infection.
A wide range of slant-ended Tweezerman tweezers are available. Full-length ones are easier to use and apply a good grip than mini slant tweezers. There is a vast colour range to suit all tastes. I’ve tried cheaper ones and ended up throwing them away as they were nowhere near as effective.
Bleaching and dissolving facial hair
Bleaching creams will lighten dark facial hairs so they are less visible, without removing them. This works best for fine, dark hairs that grow slowly. For coarser hairs that grow quickly, frequent repeat treatment is needed and you might as well invest the time in removing the hairs properly.
Depilatory creams dissolve away excess hair using a chemical reaction. The cream is left in place for the manufacturer’s recommended time, then removed (using a soft cloth) along with the hair. The chemical reaction can smell unpleasant, and the chemicals can cause irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin, so always patch test a small area before using.
Hair growth inhibitors for facial hair
Creams that inhibit hair growth sound like the ultimate solution but tend to work slowly, if at all. A prescription-only cream, called Vaniqa, contains eflornithine which blocks an enzyme (ornithine decarboxylase) needed for elongation of the hair shaft.
Vaniqa is applied twice daily and must be rubbed in thoroughly. You can apply cosmetics over the treated area after 5 minutes, but should not wash or cleanse the treated area for at least 4 hours.
The effectiveness of eflornithine was assessed in clinical trials involving almost 600 women, who used the cream for up to 24 weeks. Improvements were not noted until 8 weeks after starting treatment. At the end of the 6 months, only 6% of women were assessed by dermatologists as clear or almost clear of excess hair, 29% had a marked improvement, 35% were improved but 30% showed no improvement or were worse. This underlines the fact that everyone is different and responds to different treatments in different ways, partly depending on the gene variants you have inherited, but in this case I suspect the best results were seen in those who used the cream diligently, twice, every single day.
Vaniqa is only available on prescription, but other hair growth inhibitor creams are available on-line. These contain plant extracts and enzyme which may weaken new hair formation. While these creams may reduce hair growth, and ingrowing hairs, the evidence for their effectiveness is limited. These creams do not remove hair permanently but may discourage its regrowth, and are probably best used to support other hair removal methods.
Shaving facial hair
There’s currently a massive trend in shaving the fine, peach-like hair on the cheeks. This trend originated in Japan, where salons offer kao sori (shaved face) in which fine, downy cheek hair and dead skin cells are scraped from the face using a razor. This helps to promote a whiter, brighter, softer skin.
Facial shaving leaves you with a smooth surface for applying foundation, and can give your skin a more translucent clarity. You can just about get away with shaving hair on the upper lip, but I don’t advise shaving the stiffer, more bristly stray hairs that grow on the chin.
Despite the common myth, shaving does not cause hair to grow back thicker or more stubbly – it just feels that way, because shaving nicks off the finer hair tip to leave a blunt shaft that feels like stubble as it regrows.
Shaving is best avoided on coarser hairs on the female face, as it can cause razor burns, razor bumps and stubble regrowth quickly reappears.
Epilators for facial hair
While tweezers are great for removing a few stray hairs, it is easier and quicker to pluck multiple hairs together, with an epilator, if you experience a more profuse growth.
A facial epilator is essentially a device with numerous tweezers that can pluck lots of hairs quickly and efficiently. The simplest versions are like a coiled spring wand, or stick, which you roll over the face to trap and pluck unwanted hairs. These can be fiddly to use. I’ve found that electric/battery operated versions are much more effective.
Initially, epilating can prove uncomfortable but with regular use the nerve endings attached to each hair tend to become less sensitive.
Hot wire hair removal
A device that removes hair with a heated wire provides results that are similar to shaving. You pass the device (which includes an attachment for use on facial hair) over targeted skin four times, and buff the skin afterwards to reduce bristles.
I’ve not used this device myself as the reviews I’ve read are mostly disappointing. Users mention a smell of burning hair and prickly skin that is not stubble free. As with shaving, hair regrows. If you have used the no! no! please share your experience via the comments box below.
More permanent hair removal solutions
The above methods for removing unwanted facial hair are temporary solutions – the hair will grow back. The following methods are more permanent, as they inactivate hair follicles using pulses of electric current, heat or intense light. These treatments only destroy hairs that are in their active growth phase and usually two to five repeated treatments are necessary at 4-6 weekly intervals, to treat all hair follicles in the affected area. If hair does regrow from a treated hair follicle, it is generally finer and less bristly than before. Repeated treatments will solve the problem.
