If you’ve ever noticed a random long, dark hair sprouting out from your chin, your nose, your toes, or even your breasts, you’re not alone. It can be startling—and embarrassing if you’re in public when you make the discovery—but random hairs popping up in places you wouldn’t expect them is actually quite common, especially with age. Here’s the scoop on why this happens and how to get rid of the unwelcome hair for good.
Why It Happens
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.”
Dallas dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD says the active growth phase of all of our hair follicles is called anagen, and “if a hair follicle has a longer anagen phase, you will see a long hair. In both men and women, our bodies have hair follicles from our scalp on down, and a random mutation allows that one follicle more time in its anagen phase.”
However, New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD says “most of the gene mutations I am familiar with are responsible for excessive hair growth and not a single long hair. A single long hair is probably due to hormonal imbalance.”
It’s most likely related to your hormones. Dr. Peredo says that women in their 40s or 50s often experience hair growth in areas they hadn’t previously, like the cheeks, lower face or around the areola. “Estrogen levels decrease during menopause, creating a disruption in the balance between estrogen and testosterone that can cause hair to grow darker or longer.”
“Balanced hormones are so critical,” adds Dr. Houshmand. “Androgens are the main hormone in hair development, and present in both males and females. However, they are present in higher levels in males—testosterone is an androgen—and when the female body produces too many androgens, it may develop more body hair than normal. Many medications can cause unwanted hair growth as well, such as cyclosporine, minoxidil, phenytoin and more.”
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 and firmly remove it from the root, try the cult-classic Tweezerman Platinum Silver Slant Tweezer ($23). And to keep hairs at bay in general, use Nair Hair Remover Moisturizing Face Cream ($4), a moisturizing depilatory cream that leaves skin super smooth.
Use an at-home hair removal device. “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,” says Dr. Bookout. For the face, we recommend an easy-to-use dermaplaning tool like Versed Instant Gratification At-Home Dermaplaning Tool ($20). For the body, we like the SmoothSkin Bare+ Ultrafast IPL Hair Removal Device ($215), an FDA-cleared IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) technology that is clinically proven to stunt hair growth in as a little as four weeks—you can do a full-body treatment in 10 minutes or less, too!
Try in-office laser hair removal. When DIY methods aren’t producing the results you hoped for, it may be time for laser hair removal, which Dr. Peredo says can offer permanent results for some patients. “The light targets the bulb of the hair follicle and destroys it,” she explains. Dr. Bookout says it’s also considered the gold-standard for those with darker hair. (Laser hair removal has to be done on dark hair; it won’t work on blonde, gray or white hairs, notes Dr. Houshmand.) “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,” she explains. “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.” However, be aware that laser hair removal 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. Dr. Houshmand says it’s important to remember though that hair patterns are hereditary. “Hirsutism can be quite common in patients of Mediterranean, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern decent.”
However, seeing a doctor for diagnosis is key because excess hair and hair imbalances in general can be related to an underlying medical condition such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disease or another hormonal issue, and should be determined sooner rather than later.
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