Let's just say you are around the age of menopause and begin to notice a few stray hairs growing where they don't belong.
Then, seemingly overnight, your face becomes fertile ground for hair, sprouting an abundance from ear to chin to upper lip.
Fueling that growth: Changing hormone levels (surprise!) of estrogen and androgen. "High on the list of menopausal characteristics is an increase in facial hair," says David Shafer, MD. Shafer, a New York City certified plastic surgeon, has a burgeoning practice where he treats a diverse clientele, including many menopausal women with this precise concern.
While it might be true that we grow wiser as we grow older, but no one wants to grow hair where it doesn't belong. Let's keep the peach fuzz where it belongs—on the fruit.
Here are some wise solutions to turn a hairy issue into a manageable one.
For when you want to tackle it yourself
Tweeze. An old wives' tale: A plucked hair will make more hairs grow and grow in thicker to boot. But this is true: While plucking will temporarily remove stray hairs, it can cause ingrown hairs or folliculitis (acne-like bumps).
Bleach. If your hair is dark and coarse, bleaching can make it less noticeable. Be prepared to stick to a weekly or biweekly schedule to stay ahead of the game.
Wax. A good option at-home (or in-salon) for some, but if your skin is too thin (skin can thin during menopause), it might cause it to tear and bleed. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) also warns to avoid this method if your skin is sunburned or very sensitive, and if you use creams containing retinoids, avoid them two to five days before waxing. Waxing will give you one to three weeks of hair-free skin.
Shave. While it might not seem "ladylike," why not give it a try? At least we know it's an effective way to whisk the hairs away. Rumor has it that Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor both shaved their faces, and their skin was beautiful because of it. (Shaving is exfoliating without the grittiness, encouraging new cells to the surface of your skin.) Consider one of these products from Panasonic, Wahl or Dermaflash or many others on the market. And don't believe the rumor that shaving will make facial hair grow back darker and thicker—it won't. Shaving is also known as "dermaplaning." Read more about Shaving Face: The Truth About Facial Hair.
Remove. Depilatory gels and creams break down the chemical bond in the hair follicle, thus weakening them so they can then be rubbed away. But use caution if your skin is sensitive (they can irritate or burn), and if you're looking for long-term results you're out of luck: at most, you'll get a week or two.
Prescribe. A prescription known as eflornithine (Vaniqua), a cream that is applied topically, can slow the growth of facial hair. But the hair won't slow down overnight. It can take up to eight weeks to see results.
Ignore. Some women aren't bothered by facial hair, or it's so pale that it isn't that visible. If this is you, that's great! You'll save a lot of time and money.
Let a professional do it
Electrolysis. This procedure (which isn't used much anymore) destroys the hair follicle using a chemical or thermal injury. Because each follicle is targeted individually and the procedure must be done weekly, it can be costly and time-consuming. The other possible downside is that it could leave you with larger pores.
Dermaplaning. Yes, you can do it at home, but many medical practices to this, too. There are many ways to customize dermaplaning, explains Shafer. "Fun add-ons or combination treatments may include masks, boosters or lasers to help boost skin clarity, texture and discoloration."
Laser. A laser is used to damage the hair follicle and, in turn, slow hair growth. The AAD says to be wary of any business that claims laser will work on blond, white, gray or red hair—it won't. Yet, it can work on all skin types (in the past, people with dark skin were discouraged from having it), "as long as there's a contrast between your skin and hair color." The caveat: Darker-skin individuals are more prone to burns and hyperpigmentation, so make sure the person treating you has experience with darker skin tones.
Although laser hair removal is permanent on most areas of the body, the exception is the face, which has a different cycle of growth. Multiple sessions are required to target all the hair follicles while they're in the growing phase, says Shafer.
Note: Laser devices sold for at-home use cannot be used for facial hair; they're for below-the-neck areas only.