DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My daughter is 12 and has coarse, dark hair on her upper lip and wants to have it removed. I’m worried that it’s not safe for someone her age. Is laser hair removal safe for kids? Are there other methods that would be better?
ANSWER: A variety of techniques are available to remove facial hair. When used correctly, all are safe and none have age restrictions. No hair removal method is permanent, although some do last quite a while. Some hair removal techniques can be painful. Carefully consider the pros and cons of each method with your daughter before deciding which one to use.
Puberty often triggers facial hair growth in girls. But other factors can contribute to the development of facial hair, too. Some endocrine disorders, such as polycystic ovary syndrome and adrenal hyperplasia, cause changes in the body’s hormone production that can increase facial hair growth. Excess hair also can be a side effect of some medications.
If your daughter has other symptoms that could be related to an endocrine disorder, such as periods that are very irregular or severe acne, make an appointment with her health care provider to rule out an underlying medical problem. If she takes medication, check if excess facial hair may be a side effect. If so, talk with her health care provider about an alternative.
If facial hair is a result of normal puberty, she has several options. Some girls just shave the hair every two to three days. That requires quite a bit of upkeep, though, and many girls find the stubble from shaving to be unacceptable. Removing the hair with tweezers reduces stubble and usually lasts several weeks. Tweezing can take a lot of time, however, and tends to be painful.
Wax removal is another possibility. It involves applying a layer of warm, melted wax to the skin, letting it harden and then pulling it off. The hair is uprooted when the wax is removed. Waxing kits are available over the counter at most pharmacies. Many salons also provide this service. Although wax removal is briefly painful, the results last longer than shaving or tweezing, and the process is not as time-consuming. Waxing can cause skin irritation.
Other methods that uproot hair include mechanical epilation, needle epilation and threading. You may be able to buy equipment to perform these techniques at home, or you can go to a practitioner who performs them. If you do them on your own, follow the directions exactly. If you choose someone else for these techniques, make sure that individual is well-trained and experienced.
Creams and lotions known as depilatories are options for hair removal, too. When a depilatory is applied to hair for a certain amount of time, the hair dissolves. Results usually last about a month. These products are available at most pharmacies without a prescription. If she uses a depilatory, your daughter needs to follow the instructions carefully. If left on too long, depilatories can cause skin irritation, burning, peeling, blisters or a rash.
Laser hair removal can be effective, but it is a medical procedure and should be performed only by a qualified professional. During the procedure, a laser beam passes through the skin to the individual hair follicles. The laser’s heat damages the follicles, limiting future hair growth. Although laser hair removal slows growth, it doesn’t guarantee permanent hair removal. It typically takes multiple treatments to provide an extended hair-free period. Follow-up treatments may be needed.
Unwanted facial hair can be a big source of anxiety for girls. Having it removed may give your daughter’s self-esteem a boost. Before you move forward with any method of hair removal, though, make sure your daughter is comfortable with it. Help her gather information and discuss the options with her. Then let her make the choice on how she wants to proceed. — Dawn Davis, M.D., Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.