A problem that keeps growing back:
How do you deal with chin hairs? When I pluck them, I get breakouts, and now there are too many to pluck and it looks like a prickly beard if I shave them.
I’ll tell you how I deal with them: not well. If I happen to touch my face and feel a chin hair breaking through, I can’t focus on anything else until I’m in front of a mirror with a pair of tweezers. And if it’s too short to get hold of? Well, clear my schedule because productivity is going to suffer until that sucker grows long enough to extract. I imagine that feeling must be multiplied for you, so we need a better solution — stat.
If plucking and shaving are out of the question, the remaining options are depilatory creams, waxing, laser hair removal, and electrolysis. Since your skin breaks out after you pluck, it likely won’t respond well to the chemicals in depilatory products or the irritation waxing can cause, so I would suggest laser hair removal or electrolysis. But before we get into the details, it’s worth considering an appointment with a dermatologist.
Chin hairs — both the vellus (peach fuzz) and terminal (darker and thicker) varieties — are perfectly normal. But if the hairs appeared rather suddenly or the number keeps growing, “it’s worth getting checked out,” says dermatologist Oyetewa Oyerinde, M.D., the director of the Skin of Color Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine. “In women, there’s a condition called PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, and one of the symptoms is hair that grows in more of a male pattern, so that would be the most common medical cause. But I’d want to get blood work because there are other causes, too.”
Option No. 1: Laser Hair Reduction
If you don’t have an underlying medical condition, an appointment with a dermatologist is still worth your time because they’re the experts on laser hair removal, which should be called laser hair reduction, according to Oyerinde. The laser targets pigment in your hair and delivers energy that damages the follicle, but it doesn’t destroy the follicle so it’s not exactly permanent. “It can take multiple sessions to see a reduction, and you often need touch-ups to keep the hair from growing back,” she says. One laser session for the chin will probably cost between $50 and $250, depending on where you live, and most people will see a significant reduction with three to six sessions, spaced several weeks apart to account for your growth cycle (hair must be in the growth phase to be targeted by the laser, and only 70 percent of hairs are growing at any given time, according to the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery).
If you go this route, there are a few things to remember. The lasers used for hair reduction work by differentiating between the pigment in the hair and the pigment in the surrounding skin. “I see a lot of patients with darker skin types who say they were told by another doctor or specialist that they’re not a candidate for laser, but it’s just not true,” says Oyerinde. “Theoretically, a patient with light skin and dark hair is the best candidate, but there are different lasers and different settings. So you just need to go to someone who has experience and knows which laser and how to adjust the settings and treatment based on your skin and hair type.”
There can also be side effects, such as redness, itching, or folliculitis. “These are all normal,” says Christina Tewfik, a physician’s assistant at the New York City location of the medical spa SkinSpirit. The procedure can also be uncomfortable, but it should never be extremely painful. If it is, or if it ever feels different from a previous session, ask your practitioner to stop. “It’s possible the machine needs recalibrating,” says Oyerinde. If there’s a problem with the machine or your operator is not experienced, you can end up with burns, scars, or skin lightening. In some rare cases, laser treatments may even trigger more hair growth. “It’s not common and we’re still not sure why it happens to some people, but when it does, we need to adjust,” says Oyerinde, who suggests going to a board-certified dermatologist for laser hair removal. “We have data to show that for almost all cosmetic procedures, going to a board-certified dermatologist reduces the risk of complications.”
Option No. 2: Electrolysis
Your other option — and the only truly permanent type of hair removal — is electrolysis, a procedure that involves inserting a tiny wire into the follicle to deliver an electrical current that destroys it. If you’re interested in electrolysis, you should look for an electrologist or aesthetician experienced in the treatment (many dermatologists aren’t trained in it, Oyerinde says).
Since electrolysis treats each hair individually whereas lasers treat multiple hairs simultaneously, the number of sessions you’ll need to remove your chin hairs will depend on how many there are. But the good news is that the procedure works equally well on all hair and skin types, including light-colored hairs, which lasers cannot target. An electrolysis session can cost between $25 and $100, according to RealSelf, but it can take numerous sessions to treat your entire chin. “When electrolysis is done well, it doesn’t tend to have a ton of complications,” Oyerinde says. The most common complaint is irritation, and the treatment may cause bumps or a rash. Oyerinde has also seen patients who develop post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation after the procedure, but that can often be treated with topical products.
Not an Option: At-Home “Lasers”
As you look into a solution for your chin hairs, you’ll probably come across the at-home hair-removal devices. To be honest with you, I’ve had readers write in asking me about these devices before, and every time I research them and talk to the experts, I end up deciding I can’t, in good conscience, recommend them. This case is no different.
“I can’t support at-home laser hair removal,” says Oyerinde. “First of all, many of these so-called lasers actually use IPL, or intense pulsed light.” In a professional setting, IPL can be used to reduce hair growth, but, she says, “generally speaking, it’s dangerous on darker skin types.” Even if you don’t have dark skin, the devices cannot be calibrated as carefully as professional machines, which means they’re not as effective at hair reduction and they can cause complications. Oyerinde says she has seen burns, skin lightening, and scarring caused by DIY hair removal.
So if I were you, I would stay away from the at-home gadgets and look into laser hair removal and electrolysis. After I spoke to Oyerinde, I started thinking about electrolysis for my chin. It may not be as quick and easy as laser treatments, but it’s truly permanent and its use on all hair colors and skin types is a huge benefit. The American Electrology Association has a tool to help you find a practitioner in your area, but if anyone reading this has an electrologist they want to recommend to Cassie (or me!), let us know in the comments.