Electrolysis for facial hair
Electrolysis uses an electrical current to inactivate hair follicles. You apply a conductive gel, grasp a hair with tweezers, and activate the current. After a few seconds of a tingling feeling the treated hair becomes easy to pluck out. If a hair proves stubborn and it isn’t easy to remove, just zap the hair again.
Electrolysis is suitable for small areas such as the upper lip and chin, but can be time-consuming as each hair needs individual attention. Repeated treatments are needed to deal with follicles previously in the resting phase of their cycle. It is highly satisfying, however, and can clear even quite profuse hair growth with regular, initial daily treatment. You will soon notice that fewer hairs appear. Electrolysis can be used on any colour hair or skin.
This is my treatment of choice as it is cost-effective and simply works with little effort – it is almost fun to use.
A hand-held magnifying mirror is essential for best results, so you grasp each hair quickly and easily.
Each hair is removed during treatment, unlike with IPL or laser therapy (after which the hair takes a few days to fall out).
Electrolysis works on hair of any colour – including blonde, white and grey.
Intense pulsed light (IPL) for facial hair
Devices that emit a burst of intense pulsed light (IPL) can permanently inactivate hair follicles. The light is absorbed by the melanin pigment within the targetted hairs and passes down the hair shaft to cauterize the blood vessels that feed the hair follicle. This destroys the hair follicle through a process known as photothermolysis.
First, you need to shave the area – this allows light energy to travel down the truncated hair shaft more efficiently. AFter shaving, you apply a conducting gel, place the head of the device over the area, and activate the light pulse. Wear safety glasses during treatment to protect your eyes.
After the first treatment, it takes around a week for hair to begin falling out. Once the hair falls out, it doesn’t usually regrow. Further sessions are needed to treat hairs at different stages of their growth cycle, but most areas need less than ten treatments to become permanently hair free.
Some devices have small heads that only treat small areas, such as stray chin or upper lip hairs. Others have larger heads and can treat 6cm of hair-bearing skin with each flash, making them ideal for other parts of the body.
These machines are highly effective. Although expensive, they are cheaper than having a course of similar treatments in a clinic, and can be used in the comfort and convenience of your own home.
IPL works best on dark hair. Some devices are powerful enough to treat red, grey and light blonde (but not white) hair. Mild stinging and burning sensations can occur. IPL devices should not be used on dark or sun-tanned skin which will also absorb the energy and may burn.
Laser therapy for facial hair
Laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) therapy uses a form of light that is absorbed by melanin pigment in dark hair to heat and destroy the hair follicle. The darker the hair, the better but it cannot be used on very dark skin which will also attract the laser energy.
Wear safety glasses during treatment to protect your eyes. As with IPL, you get best results if you first shave the area so light can travel down the hair shaft more effectively. Apply a conductive gel, place the head of the device over the hair follicles and activate the laser.
Mild stinging and burning sensations can occur. As with other treatments, laser treatments only destroy hair that is in its active growth phase, and two to five repeated treatments are usually necessary at 4-6 weekly intervals to become hair free. Laser therapy works on dark hair as it is the dark pigment that absorbs laser energy. Laser treatment does not work on blonde or white hair.
Facial hair removal checklist
- If you only have a few coarse unwanted facial hairs, these are usually readily controlled by plucking with good quality tweezers.
- Use a magnifying mirror of x10 to x15 to make this easier.
- If you have more than a few hairs, an epilator may be more time effective.
- Dark hairs that are annoyingly visible, rather than coarse can be bleached, or dissolved every few weeks using creams designed for use on the face.
- It’s best to avoid shaving hairs (except just before IPL or laser threatments) as this just cuts off the finer tips, so the thicker shaft grows back feeling ‘stubbly’.
- Hair can be permanently treated with electrolysis, intense pulsed light (IPL) or laser devices which are available for home use. Always follow safety instructions.
- If hair growth seems profuse, or is accompanied by acne, seek medical advice as you may need investigation and treatment for an hormonal imbalance.
- Vaniqa hair inhibiting cream is available on medical prescription. Plant-based hair growth inhibiting creams and serums are available on-line but their effectiveness is unknown.
If you have any questions, have tried any of the above products, or found other female facial hair removal products helpful, please add a comment below. Thanks.