Facial hair removal doesn’t have to be overly complicated or excruciatingly painful, but the skin on your face is more delicate than the skin on your legs or armpits, so it’s important to explore your options before you go all in with a pair of tweezers or strip of wax.
After all, you shouldn’t feel pressured to get rid of the hair on your face if it doesn’t bother you. Having facial hair is just as normal as the hair on the rest of your body (unless it starts to grow in a way that isn’t your personal norm). But some people prefer to have smoother skin simply based on personal preference, and that’s perfectly okay too.
If you choose the hair-free route, there are a few possible side effects to consider due to your face’s fragile nature. Depending on things like your skin’s level of sensitivity, your hair type, the specific tools used, and the level of proficiency from the person performing the hair removal technique, you could potentially end up with irritation, ingrown hairs, or even burns if you’re not careful—and no one really wants any of that on their face.
Some facial hair removal methods require more frequent upkeep, while others offer longer-term benefits but possibly come with important caveats (like the fact that laser hair removal generally works best on people with dark hair and light skin). Some techniques may also work better for you in certain areas. For example, if you have some peach fuzz on your face with a sprinkling of dark chin hairs, then you may find that dermaplaning the fine hairs and plucking the darker hairs is an ideal combo.
It can feel like an overwhelming topic, but it doesn’t have to be. To dig into all the important deets on short-term and long-term facial hair removal options, SELF asked top dermatologists to break down the pros, cons, and special considerations for each one.
Are there any permanent facial hair removal methods?
If you’re dealing with things like unwanted sideburns, upper lip hair, or sporadic coarse chin hairs, then you may be looking for a way to get rid of these permanently. The only FDA-approved method for permanent hair removal is electrolysis, which is typically an in-office treatment performed by board-certified dermatologists and other qualified skin-care professionals, such as a licensed esthetician. (More details on that later.)
If you’re looking for a DIY permanent facial hair removal routine, that, unfortunately, doesn’t exist, Angela J. Lamb, M.D., associate professor of dermatology and director of Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology, tells SELF. The closest you’ll probably get? At-home laser treatment and intense pulsed light (IPL) devices. Both can be effective at removing hair but they’re not as strong as laser treatments you’d get in an office, so your desired results may take longer to achieve.
Additionally, lasering is FDA-approved for permanent hair reduction (including some at-home laser devices), but it doesn’t lead to permanent hair removal, meaning your hair could still potentially grow back, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).
What are the best facial hair removal techniques?
There’s no one-size-fits-all method for facial hair removal—and it may take a little trial and error to figure out which you like best. Keep in mind that how quickly your hair grows back depends on a variety of factors, such as genetics, hormone levels,1 the area treated, and where you are in the hair cycle phase.
A bit of background information on hair growth: Hair is always in one of three phases: anagen or growth phase, when new hair cells are produced in the hair bulb and the hair shaft continues to grow; catagen or transitional phase; and telogen or resting phase, when the blood supply is cut off to the hair root and the hair follicle is dormant.2 Generally, it’s easier to remove hair when it’s in the anagen phase. You can’t necessarily tell what phase your hair is in, but spotting a new hair shaft on the surface of your skin signals the second part of the anagen phase, called the metanagen phase.
With that said, the time ranges listed below may not always reflect your personal experience. Ahead, experts explain the most common facial hair removal options and how they work.
How long it lasts: Generally at least two weeks
Tweezing pros: “I see tweezing as the most precise method,” Zakia Rahman, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at Stanford University, tells SELF. “It can be used just to remove a single hair, which can be really great for the shaping of eyebrows and removing stray, scraggly hairs anywhere on the face.” (Think those dreaded chin hairs.)
