Dija Ayodele has been a facialist and skincare consultant for almost a decade, she enjoys helping people learn about their skin and how to get the best out of it. Thank you for yet another informative piece Dija!
Each morning when Karen* wakes up, she runs her fingers out of habit across her chin and around the sides of her jaw to check for stubble. A quick mental assessment is then taken as to whether she needs the hair removal cream- could she simply get away with tweezing? Paranoid that someone will notice her condition at work, Karen often disappears to the bathroom with a hand mirror and tweezers and pluck away at her skin until she is confident that there are no hairs showing.
Karen is amongst the 40% of women in the UK that suffer from excessive facial hair and she battles with it daily.
According to London-based Cosmetic Dermatologist, Dr. Sam Bunting, excessive hair (hirsutism) in females presents itself in the male pattern of hair growth – on the face, chest, abdomen, and upper back. On the face, it is usually found on the chin, upper lip, and sides ranging from a few strands of hair sparsely scattered to a full-on beard depending on the severity.
There are generally two types of patients who present clinically with excessive facial hair. The commonest scenarios are “a healthy woman who has a genetic tendency to have a bit more hair than is the average. But then there’s the context of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).”
Within these two pictures, the differentiating point is how quickly the facial hair has developed as with many women it is simply hereditary, a physical trait like curly hair or freckles. However, a sudden appearance of excessive facial hair could be cause for concern and the underlying factors need to be addressed.
Where it is a symptom of a PCOS, medical diagnosis is important as it can lead to further medical problems. The risk of raised blood pressure elevated blood lips, and diabetes are higher, as are problems trying to conceive. Typically, women may also experience excessive oiliness of the skin, acne, and scalp hair loss.
89% of the women in the British 2010 We Can Face It survey and campaign said that their self-confidence would be higher if they didn’t have facial hair. The campaign, which was fronted, by Channel 4’s Dr. Dawn Harper, Mica Paris, and Jason Gardiner was launched to raise awareness of excessive facial hair and the results showed that a lot of women felt unsupported and consequently did not seek their doctor’s help. The scars of the condition can run deep and in turn affect all areas of life – from school to employment and relationships as self-esteem takes the hard knocks. Harnaam Kaur from Slough started growing a beard at age eleven (due to Polycystic Ovaries), making her an easy target for bullies and whilst Harnaam’s case might be at the extreme end of excessive facial hair, she found the peace and confidence to accept it (whether or not her underlying physical issues have been fully addressed). Harnaam is Sikh and according to this faith, human hair is sacred and must not be cut.
Over half of the 1000 women surveyed said it was an uncomfortable topic to discuss with family and friends. In addition a large majority also felt embarrassed to approach their GP, expressed concerns that they wouldn’t be taken seriously and didn’t want to waste the GP’s time. “ I don’t think it warrants it,” says Jane* when asked if she had been to the doctor.
The anxiety, stress, and depression associated with the condition can be quite debilitating and its extremely sad that women don’t feel able to come forward especially when GP’s are trained to deal with the situation sensitively and provide further help.
In my work as a facialist, I see many women who suffer from the condition getting by silently, almost seeing it as a superficial affliction that doesn’t deserve further investigation. Maybe in Britain, it’s the stoic attitude of not making a bother of oneself, but I cannot stress how important it is to investigate further because it’s indicative of an underlying problem.
Dr. Bunting confirms that there are different treatment options available and it is possible to treat all skin tones. Whilst shaving, plucking, bleaching, and epilation are all methods of hair removal, they are only temporary.
Longer-term and more permanent solutions involve killing hair at its root to stop it further growth. Electrolysis has mainly been replaced by a more modern method but it can still be successfully used on the chin area. Laser hair removal is now more widely accepted as the primary method of hair removal and black women need no longer be worried as there are gentler lasers like ND: YAG that can treat dark skin without causing scarring of hyperpigmentation, another problem with excessive hair if your skin has more melanin. The tight curls of Afro hair make the hairs more likely to become ingrown once they’ve been removed. This can result in a pimple-like breakout termed PFB (Pseudofolliculitis barbae). As these lesions heal, they often leave dark patches that do not fade completely, adding yet another stigma.
For women who are apprehensive of laser treatment, there is Vaniqa, a cream containing Eflornithine, which slows down hair regrowth and has proved helpful in many cases.
The medical profession is in agreement that it is possible to combine different methods to tackle the excessive facial hair successfully but shockingly, only 2% of the women involved in the survey were seeing a medical specialist for treatment.
I share the medical opinion that excessive facial hair can be tackled, as can any cultural discomfort about ‘sharing’ to someone who can actually help you-like a doctor.
The media makes (vain?) attempts to face physical anomalies that we as a modern culture find socially embarrassing on mainstream TV shows. By featuring women bold enough to talk about problems such as these they may appear to be ‘helping’, but far too often it is merely a trite mask or update on the Victorian freak show (roll-up, roll up-see the bearded lady), rather than a genuine and sympathetic platform that could potentially be beneficial, informative and progressive, breaking down the silence, shame and stigma.
We may not admit it but women tend to be more aware of other women. We do check each other out and are aware of the physical pressure to ‘look acceptable’.
If this is indeed causing unhappiness, as a sisterhood, let’s aim to encourage each other to have the confidence to seek professional help and live our lives more fully.