Last year, I took advantage of a business trip to South Africa to go Great White shark cage diving off Dyer Island. It was one of the most terrifyingly awesome things I have ever done, and even though I peed in my wetsuit when I first saw the shark, I emerged victorious with a flattering snap shot of that rendered me as close to Laura Croft as I’ll ever get. (Side note: scuba suits are essentially full body Spanx).
I was about to hit “share” on Facebook, until I noticed a thick halo of what looked like baby chick hair around my jaw.
I had “The Fuzz”.
Like it or not, extra facial hair is one of those subtle billboards that tell the world you’re over 40 and that you’ve got peri-menopausal hormones circulating. The Fuzz is divided into two camps; there’s the errant stray “hag hair” that seemingly appears out of nowhere. Then there’s the downy, thick rug of peach fuzz that grows on your sideburns, lower jaw and mustache, which I was saddled with.
In an act of desperation, I went to Completely Bare to get my lady beard waxed. They asked if I used Retinol. I said I did. They hesitated. I back peddled and said “but it’s been ages…like weeks since I touched the stuff”, looking at the floor knowing I used it just the other night. 5 brusque yanks of wax later, I felt my skin tear in searing pain. The waxer looked at me like “busted” as she applied the cortisone cream (with judgmental I might add).
A few hours later, my tear had evolved into an angry red mutton-chop. The next morning, my dermatologist handed me a prescription strength ointment and a scolding. He also told me that I was lucky that it didn’t seem deep enough to scar because he’s seen a lot of waxing disasters result in permanent damage.
OK universe, lesson learned. Thou shalt not wax my face if I use a retinol, whether it’s prescription or over the counter!
So what’s a girl to do to Buzz The Fuzz?
1) Laser hair removal is a fantastic option, and has essentially replaced electrolysis, but, lasers only work if your hair is darker than your skin. This leaves me out because my Fuzz is blonde. If you’re laser-able and have the cash (think upwards of $1000), the best lasers for hair removal are the diode, ruby, alexandrite, and Nd:YAG laser, as well as intense pulsed light (IPL) devises. While your doctor will help decide what’s right for you, a lot of that choice depends on your skin tone. The diode (LightSheer Duet being the latest technology) is reportedly the most effective hair removal laser for lighter skin, where the Nd:YAG has better results on darker skin.
Lasers are serious business though (which will be addressed in a later post) and should be approached with the same seriousness you would give to injectables or plastic surgery. Who actually lasers you matters, and there is just as much that can go wrong as there is that can go right in the hands of the wrong person.
Now, for the rest of us unlaser-ables, if you do not use retinol:
2) Waxing. A good option because it lasts about 6 weeks and will weaken the follicles over time. Before I used retinol, my preference for removing my slight ‘stache was to visit a salon that had specialized wax for the face. I usually went to Kimara Ahnert in NYC and they did a great job, but weren’t open when I had my mutton-chop freak out (about $70 for cheeks and mustache). Bliss Poetic Waxing Kit ($48 blissoworld.com) offers a DIY version, but I felt it was more trouble than it was worth. I wound up with sticky blue wax all over the apartment and found myself too chicken to rip the strip. Bliss also makes strips which I haven’t tried, but seems to cut out the mess factor.
For those of use who do use retinol (and if you don’t, you should because it’s the stuff dreams are made of):
3) Threading. This is an ancient form of hair removal with roots in Indian, Arabian and Egyptian cultures. Hey, if it’s good enough for Cleopatra, it’s good enough for me, right? So I gave it a whirl at the Shohba Hair Removal Spa in NYC (about $30). The upside is that it’s affordable and gave me about 6 weeks without The Fuzz. They also claim that like waxing, over time your hair starts to grow back finer, if at all. The downside is, it hurts like a motherf**ker, despite their claim that it’s less painful than waxing. To wit, I had this done right after I got Botox, which felt like a massage in comparison. Still, I’ve found threading to be the most effective way of keeping the fuzz at bay so I’ll pony up some Advil and a shot of tequila next time.
4) Olay Smooth Finish Facial Hair Removal Duo, $25. This is a nice DIY option, but it’s basically Nair for the face repackaged with Olay’s skin care creds. I found that it works best if I keep it on a little over the 10 minutes they suggest. The risk with leaving it on longer is that it makes the skin temporarily red, and I imagine it would be a bit of trial and error for those with exceptionally sensitive skin. Fine if you’re in a pinch, but the results only last for about 2 weeks, and it’s not that cheap.
5) Dermaplaning. I just tried this for the first time last week (note that you must stop using retinol 10 days earlier). I don’t care what my wonderful aesthetician says; I think dermaplaning is really shaving in disguise. Here’s the deal; a certified aesthetician removes (shaves) the hair and top layer of skin (which also provides nice heavy exfoliation) with a surgical blade and will insist you stay very, very still. It didn’t hurt at all and temporarily removed the hair, but during the procedure my blood pressure was thru the roof because I’ve never had a blade so frigging close to my throat. It was very Jack the Ripper for me. This isn’t cheap either (about $75 on up) and the hair grew back in less than 2 weeks.
6) Shaving. This is a thoroughly legitimate option and counter to urban legend, you don’t grow thicker, darker hair back in its place. I’ve been tempted to try this, but just can’t shake the image of me with shaving foam all over my face and dragging a razor down the side of it like my Dad used to do. That’s my problem though, and shouldn’t stop you from trying this. A lot of beauty experts recommend the Tinkle Eyebrow Razor $5 sallybeauty.com.
7) Vaniqa. This is a prescription cream that you put on your face in the morning and in the evening to slow the growth of new hair. It does not remove existing hair, which is why most doctors recommend it in addition to other forms of hair removal. I tinkered with the idea of trying this out, but chose not to. For one I didn’t want to have yet another to apply product in my already complicated skin care regimen (serums, moisturizer, sunscreen, retinol, etc), and the hair grows back once you stop using it. However, women with extreme cases of facial hair (for instance with polycystic ovarian syndrome) have found Vaniqa incredibly helpful.
In sum, after 2 years of trial and error, my verdict is that threading is the best option for my downy peach face. It hurts, but it works, is affordable and I only have to go every other month. In a pinch, I think I may just buckle down and try the Tinkle razor.