Dispelling the myths about increased facial hair as we approach menopause
As if we weren’t dealing with enough changes as we approach menopause, do we really have to endure increased coarse facial hair? If you are one of the thousands of women who find new coarse hair growth on your chin and face, know you are not alone. Many women experience this and it can be a pretty “hairy” predicament. If you’ve thought this was a taboo subject or worried that there may be something wrong with you, rest assured. It is more common than you think. While it may not be pleasant, it’s a part of menopause and it can be managed pretty easily.
So what causes these unsightly chin and face hairs to start cropping up?
Let’s start with the basics. There are two types of facial hair. Vellus hair is that short, soft, barely visible hair that children and women have over most of their bodies. Terminal hair is the longer, darker, thicker, strands that are more associated with male facial hair. The reason some women start to experience more terminal hair during menopause has to do with hormones and when levels change, effects on the body happen.
At SeeMe, we often talk about the “estrogen cliff.” We call it a “cliff” as it truly feels like our bodies change almost overnight—like our hormones just drop into thin air. You are not imagining things. As we approach menopause, the production of estrogen declines causing the balance with testosterone to become askew. While women do not produce a lot of testosterone, the change in balance between estrogen and testosterone can be enough to trigger increased growth of terminal hair on the face. With that change, many women start to see courser darker hair springing up on their upper lip, chin and jaw line.
How can we deal with this furry predicament? While we expected some changes in our skin as we age, increased facial hair can leave us feeling like we are losing our feminity and attractiveness. So, what can we do about facial hair growth as we approach menopause? You can choose to do nothing at all if it doesn’t bother you. There is nothing dangerous or harmful happening to your body. However, many of us are bothered by the course hair and are looking for the best way to minimize or eliminate it.
So let’s go there. There are many ways to remove terminal hair:
- Extraction: This is exactly what it sounds like—pulling the hair out at the root. These methods include waxing, plucking, and threading. Waxing pulls all the hair out at once, but can be too painful and costly for some. Plucking is easy and free but is slow and tedious, making it hard to keep up with for some. Threading involves doubled thread pulled tight and rolled over the face which is quicker than plucking but requires the help of a professional. Many people think that extracting hairs by any of these methods will cause hairs to grow back courser and darker, but this is a myth. Just like when your eyebrows are plucked and grow back, terminal face hair can continue to grow and need to be removed over and over again.
- Creams and prescriptions: There are many over the counter “depilatory creams” on the market. You may have tried these on your legs in starting in the 80’s if you wore “short shorts.” If you have, one of the things you probably remember is the smell. These creams have improved over the years and are less “fragrant,” but some women are sensitive to the chemicals that break down the hair. Always do a small test somewhere else on your body to check for any reaction so you don’t end up with a painful red rash on your face. You could also see your dermatologist for a prescription hair minimization cream, but these can be expensive and have to be used continuously or the hair grows back.
- Laser. During a laser treatment, a trained professional will use a device to pulse concentrated light into hair follicles. The dark pigment in the follicles absorb the light and the hair is destroyed. Unfortunately, this means it only works on darker facial hair and is ineffective on blond or gray hairs. Laser treatments are fast and effective, and most patients will have permanent hair loss after several treatments. Laser treatment is expensive, but may be worth it to have a more permanent solution.
- Electrolysis. Electrolysis is another type of permanent hair removal technique that is done by a professional. It uses shortwave radio frequencies in hair follicles to stop new hair from growing. Like laser treatments, you will need several follow up sessions to see a permanent benefit. Unlike laser, electrolysis only treats one hair at a time and can be expensive, painful and time consuming. The major benefit of electrolysis is that unlike laser it is effective on blond and gray hairs.
- Shaving. Last but not least, let’s tackle what is perhaps the easiest, most inexpensive and painless way of removing unwanted facial hair. Many women reject the idea of shaving their faces because it feels masculine. However, this can easily and quickly be worked into your shower routine and is highly effective when your hairs are soft and wet. There are also several inexpensive electric facial hair trimmers that are small and feminine looking. You can even carry one in your purse for when you discover that emergency offending hair you had not seen during your morning routine. And FYI, hair doesn’t grow back coarser after shaving, either.
When might facial hair be a sign of something more serious? As we said, the vast majority of facial hair is harmless and perfectly normal. In a few instances it can signal a more serious problem. If it’s excessive or accompanied by other changes like fatigue, pelvic pain, high blood pressure or excessive weight gain it’s a good idea to discuss these changes with your doctor.