Why do women germinate chin hair as they get older?

Q: Why do women germinate chin hair as they get older – and what is the best way to remove them so that they do not get darker and thicker again?

If you’re a woman growing new, unwanted chin hair, the first thing you should know is that most of the time, “it’s perfectly normal,” said Dr. Joel L. Cohen, Dermatologist and Director of AboutSkin Dermatology and DermSurgery in Denver.

As women get closer to menopause, he said, the balance of hormones in their bodies shifts and they may begin to produce more male hormones known as androgens. These androgens, said Dr. Cohen, can turn the kind of hair follicles that women typically have on their faces – those that produce short, thin, light hair known as peach fluff – into hair follicles that make thicker, darker hair.

As for why some women germinate these hairs and others do not, it is often down to genetics, said Dr. Angela Lamb, a board-certified dermatologist at Mount Sinai in New York City. If you get unwanted hair, and so did your mother, sister, or grandmother, then it is a good sign that this type of hair growth is found in the family.

There are many safe ways to remove unwanted facial hair, including tweezers, waxing, threading, shaving or using hair removal creams. If you are worried that any of these techniques will cause your hair to grow thicker again, you can relax on that front. “It’s a myth,” said Dr. Lamb. In fact, the opposite can even happen: Waxing, tweezers, or threading can reduce hair growth because some hair follicles get damaged by the removal process and stop producing hair, she said.

Another way to control unwanted hair growth is to use a prescription cream called Vaniqa, which causes the hair to grow slower, finer and possibly lighter in color when applied twice a day. But the cream only works as long as it is used – when you stop applying it, the hair will grow back as it grew before, said Dr. Lamb.

If you want to remove chin hair permanently, you can consider laser hair removal or electrolysis, said Dr. Lamb, both of which work by damaging the hair follicle so that it stops producing hair. Electrolysis, which can be performed by a doctor or esthetician at a medical spa – and involves inserting a needle into the hair follicle and damaging the root with an electric current – is safe for all skin and hair types. Laser hair removal, where laser light is used to heat and destroy the hair follicles, can also be performed at a doctor’s office or medical spa. However, it often does not effectively remove blonde hair, and it typically cannot be used safely on darker skin tones because it can burn the skin, noted Dr. Cohen. An exception he mentioned is a new laser hair removal device called Bare HR, which is available in some medical spas and doctors’ offices and is safe to use on all skin types.

You can buy laser or IPL therapy devices at home, which are also an option for lighter skin tones and damage the hair follicles by heating them. But these devices are often less efficient, work slower and require more treatments than those performed professionally, said Dr. Lamb.

If you notice more hair growth than usual and it appears not only on your face but also on your chest, lower abdomen, inside of your thighs or back, you may need to consult a doctor. This type of excessive hair growth, called hirsutism, can be caused by genetics or as a side effect of certain drugs. In many cases, it is nothing to worry about. But hirsutism can also be a symptom of another medical condition that requires treatment, said Dr. Lamb.

One condition that can cause hirsutism is polycystic ovary syndrome, so-called because small cysts grow in the ovaries. These cysts lead to increased androgen production, which promotes hair growth, explained Dr. Cohen, resulting in coarser, darker hair. Other symptoms of PCOS include menstrual irregularities, weight gain and acne. It is important for women with PCOS symptoms to see a doctor, said Dr. Lamb, because when left untreated, it can lead to infertility. Typically, PCOS is treated with lifestyle changes and medications, which may include contraception, progestogen therapy, or the antidiabetic medication metformin.

Prolonged use of corticosteroids, which are used to treat some autoimmune conditions as well as asthma, can also lead to changes in hair growth patterns, including excessive growth, said Dr. Cohen. This is because they also stimulate androgen production in the body.

Usually, though, it is not something to worry about sprouting extra hair and it is very common. “People ask me about it all the time,” said Dr. Lamb.

Melinda Wenner Moyer is a science journalist.

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