Guest post by Charlotte Footman
I have been a qualified electrologist for over 25 years, practising in West London and specialising in treating women with excessive hair growth problems arising from hormonal disorders and in particular Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. I have over 20 years of experience working within the NHS, formerly in dermatology at The Hammersmith Hospital and currently consulting at St.Mary’s Hospital, Paddington where I work alongside the endocrine and gynaecology specialists as well as treating patients at my practice in Marylebone.
How to manage excessive hair growth
Many women with PCOS experience excessive hair growth. For some, this can mean a heavier growth than normal across the body with thicker, coarser hair in the usual places – legs, arms, bikini-line etc but for others, it can mean extra growth in other areas including; stomach, back, chest, breasts and commonly on the face.
Dealing with excessive hair, where ever it is, can be a frustrating, time consuming and often expensive business. Many women enlist the help of a family member, friend or beauty therapist but for many, it’s a hidden problem that can have a really negative effect on self-esteem and can, for some, be really distressing, especially if professional treatment is financially prohibitive.
COVID-19 has changed all our lives unexpectedly and has affected us all in many different ways. For some, it may be a relief not to go out of the house and have to deal with hair removal problems as much. For others, it may be just as difficult as always, or more so, having to stay inside and be in close proximity to family or housemates and having to hide a hair growth problem.
Your hair growth might be considerably worse during these times, perhaps your PCOS symptoms are exacerbated during times of stress and anxiety. Being locked down might mean turning to convenience foods or whatever is available and not being able to follow good dietary habits, and weight gain may be causing your hair growth to increase. Perhaps getting access to prescription medications is proving difficult, or it might be that your professional treatment has been suspended during these unprecedented times. There are a lot of things to worry about during this virus pandemic but unless you are living with PCOS, the difficulty of dealing with symptoms may not be easy for others to understand.
So how to cope?
This advice is relevant whether you are seeking help for PCOS related hair growth for the first time or if you are struggling to manage your hair at home or between professional treatments. The first thing to remember is that there are different rules for different types of hair.
Body hair differs from facial hair and there is a difference between the fine downy hair ( which should always be left alone) and that which grows in ‘abnormal’ areas or that has become thicker or more coarse due to hormonal influence. Body hair is generally easier to deal with, although there can be large areas to be treated, shaving waxing and hair removal creams are relatively easy to use and are generally the norm for most women, with or without PCOS. Whilst these methods are only temporary measures, and the hair will grow back, it will provide some days or weeks between regrowth.
So let’s concentrate on facial hair
For many women, excessive facial hair can be one of the most distressing symptoms of PCOS. Not least because it is a very physical, visible symptom but often the most taboo. Facial hair for women can be particularly difficult to live with – especially in this world of unrealistic Instagram type perfection that we are constantly under pressure from, but also because it is the one symptom that can steal away the feeling of femininity. So it’s totally understandable that there is a need and desire to remove facial hair.
However, it is really important to know – the more you remove that hair, the more you will encourage it to grow and the worse it will become unless you are having a professional permanent treatment such as Electrolysis, IPL or LASER. So only remove your hair if absolutely necessary.
How you choose to do that really depends on the area to treat, how much hair there is and how coarse it is. Waxing, plucking and threading and using epilators are all variations of the same process – pulling the hair out by its root. Whilst this might be preferable for body hair and for longer results between regrowth – it can make facial hair worse.
Shaving is an option but one that still isn’t ideal. Whilst there is no scientific proof that shaving increases hair growth, we all know that it can exacerbate growth. It might be the repetitive action of a blade on the skin over time that stimulates growth but certainly removing the hair at skin level by blunting it will make the hair feel more coarse and leave a stubbly effect. Where possible, for the face, it is more advisable to use a hair removal cream, or simply trim hair with small scissors. Bleaching is another safe option as these methods don’t affect the root of the hair, although bleaching obviously doesn’t physically remove the hair.
Treating facial hair can be fiddly and complicated and following the above advice isn’t always an option if hair growth is severe.
If you have been having a professional treatment and that has had to be suspended, removing hair by the roots can negate some of the treatment you might have had. So in the first instance, it would be a good idea to get in touch with your practitioner for advice specific to your particular skin/ hair needs.
Otherwise, try to leave the hair alone as much as possible and only remove it when absolutely necessary. Whilst it’s understandable that you just want that hair gone by any means possible, it’s really key to look after your skin. So make sure that whatever method you use, that you treat your skin, gently and with care. Many of the typical hair removal methods can cause the skin to be spotty, sore or irritated and this can sometimes draw attention to the skin more than the hair itself.
If shaving, an electric trimmer or foil shaver is preferable to using razor blades. Whilst they might not produce the smoothest results, they are gentler and more hygienic (if cleaned well).
Home LASER devices have some merit and certainly can be useful when professional treatment isn’t available, definitely helpful in managing hair regrowth, but have yet to be proven to provide the same results as a salon / professional treatment and should always be used with caution.
Vaniqa is a prescription-only cream medication that can help suppress hair growth. If you can get a GP to prescribe it, you must ensure that it’s used exactly as the instructions suggest as it’s crucial to the cream’s efficacy. It is not a hair removal cream – it is used alongside removal and can significantly reduce regrowth.
Waxing, plucking, shaving etc can often also cause in-growing hairs and distort the hair follicles meaning the skin can become more problematic and marks and scarring can worsen over time. So some top tips to ensure you keep your skin as healthy as possible:
- Skin should always be thoroughly clean and free of makeup before removing hair.
- Make sure your hands are also clean – not just the area to treat.
- Always remove hair in the same direction that it grows so as not to distort the skin when shaving or plucking.
- Stretch and support sensitive areas and loose skin.
- Use a soothing antiseptic following the removal and keep skin as clean as possible.
- Use a fine layer of talc on the skin before waxing to see hair better and reduce sticky accidents.
- Apply wax with the direction of hair growth and pull off against.
- Keep hands away from the skin, don’t pick or squeeze at in-grown hairs or spots.
- Always clean tweezers/ razors etc between use – sterilise if possible.
- Change pillowcases, face towels, scarves or anything that comes into contact with the skin, as often as possible.
- Exfoliate regularly as it helps to deep clean the skin and smooths the surface to allow hairs to grow through the skin freely.
- Use nourishing moisturisers to encourage skin healing and prevent scarring.
- Allow skin time to heal between hair removal times.
Removing facial and body hair can become quite obsessive and it’s common for women to make it (even if really annoying) a daily ritual. It’s really important to maintain a perspective so that your hair growth remains only a physical problem and doesn’t take over psychologically. Remember – other people are rarely aware of your hair growth in the same way you are. Nobody can see your hair the way that you can feel it. Nobody sees your hair through a magnifying mirror – which is often how you view it. Relax a little, it’s never as bad as you think it might be.
So in these strange times that we are all experiencing if you can possibly help it, try and leave hair growth alone. If you really need to remove it, look after your skin and take time for it to recover. When COVID-19 has been beaten and life returns to normal, wherever possible, seek professional advice and treatment for the best long term solution to excessive hair growth.