Hairy legs can be hidden when stubble becomes a problem; not so with unwanted facial hair. If you’ve had it with your razor and realize that hair bleaches just lighten the problem without actually getting rid of it, you might be in the market for a longer-lasting solution. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of the latest options for getting permanent and close-to-permanent results from hair removal. Your budget and pain tolerance will dictate which hair removal option is best for you.
Laser Hair Removal
Though there are many ways to remove unwanted hair, Miami dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, has three words for the best long-term approach: “Laser hair removal.” Laser hair removal is procedure that uses a high-frequency beam of light to destroy hair follicles, causing the hair to fall out. The laser targets darker hair pigment; as a result, it is most successful on people with fair skin and dark unwanted hairs. A recent study of laser hair removal in Iranian women who had four procedures eight weeks apart showed that 75 to 85 percent were still hair-free 18 months later. Although spas and boutique salons may advertise laser hair removal services, it is best to visit a dermatologist’s office for the procedure. Complications are rare, but you want the best outcome for your time and money.
Pro: Laser hair removal provides long-lasting, possibly permanent results and is effective on dark hairs, the ones that are usually the most bothersome. Hair might grow back, but, on the flip side, you might stay hair-free for months or even years.
Con: Laser hair removal is expensive and, depending on how much hair you want removed, you may need many treatments. It might also be painful. Temporary side effects of the procedure may include redness or swelling of the skin, discolored skin (darker or lighter), blistering, crusting or scabbing.
Hair Removal: Electrolysis
Electrolysis was the first method to provide permanent results, though some hairs may need to be zapped twice to be permanently removed. This procedure removes each hair individually with a jolt of electricity applied to the hair follicle through a needle. Because it is a slow process, it is used mainly on unwanted facial hair. Look for a licensed professional; the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) warns against using home electrolysis kits.
Pro: Because the goal of electrolysis is to permanently destroy each hair follicle, one by one, results are considered permanent.
Con: This process can be extremely time-consuming and expensive, with multiple sessions required. It can also be painful, with side effects similar to laser hair removal.
Hair Removal: Buffing Pads
It’s hard to escape the TV commercials for Smooth Away, a brand of abrasive pad that slips under your palm and promise to whisk away hair from anywhere on your body. The same type of pad is available on a handheld appliance, like the Conair Hair Removal System, that does the rotating for you. Because the pads exfoliate as they pull out the hairs, skin will look smoother, too.
Pro: This is a relatively inexpensive and seemingly painless system to quickly remove unwanted hair on your own at home; over time and with repeated use, you may actually experience less hair regrowth.
Con: Hair does grow back, so you’ll need to buff about every two weeks.
Hair Removal: Waxing
For larger areas such as the back, chest, and legs, waxing is an affordable option. You can use a home wax kit if you have the grit to do it yourself, or you can get yourself professionally waxed at a salon or day spa.
Pro: This method offers longer-lasting results than shaving, up to a few weeks; some people may notice lighter hair regrowth after repeated waxing.
Con: Waxing can be very painful although there are creams to help numb the skin before the procedure and experienced practitioners work fast. The AAFP doesn't recommend this method for women with hirsutism, a condition that causes excessive hair growth, because it can cause skin irritation.
Hair Removal: Eflornithine
This active ingredient is intended to slow down facial hair growth, though it does not eliminate it. Eflornithine (Vaniqa) is available by prescription only and needs to be used every day.
Pro: This Rx cream reduces the growth of facial hair.
Con: Since it doesn’t eliminate facial hair, you’ll still need to pluck, shave, or tweeze the diminished growth. Eflornithine also needs to be used indefinitely. You may not see results for a few weeks, and acne is a possible side effect.
Although you’ll find that the more permanent the results, the more expensive the treatment (and the more of them you’ll need), these options offer real solutions for an annoying problem. You may soon be saying goodbye to your trusty razor and shaving cream along with your unwanted hair.