Hair Removal for Grownups

A graying bikini line, increasingly sensitive skin and “hag” hairs that appear overnight all make getting rid of unwanted fuzz—an already tiresome chore—more complex. So we asked pros how to smooth things out safely. Read on for their age-appropriate tips

by Genevieve Monsma
Photograph: Yasu + Junko

1. You’ve got: stray “goat” or “hag” hairs
As we age, we can blame a spike in testosterone for those irritating strays that crop up on our chins, cheeks, upper lips and even ears. And if they seem to appear overnight, well, that’s because they often do. “The production of those strays is hormonally mediated, so they can grow very rapidly and literally pop out in a matter of hours,” says Jeanine Downie, MD, a dermatologist based in Montclair, New Jersey. If your hag hairs (some of us deal with one recurrent stray; others get clusters) are darker than the color of your skin and very persistent, a few pros suggest ponying up for a series of laser treatments. Keep in mind, though, that because this growth is hormone driven, the hair may take longer to eliminate (e.g., 12 treatments versus eight—at $100 and up a pop) than growth elsewhere. If that seems a bit costly, experts say there is no reason not to pluck or shave. It gets the job done, at least temporarily. For shavers, Gervaise Gerstner, MD, consulting dermatologist for L’OrĂ©al Paris, suggests the Tinkle Eyebrow Razor ($5;, a narrow, easy-to-handle razor that’s unlikely to nick and safe to use anywhere on the face.

2. You’ve got: a graying bikini line
Shaving or waxing will still work effectively, though depilatories will most likely fall short, since a number of formulas aren’t strong enough to dissolve coarse grays. For at-home waxers, we recommend strip-free kits, because they’re better at yanking out coarse hair at the root (whereas strips can tear hair at the skin’s surface). Try Bliss Poetic Waxing Kit ($48; However, if it’s the new hue, not the overgrowth, that bugs you, Victoria A. Cirillo-Hyland, MD, a dermatologist based in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, suggests Betty Beauty ($13;, a pubic-hair dye that comes in nine shades, from brunette to blonde to (why not?) pink.

In the market for a more permanent solution? Laser hair removal is, alas, off the table, because laser light seeks melanin—and gray hair has none. But electrolysis is still a viable option, because it uses color-blind electric currents to zap the graying hair follicles. Expect to undergo a series of at least five sessions (average cost: $50–$150 each) spaced a couple of weeks apart. You will also need to have yearly touch-ups; the body is resilient (or defiant?) and will eventually sprout some new hair.

3. You’ve got: facial fuzz
Hormone swings tied to aging account for an increase in peach fuzz, usually on the cheeks and upper lip. If the hair on your face is fair and fine (or gray), you have a number of choices. You can wax, which removes hair for up to six weeks. However, waxing is not a good alternative if you use a retinoid cream, which thins the skin and makes it more apt to tear. A less irritating option in that case is threading, says Shobha Tummala, founder of Shobha hair-removal spas. This method literally utilizes a thread (not unlike one used for sewing) to yank hairs from their roots. Threading and waxing give similar results, and both also weaken follicles over time, making hair grow back finer and occasionally not at all. A third possibility (this one too is safe for retinoid devotees, provided they stop using their creams for 10 days before the procedure) is dermaplaning, in which a certified aesthetician -gently removes the top layer of skin—and any excess hair—with a surgical blade (cost: $90–$150 per treatment). This procedure is essentially a deep exfoliation (with no downtime) and will leave you both fuzz free and radiant. Finally, for immediate, albeit short-lived, results, you can just pick up your razor and gently shave over fuzzy areas—or use a depilatory made for the face, such as Olay Facial Hair Removal Duo ($25;, which works for fine hair. Results last about a week.

If the hair on your face is wiry and dark, you can try any of the aforementioned options for fine or gray hair. But most experts say you’ll be most satisfied splurging on laser treatments, which offer a nearly permanent solution; most people see at least a 90 percent reduction in regrowth. Expect to undergo eight to 12 treatments, each priced at $100 or more. Electrolysis is another option, but it will probably require more sessions because the electric current targets just one follicle at a time, making the process a bit slower (by contrast, lasers zap inch-wide areas, allowing the treatment to target more follicles in a single session). Finally, you too can wait to try Olay’s facial depilatory for coarse hair, as noted above.

4. You’ve got: less body hair
“As you age, most women see a reduction in body hair on their legs, underarms and bikini line,” says Cirillo-Hyland. Although generally a good thing, since this means you can skip the daily shave, it doesn’t completely eliminate the need to groom. So if you’re over the whole razor thing, consider Depilar, a two-step treatment that costs less than lasering and promises a nearly permanent (90 percent) reduction in body hair of all shades. How it works: First, the hairy area is waxed to empty out the hair follicles; then it is slathered with a gel containing the enzymes trypsin and chymotrypsin, which destroy cells responsible for hair growth. Expect to undergo six to eight 10-minute treatments (each $40 or more), about two months apart. A yearly touch-up may be necessary. If your sparse body hair is darker than your skin, you may also find success with an at-home laser. These devices zap follicles just like in a doctor’s office, although it usually takes longer to see results. We like the Tria Hair Removal Laser ($395; Or try Sally Hansen’s new Simply Smooth Hair Remover ($11; drugstores). This depilatory finishes the job in three minutes, then washes away, as does the hair it removed.

5. You’ve got: sensitive body skin
At home, it’s probably time to retire depilatories, since most formulas contain hair-dissolving chemicals that can induce inflammation. The same is true of waxing—unlessthe wax is sugar based. Sugar wax sticks less to skin than traditional wax does, reducing the likelihood of contact dermatitis. Many salons carry sugar wax; do-it-yourselfers can try Shobha Sugaring Kit for Body and Bikini ($30; Shaving may be your safest at-home option, but choose a razor with three or more blades, such as the Schick Hydro Silk Razor ($10; drugstores), which cuts hair close to the skin, preventing chafing. And if you’re after a more permanent solution, most pros say you can get lasered (unless you’re fair haired; then you’re not a good candidate). “Lasers don’t affect the skin’s surface, just the area beneath it,” says Neil Sadick, MD, a New York–based dermatologist. Ditto for electrolysis, which zaps the roots of hair (fair or dark) with an electric current but shouldn’t affect the skin.

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First Published Tue, 2012-04-03 16:31

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