Tweezing comes with minimal risk of irritation, is easy to do at home and inexpensive, and lasts longer than other methods, such as shaving, because you’re removing the entire hair by its root. And since you’re not cutting the hair mid-shaft, hair will grow out with a more natural tapered edge, as opposed to the more blunt edge that results from shaving, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Tweezing cons: This can be time consuming if you’re trying to attack many areas with lots of hair, like if you want to tweeze thick eyebrows, sideburns, and lots of chin hairs. Although tweezing isn’t super risky, you could experience inflamed hair follicles, temporary skin redness, hyperpigmentation, scarring, and ingrown hairs, especially if you’re prone to them already. Too much tweezing can also traumatize and eventually kill hair follicles, resulting in permanently thinner hair.
How long it lasts: Two to three weeks
Threading pros: This method involves twisting and rolling a cotton thread over your skin to capture unwanted hair.4 The thread is quickly lifted to remove several hairs at a time from the follicle. Unlike plucking individual hairs, threading allows you to remove a precise line of hairs simultaneously, making it an effective method to neatly shape and tame eyebrows. Threading can also be used to remove fine vellus (“peach fuzz”) hairs from the upper lip, cheeks, jawline, and forehead.
Because you’re pulling the hair from the root, threading lasts about as long as tweezing or waxing. However, threading tends to be gentler than waxing, as “it’s not going to rip off that top layer of the skin,” Dr. Rahman says, so this can be a better option for people with sensitive skin.
Threading cons: For starters, this isn’t easy to do at home and is best practiced by a licensed esthetician. As with any hair removal method that involves pulling hair from the root, there are still some risks of side effects such as temporary skin redness, inflamed hair follicles, hyperpigmentation, depigmentation (loss of skin color), and ingrown hairs.
How long it lasts: Three to four weeks
Waxing pros: Waxing removes hair from the root and can work quite well for removing unwanted hair from the upper lip, jawline, chin, and sideburns, and to shape eyebrows, Dr. Rahman explains. Additionally, repeated waxing can cause trauma to the hair follicle, which can be seen as a benefit for some people as this actually reduces the regrowth of hair over time.5 You can wax at home using a kit if you feel comfortable doing so or you can opt to see a licensed esthetician.
Waxing cons: Waxing isn’t for everyone. First, you should avoid waxing after applying a topical retinoid or while taking an oral retinoid like isotretinoin for acne, because the ingredient speeds up skin cell turnover. The additional trauma of waxing can cause irritation, abrasions, infection, and scarring, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Additionally, you can potentially get burned if your wax is too hot, and some facilities have a hard time keeping the wax sanitary due to double dipping or reusing the same wax on multiple people. (Generally, you can avoid these complications by going to a place you trust or that a dermatologist or a friend recommended.) Inflamed hair follicles, ingrown hairs, or hyperpigmentation are also possible side effects.
Shaving and dermaplaning
How long it lasts: One to three days
Shaving and dermaplaning pros: Traditional shaving is a perfectly acceptable facial hair removal method for just about anyone. And nope, it will not cause facial hair to grow back thicker or darker, but it will grow back with more of a blunt edge that can feel a bit rough.
Dermaplaning (or dermablading) is a form of facial shaving that also removes the superficial layer of dead skin, which is a form of exfoliation. This can be done by a professional dermatologist or licensed esthetician with a tool that resembles a small straight razor and it requires a steady, precise hand; or you can do it at home with a disposable dermaplaning tool, sometimes referred to as an eyebrow shaving razor, like the well-reviewed Schick Hydro Silk Touch-Up (Amazon, $5). At-home dermaplaning tools typically have protective micro guards along the blade that help prevent cuts.
Shaving and dermaplaning cons: Some people may not like the blunt edges and upkeep. Plus, you can get skin cuts, razor burn, inflamed hair follicles, and ingrown hairs. Dermaplaning should also only be done once every few weeks to avoid over-exfoliation. (It’s safest to consult with a dermatologist about the frequency that is best for you.)
