A friend sent a link to our group chat, where the usual subjects are Madonna’s latest Instagram rant and Hilaria Baldwin’s latest baby. But we aren’t mean! “Why Do Women Sprout Chin Hairs as They Age?” asked the link to The New York Times. My friend added, “Talk about your not very sexy topic!”
Well, let’s do. Talk about it. Not every topic has to be sexy. That said, if you believe in romance and mystery, if you like sexy topics, please read no further.
Chin hairs, peach fuzz, mustaches, and unibrows are part of life; they’re natural. And like many natural parts of life, they reveal an inescapable truth: We are animals. We can try all we want to pluck, pare, comb, scrub, and perfume ourselves into presentability, but nature is always lurking in the background, threatening to expose and embarrass us. Maybe not for Madonna and Hilaria Baldwin, who seem immune to embarrassment. As for the rest of us, we are trapped in our physical fleshy selves and the tiny countless ways they humiliate us.
Hair is one of those ways: too little on the head, too much everywhere else, hair taunts our delusion of control.
One day you’re wandering around town, head held high, with something resembling swagger—only to return home to your magnifying mirror and catch a hair poking out from your previously immaculate chin, or the shadow of a mustache hovering by the bow of your lips. You realize you’ve been swaggering around all day with the equivalent of a kick me sign on your face. And that might be when you consider moving to a cabin in Montana surrounded by bison and their chin hairs. That would be comforting.
Before checking Zillow, perhaps it might be wise to consider the tools and treatments that bushwhack the overgrowth. Really, it’s not that bad.
To talk to Dara Levy, the founder of the Dermaflash, which makes hair-removal devices, facial hair is not the least bit bad or embarrassing. To her, it’s a gold mine.
In a previous life, Levy operated a medical spa in Chicago, which offered the usual spa menu of facials and massages, along with the lasers and Botox injections of a medical practice. One of the most popular treatments was dermaplaning, in which a licensed aesthetician or nurse scrapes a surgical scalpel over the face to remove dead skin. “It sounds scary but it’s an elegant treatment,” says Levy. Shedding skin cells was not what thrilled Levy’s clients, though. It was the removal of peach fuzz, the downy fluff many people have on their cheeks and along their jawline. “Some women didn’t even know they had it until we removed it,” says Levy. “The hair removal was the hook.”
Here’s why. When you banish that peach fuzz, also known as vellus hair, light bounces off the skin. In other words, you glow. There’s an extra benefit: skin-care ingredients are more likely to penetrate when there are fewer barriers.
Levy was in the shower one day when she realized she could bring this treatment to people’s bathrooms by changing the blade, adding safety features, and amping it all up with sonic vibration. “I screamed out loud,” says Levy.
Her Dermaflash Luxe device is not a dad razor. It’s also not one of those cute but dangerous-looking blades, often from Japan or Korea, that resemble a tiny spatula and cost a few dollars. One has the unfortunate name of Tinkle; Shiseido makes them, too. They work perfectly well as long as you pay attention and don’t apply too much pressure.
Call this “dermaplaning,” call this what you want, but “between you and me and air mail, it’s shaving,” says Dr. Robert Anolik, a board-certified dermatologist and professor at the N.Y.U Grossman School of Medicine. “The reason they don’t call it ‘shaving’ is that doesn’t sound as appealing and because there is an old wives’ tale that shaving causes your hair to come in thicker and darker.” It definitely does not, as any doctor will attest. “If that were true, I’d shave my head once a month. We’d be curing baldness.”
For those who prefer to have their hair removal last longer than a week, there are lasers and electrolysis, which can be permanent. Berenice Rothenberg, of Berenice Electrolysis & Personal Beauty Center, in New York City, does both, sometimes on the same face. “I’ve started with children who are 13 years old,” she says. “It’s wonderful.”
Lasers are the current hair-removal ideal, but they don’t work on pale hair because, explains Dr. Anolik, the light “targets the pigment of the hair root. So if the hair is blond or white or light red, the laser isn’t going to pick up the energy, and you’re not going to get the benefit.” Lasers can also burn melanin-rich skin. In those cases, Rothenberg turns to electrolysis, inserting a fine wire into a hair follicle and quickly hitting it with an electrical current to kill the hair root.
This is not an inexpensive endeavor. A longtime client of Rothenberg’s tells me she takes a deep breath before walking into the salon. Electrolysis on the chin and neck could run to $2,500 or more, and lasers are pricier still. Berenice doesn’t predict the total cost—“no, no, no, no, no”— until she assesses the hairs’ growth cycles and how they respond to the treatment.
The process can even take years, but to her, not surprisingly, it’s worth it. “We all have hair,” she says. “It’s normal.... But a little thing like that could really take your confidence away.”
So let’s get back to that unsexy link. The reason women have more chin hairs as they get older is, like so many things in women’s lives, a result of hormonal shifts. During menopause, hormones can be thrown off-balance, says Dr. Anolik, giving testosterone a more dominant role and causing sprouts to appear. Doesn’t that sound just like something testosterone would do?
I don’t need to tell anyone why that might be troubling. Like so many parts of our natural state of being, the cycles of hair growth and hair loss remind us of our lack of control and our physical vulnerability. As we pluck and laser, as we zap and scrape, we’re trying to transcend time, as if such a thing were possible, as if we could possibly look sexy-ish as we go.
Linda Wells spent 25 years as Allure magazine’s founding editor, served as Revlon’s chief creative officer, and currently consults and sits on the boards of several beauty and apparel companies