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When the Battle Against Chin Hairs Becomes a War

They grow fast, leave dark spots and are generally frustrating, but you can beat back rogue facial whiskers with the right treatment.

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illustration of lady getting her chin hairs removed
Kruttika Susarla
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When I turned 40, two things physically marked my new age: I gained weight faster, and almost overnight, I sprouted annoying hairs on my chin. I started stashing tweezers everywhere: in my wallet, in my car, on the sill of a bedroom window that gets great light, so I could pluck those suckers whenever they erupted, sometimes within hours.

Annoying? Yes. But not rare, I learned. “Some women get whiskers because it’s hereditary, others may get [them] at menopause, when their estrogen is declining,” explains Cheryl Burgess, a dermatologist and founder of the Center for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery in Washington, D.C. But hair growth may also indicate an underlying condition requiring medical treatment, she adds. “Some women have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which alters their hormones.”

She suggests women consult a dermatologist before we start religiously plucking, zapping, waxing or lasering. “After I finish getting a patient’s medical history, I say, ‘we better test to see if you have a hormonal imbalance,’” says Burgess. She recommends that patients diagnosed with hormone issues see a gynecologist who specializes in endocrinology.

The best way to eradicate chin hair depends on your skin’s sensitivity. Plucking is quick and inexpensive. “But in Black women, it can lead to ingrown hairs or what we call folliculitis,” a common bacterial skin disorder that’s also the culprit behind razor bumps, says Burgess. “When you have folliculitis, inflammation where the hair’s trying to come back through the skin leaves dark spots.”

The cycle of ripping a hair out, growing it back and ripping it out again can darken the skin around it, but once the hair is gone forever, that skin has a chance to lighten. Shaving and depilatories only cut hair down to the skin’s surface. So, if you want to get rid of those whiskers, methods like plucking, waxing and threading are best because pulling hairs from their root traumatizes the follicle and slows, if not eliminates, regrowth.

Permanent and optimal results, however, may require laser treatment, which acts like a lightning bolt when it hits the hair and travels down its length to kill the root. If you decide to go this route, ask questions about your provider’s experience. “You have to be careful about who’s doing your laser. There are a lot of people who say laser can't be done on skin of color and that’s not true,” Burgess explains. Because the instrument focuses on pigment, she says, it zeroes in on both dark hair and the dark spots, addressing both issues.

Getting rid of white whiskers may require electrolysis, in which a probe-like device destroys hair follicles using chemical or heat energy. “Electrolysis is necessary for certain types of hair. After laser treatments, you can always go back later and treat the white hairs with electrolysis but,” Burgess warns, “when you only have white hairs against brown skin, they stand out. So you probably want to have [electrolysis and laser] treatments at the same time.”

Hair will start growing back in 2 to 4 weeks, so Burgess recommends scheduling one session per month for six months, though clients generally start seeing results in three treatments. The average cost of $280 a session will vary depending on the size of the treatment area and the complexity of the issue.

Women diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome can make a case to be reimbursed by their insurance companies, but neither laser hair removal nor electrolysis are typically covered because hair growth is considered a cosmetic issue. “Facial hair never killed anybody. That's how they look at it,” says Burgess. “But women are advocating for [reimbursement].”

After years of plucking and waxing, I’m venturing into laser treatments myself. The first session didn’t feel great, I cannot tell a lie, but the freedom to look into my driver’s side visor mirror and not be accosted by sprigs of rogue whiskers is worth a few little zaps of discomfort.

Aging beautifully is an art form. AARP offers the tips, tools and techniques you need to look and feel good every day. Members get even more. Join us, or renew your AARP membership today.