How long it lasts: At least two weeks
Epilation pros: Electric epilator devices allow you to pull out hair at the root, so this method should last about as long as tweezing or waxing. Typically, epilators are used on larger areas of the body like legs, but some devices are specifically designed for the face and marketed for use on areas like the jawline, chin, upper lip forehead, and between the eyebrows.
Epilator cons: Both Dr. Lamb and Dr. Rahman agree that, as a group, epilators may be one of the more painful facial hair removal options. And while there don’t appear to be any high-quality studies on facial epilating devices like these, they may have side effects like those of other facial hair removal methods that pull hairs out by the root (e.g. tweezing or waxing), such as inflamed hair follicles, temporary skin redness, hyperpigmentation, scarring, and ingrown hairs.
How long it lasts: Up to two weeks
Depilatory creams pros: These over-the-counter creams contain thioglycolates, chemicals that break down the keratin protein in the hair shaft. “They cause the hair above the skin to disintegrate, so when it grows back, it has a soft edge, not a sharp edge like you’d get with shaving,” Dr. Rahman says, adding that this softer edge could make the hair less likely to cause bumps and ingrown hairs when it grows back in. Depilatories can be used on the upper lip, chin area, side burns, and generally most areas of the face, as long as you steer clear of the eyes. Always read the instructions on the specific product you’re using and set a timer so you don’t leave it on too long.
Depilatory cream cons: These are generally well-tolerated by many people but can be irritating if you have sensitive skin, Dr. Lamb advises, due to the chemicals and fragrances often found within these products. In severe instances, you could get contact dermatitis (a skin rash that may be red, itchy, swollen, blistering, and painful).
Laser hair removal
How long it lasts: Permanent hair reduction usually takes at least four to six sessions, according to the Cleveland Clinic. You may need periodic maintenance every 6 to 12 months.
Laser hair removal pros: Laser works via a process called selective photothermolysis, which destroys hair follicles and prevents regrowth. “We use a laser on hair that’s growing, or in what’s called anagen phase,” Dr. Rahman says. “The part of the hair follicle that has the pigment absorbs that heat from the laser, and that heat then diffuses and damages the non-pigmented stem cells and prevents them from regrowing the hair.”
Because lasers target hair in anagen or growth phase, it can take multiple treatments to get the results you want, since not all hair will be in this phase at the same time. Some hair may never grow back at all, while other hair will grow back but is often lighter and thinner. Due to its long-lasting effectiveness, Dr. Rahman suggests skipping this on your brows, since brow trends tend to change frequently. (Let us not forget the ’90s!)
Typically, laser hair removal is done in a dermatologist’s office, but some (pricey) at-home devices, like the Tria Hair Removal Laser 4X (Amazon, $459) or the Silk’n Infinity Hair Removal Device (Nordstrom, $340), are available as well, according to Dr. Rahman. At-home devices often use intense pulsed light (IPL) technology, which targets pigment in a similar manner to professional lasers but does so by delivering a broad-spectrum of light as opposed to a single wavelength. The light is less intense, so more frequent treatment may be necessary. “The best thing to do is treat as often as the hair growth cycle is, so usually every four weeks for hair from the neck up,” Dr. Rahman says.
Laser hair removal cons: Because lasers and IPL devices target pigment, they tend to produce the best results on people with dark hair and lighter skin. Red, light blonde, or white hair does not have as much pigment to respond as well, so the follicles would not be destroyed as efficiently and hair would continue to grow. People with dark skin may find this particularly tricky because you want the laser to target the hair pigment but spare the skin pigment, otherwise, you could get burned. And because there is some risk of burns, blisters, skin pigmentation changes, infections, and scars, you definitely want to see a professional dermatologist, which is not exactly cheap: Each session costs about $389 on average, according to 2020 statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
How long it lasts: You can achieve permanent hair removal.
