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Removing Unwanted Hair

Unwanted hair is common on the upper lip, chin, cheeks, back, legs, fingers, lower abdomen, bikini line, feet, and toes. Excess hair in these locations can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics; certain medications such as hormones or steroids; or even medical abnormalities, such as higher androgen (male hormone) levels or conditions of the endocrine system, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Hair removal strategies

There are several ways to remove your unwanted hair, including over-the-counter methods and those administered under a doctor’s care. With most of these methods, the hair eventually grows back.

Shaving

Shaving is a popular method of hair removal. It removes hair down to just below the surface of the skin. It does not cause the hair to grow back thicker. How often you shave is determined by your individual hair growth rate. In the re-growth phase, the shaved areas may have a rough texture. This method of hair removal is appropriate for most body areas. Risks include: ingrown hairs, skin irritation, the spread of viral warts or superficial infection after cuts.

Plucking

Plucking is performed with tweezers or thin threads called “threading.”It is a safe and inexpensive method of hair removal for smaller hair bearing areas. Plucking can be uncomfortable and time consuming but may be worthwhile for the few hairs you would like to remove on the eyebrows or face. Plucked hairs can take up to 6-8 weeks to regrow. You should not use this hair removal method for large areas because it can cause ingrown hairs or scarring.

Depilation

Depilation is the use of a chemical to dissolve the hair shaft. Hair removal creams are painless and fast-acting. They are most effective after a bath or shower and should not be applied over small cuts or sunburned skin. Hair regrowth typically occurs in about 2 weeks. Be careful when selecting hair removal creams over-the-counter as some are formulated specifically for unwanted pubic hair and others are for facial hair. Risks include: superficial chemical burns or allergic reactions. Treating a small test area is advisable before starting widespread use of any hair removal cream.

Hot waxing

Waxing can be performed at home or by a professional in a salon. It involves applying a layer of wax to the area where hair removal is desired. When the wax is pulled off, the trapped hairs are pulled out. It can be painful, messy and hairs may break off during the procedure leaving a few behind. It can be used on eyebrows, upper lip, back, bikini areas and legs. As long as the hairs are removed with the bulb intact, one can expect similar results to plucking. Risks include: superficial burns, infection or stripping of the first layer of skin (rare).

Laser hair removal

This is one of the longest-lasting methods and generally requires 4 to 6 treatments spaced 4 to 6 weeks apart. The laser beam or a light pulse works to destroy the hair bulb. Several different wavelengths of laser or intense pulsed light (IPL) are available for hair removal including 1064nm Nd-YAG, 755nm Alexandrite and 810nm diode. Your doctor or health care professional will help you decide which one is right for you. Laser hair removal is most effective on light skinned people with dark hair, however, it can be used on darker skinned individuals. Risks include post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots) in previously treated areas. Overall success is variable depending on hair location, skin and hair color, the stage of hair growth, laser type and treatment plan.

Electrolysis

There are two primary hair removal methods of electrolysis: galvanic and thermolytic.

  • Galvanic: chemically destroys hair follicle; oldest method used, but slow and requires several treatments.
  • Thermolytic: uses heat to destroy the hair follicle; fasters and less tissue injury.

In either case, it is important to find a professional who is highly trained and knowledgeable with this hair removal method. Electrolysis can be painful - topical numbing creams can be used to help reduce the pain. It can also cause redness, scarring and dark spots over time in the areas that were previously treated. Patients with pacemakers should not undergo electrolysis. Be sure to tell your doctor if you’ve ever had a cold sore or fever blister– you may need to be pre-medicated in order to prevent an outbreak after treatment.

Oral medications

If none of these hair removal methods seem to address your particular problems, ask your doctor about oral medications to inhibit hair growth.

Pharmacologic options

There is a topical cream called Vaniqa® (eflornithine 13.9%), recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the removal of facial hair in women. This cream works by inhibiting an enzyme that is important for normal hair growth, but must be prescribed by a physician and used on a continuous basis. Studies show that when the cream is discontinues, the hair returns to pretreatment levels after about 8 weeks.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/12/2012...#11031


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