It can be startling—and embarrassing—to find random hairs popping up in places you wouldn’t expect them, like on your chin, nose, toes and breasts. Turns out it’s quite common, especially as you get older. Here's the scoop on why it happens and how to get rid of them for good.
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Why it's happening:
It could be a harmless gene mutation. If you randomly find one long, dark hair, it may be that a single hair follicle diverted from its normal path. Atlanta dermatologist Angela Love Bookout, MD says, “The growth phase in a hair‘s lifecycle determines its characteristics, such as its length and diameter. At any point, a gene mutation of a single follicle, due to trauma or environmental influences, can result in a longer, darker hair. And, once it has mutated, it will continue to grow that way.”
It most likely related to your hormones. New York dermatologist Debbie Palmer, MD says that women in their 40s or 50s often experience hair growth in areas they hadn’t previously. “Androgens (male hormones), specifically testosterone, are responsible for the changes,” she explains. “Estrogen levels decrease during menopause, creating a disruption in the balance between estrogen and testosterone that can cause hair to grow darker or longer.”
Miami dermatologist Marcy Alvarez-Pinsly agrees, saying hormonal influences can make dark hairs (or "man hairs" as her patients call them) pop up in less-desirable places such as the cheeks, lower face or around the areola. "It can also be a familial or ethnic trait, so context is important," she says. However, Washington, D.C. dermatologist Sarika Snell, MD says hypertrichosis—excessive hair growth that is not related to hormones and typically caused by medications or medical conditions—is also possible, although not as common.
How to get rid of them:
Pluck individual hairs or use a depilatory. “Plucking a random hair may work better than shaving it because there is typically a longer time for regrowth when you pluck,” says Dr. Palmer. Depilatory creams are another effective solution, as they work to dissolve hair at the skin’s surface without any pain. Some depilatories also reduce the density and length of the hair so that it grows back lighter, shorter and less frequently. To target an individual hair at it's root, try a pair of tweezers that light up your trouble spot, like Tweezerman Exertweeze Lighted Slant Tweezer ($27). And to keep hairs at bay in general, use Nair Facial Hair Remover Cream ($7), a daily moisturizer with depilatory benefits that leaves skin super smooth.
Use an at-home hair removal device. If you’re looking for a more permanent answer, Dr. Bookout suggests laser hair removal, which she says is considered the gold-standard for those with darker hair. “The advent of FDA-approved, do-it-yourself laser and light-based hair removal systems has made these pesky hairs easier to treat on your own at home. I consider these systems safe as long as you follow the manufacturer’s directions.” We like TRIA Hair Removal Laser Precision ($299), which has been shown to deliver impressive results in as little as three weeks.
Try in-office laser hair removal. When DIY methods aren’t producing the results you hoped for, it may be time to see a doctor. “Some at-home hair removal systems aren’t advised for those with certain hair or skin colors, but a dermatologist has access to different tools and technologies,” says Dr. Bookout. “For lighter skin types with dark hair, I suggest the BBL laser, and for darker skin types with dark hair, the Nd:YAG laser. Both will reduce unwanted hair.” Laser hair removal also requires multiple sessions—sometimes up to six—to experience results.
Opt for electrolysis. Electrolysis uses applies a minuscule amount of electricity to the base of the hair follicle to destroy it and permanently remove unwanted hair. "The only permanent way to truly remove the hair is by electrolysis," says Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias. "While lasers may diminish these hairs for a while, hormonally controlled hairs typically always return."
See a doctor. "If you find yourself becoming hairier than usual—a condition known as hirsutism—it is time to see your dermatologist or internist for a medical workup," says Dr. Alvarez-Pinsly. This can be related to an underlying medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and should be determined sooner rather than later.