Electrolysis pros: During an electrolysis treatment, a dermatologist or a person licensed to practice electrolysis inserts an epilating needle (basically an ultra-thin wire) into each individual hair follicle, which delivers an electric current that destroys the hair root, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This damage causes the hair to fall out and prevents future growth. According to Dr. Rahman, this typically feels like a small electrical shock, kind of like that static electricity shock you’d get when you touch something after rubbing your feet across a rug.
Unlike laser hair removal, electrolysis works on all hair colors, including blonde, red, and white, and it’s also great at targeting individual stray hairs, Dr. Lamb explains. Electrolysis is also the only FDA-approved method for permanent hair removal—and like lasers, it can be used on most parts of the face (but, again, maybe skip the brows).
Electrolysis cons: Like laser hair removal and IPL, electrolysis only works on hairs in the anagen phase of growth, so it can take multiple treatments to get the results you want since not every hair you’re treating will be in this phase at the same time. Because you’re targeting each individual hair, you may need weekly appointments for several months or up to a year or more, depending on the area you’re treating, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The cost of each session depends on the length of your treatment, so your session will be cheaper if you have less hair to get rid of. You may have some temporary skin inflammation and there is a risk of scarring or developing an infection from unsterile equipment, but this shouldn’t be a huge issue if you see a licensed practitioner.
How long it lasts: You’ll notice less hair within four to eight weeks of starting treatment. Results can last up to eight weeks after stopping treatment, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Topical prescription pros: Compared to depilatory creams, which temporarily dissolve the hair follicle only to have it grow back in again at the same density and thickness, the topical prescription cream Vaniqa (eflornithine hydrochloride) can reduce the growth of facial hair in people assigned female at birth. When used as prescribed, the cream helps your hair grow finer and more slowly, Dr. Lamb says.
Topical prescription cons: Because this doesn’t stop hair growth altogether, you may still have to use one of the other hair removal methods mentioned above. Any results you experience won’t be immediate and are only temporary, meaning if you stop using Vaniqa, your hair growth will likely return to your typical pre-treatment levels within a couple of months. All medications have a risk of side effects, and Vaniqa may potentially cause acne, inflamed hair follicles, ingrown hairs, stinging or burning, and dry skin. In some individuals, Vaniqa can cause a type of skin irritation called pseudofolliculitis barbae (or “razor bumps”), Dr. Rahman says, adding that she doesn’t prescribe it very often for this reason, plus the fact that it carries a high price tag and does not offer permanent results.
Does removing facial hair make it grow back thicker?
As we briefly mentioned, removing facial hair does not typically make it grow back thicker or darker. With methods like dermaplaning and shaving, it may appear that your hair is growing back thicker than before, but that’s simply because you’re cutting it off mid-shaft which is creating more of a blunt edge than it would if you’d removed it from the root, explains Dr. Rahman.
However, there are some rare exceptions. “You can actually get something called paradoxical hypertrichosis from a laser,” Dr. Rahman says. This is when laser hair removal treatment actually increases hair density, color, or coarseness in the area of treatment and adjacent areas.6 According to recent estimates, it occurs in about 3% of people7 who undergo hair removal treatment with laser or intense pulsed light (IPL) on the face and neck.
No one fully understands why this happens, but typically, people with darker skin tones need lower intensity laser treatment so they don’t get burned, and this could potentially have a stimulatory effect on hair growth as opposed to an inhibitory effect, Dr. Rahman theorizes. Older research indicates that people with dark, thick hair and those with underlying hormonal conditions (like polycystic ovary syndrome) may be at an increased risk for this side effect.
Just remember that there’s always the possibility of getting skin irritation with any of these options. Dendy Engelman, M.D., FACMS, FAAD, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Shafer Clinic in New York, recommends starting with well-moisturized skin regardless of which removal process you use unless the product directions state otherwise. The more pliable your skin, the less likely it will be inflamed or irritated with the pressure of the tool. If you’re really concerned about side effects or removing too much, it never hurts to check in with a dermatologist or licensed esthetician first—they can help you figure out how to approach hair removal with your personal goals in mind.
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