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Legend has it that the ancient Romans shaved their faces, and the Egyptians - both men and women - shaved their entire bodies. Historical evidence also suggests that Alexander the Great was clean-shaven as far back as 331 BC. Though their reasons were different, of course: historians have argued that while the Egyptians considered body hair unclean, Alexander the Great thought a beard could be used to catch hold of a soldier in a war!

More recently, removing body hair has become a multi-billion dollar industry globally. And several new treatments - from hair removal creams to waxing, electrolysis and laser - have gained popularity in the 20th and 21st centuries. Of course, hair removal is a choice. Indeed, many doctors believe that body hair is beneficial for regulating body temperature and also act as a protective coating for the skin. 

Usually, the presence of hair on the body is not a cause for concern medically. But it can be a symptom of some conditions like hirsutism. Women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome may also have excessive hair growth on the face. In cases where excessive hair growth - especially on the face - causes psychological and self-esteem issues in patients, they may be advised to undergo hair removal treatment.

Before any kind of surgery, too, health care providers shave the specific area that needs to be operated on for better visibility - this is also a subject of research in the medical community to find the safest ways to remove hair while minimising the risk of cuts and infections.

Whatever your reasons for hair removal - beauty, preference, self-esteem, hygiene - it is important to do it in a safe manner. Read on to know about the various methods of hair removal, tips for removing hair from the face, chest and pubic area, and risks and complications linked to hair removal.

  1. Some medicines, steroids and hormonal therapy
  2. Tips to remove hair safely
  3. Hair removal methods: benefits and side-effects
  4. Risks and complications of hair removal
  5. Medical conditions that can lead to excessive hair growth
  6. Hypertrichosis or werewolf syndrome
  7. Polycystic ovary syndrome PCOS-linked facial hair growth
  8. Cushing’s syndrome
  9. Sex hormone-producing tumours

Some medicines, steroids and hormonal therapy

Certain medications that are given during various treatment can lead to abnormal growth of hair on a person’s body. Some of these drugs are:

  • Testosterone: Used during hormonal therapy.
  • Danazol: Used during treatment of endometriosis and benign fibrocystic breasts.
  • Anabolic steroids: Used during injury, to boost muscle mass. 
  • Glucocorticoids: A potent group of drugs to treat multiple inflammations.
  • Cyclosporine: Mainly used for preventing organ rejection.
  • Minoxidil: Used to prevent thinning and falling of hair
  • Phenytoin: Used for the treatment of epilepsy.

Tips to remove hair safely

You will have to take slightly different precautions, depending on the area from which you want to remove the hair and the method. However, some tips and ideas apply to hair removal from the entire body:

  • Do a patch test before using any product: this includes hair-removal creams and different types of wax.
  • Discontinue any method that gives you a skin rash, skin allergies or causes too much pain and discomfort.
  • Methods like shaving and threading may give you cuts - make sure to dab the area with aftershave or astringent afterwards. 
  • Before waxing, ensure that your hair is long enough: one-fourth to three-fourths of an inch.
  • Wash and dry the area beforehand, for more effective hair removal.
  • If you are taking any drugs or supplements, check with your doctor about the safest and best hair removal method for you.
  • Applying ice on the area before threading or waxing can reduce the discomfort.

Hair removal methods: benefits and side-effects

Tweezing and shaving may be the oldest form of hair removal - some researchers have argued that shaving maybe 100,000 years old! To be sure, many new methods of hair removal have since been popular. Here's a quick look at them:

  • Shaving: Razors have gotten sharper, safer, better in recent times. Different razors for men and women take into account the differences in hair hardness between the two genders.
    Shaving can be done at home, all you need is shaving cream or gel and a razor. You should always shave with the grain (in the direction of the hair growth). Though shaving against the grain cuts the hair finely, it also causes skin inflammation, bumps and ingrown hair. You must use the razor precisely or else you may end up cutting your skin.
  • Sugaring: Apparently started by the ancient Egyptians, this method of hair removal with lemon juice, sugar and water, instead of wax, may be better suited for those who have sensitive skin.
  • Plucking: Historical artefacts show that plucking or tweezing is something we have in common with our ancestors from thousands of years ago. It's a simple method where a sharp tool is used to pluck unwanted hair and make your eyebrows look on fleek.
  • Threading: Another popular way to remove hair in India, it takes a great deal of skill to use a piece of thread for pulling hair out of its follicles by squeezing the skin on top.
  • Waxing: Yet another means to remove body hair from the roots, waxing has many variations today. Example, Rica wax is said to remove hair as well as reduce future hair growth. Chocolate wax is reputed to be better for harder hair growth. And ready-to-use wax strips are also easily available in the market, for those who prefer the convenience of hair removal at home.
    Hot waxing is the most popular way of removing hair and can be done either by soft wax or hard wax. Soft wax is easily available in the market and requires cotton strips to remove the hair. The hard wax is made up of either rosin or beeswax and does not require wax strips for hair removal.
    Waxing is not recommended for people who are taking retinol - a vitamin A supplement - and acne medication such as isotretinoin. Also, do not wax sunburnt or sensitive skin.
  • Depilatory creams: Hair removal creams contain chemicals like salts of thioglycolic acid (potassium thioglycolate or calcium thioglycolate) or barium sulfide. These chemicals react with the protein in the hair and make it weak, so it comes away from the skin easily when you use the spatula from the hair removal cream kit.
    These creams are available in the market for easy removal of hair. All you need to do is apply the cream over the desired area, keep it for the suggested amount of time and then remove the product. You should do a patch test first, before trying it on the rest of the body, this will help you prevent an allergic reaction.
    Possibly the least painful method of hair removal, these creams do pose the risk of skin allergy and chemical burns if they are left on for too long. The use of these creams is not recommended for removing facial hair and public hair.
  • Laser: Laser hair removal treatment involves the emission of laser light that is absorbed by the pigment (melanin) in the hair. The light gets converted into heat, which then damages the hair follicles that produce hairs. This damage to the hair follicle inhibits or delays the growth of hair in the future.
    Laser hair removal must be done by a trained professional. It can reduce the growth of unwanted hair on the body.
    Though there are no studies to determine if laser hair removal is safe during pregnancy, health expert generally advise against it.
  • Electrolysis: Electrolysis is a procedure where a trained professional passes an electrical current through a hair follicle. This electric current damages the follicle, thus preventing new hair growth. It can only be practised by a dermatologist who is certified to do electrolysis. It is said to be the most permanent way to remove hair currently.
  • Epilator: An epilator is a device that pulls several hairs out of your skin in one go. It can be painful. Using warm water and a mild scrub beforehand may help reduce the pain.

Read more: How to remove ingrown hair

Risks and complications of hair removal

There are a few disadvantages that are associated with hair removal:

  • Cuts: While shaving you are more prone to get cuts and bruises easily.
  • Minor burns: The use of hot wax can cause minor burns on the skin.
  • Skin inflammation: Inflammation of the skin could be seen after waxing or shaving. It occurs mostly due to friction during hair removal.
  • Bumps: This is a very common side-effect of waxing. 
  • Ingrown hair: Ingrown hair is usually seen after waxing. During waxing, you pull hair out rapidly in the opposite direction of hair growth. This disrupts the hair follicle. So, when the hair grows back, it regrows inward (inside the skin), resulting in ingrown hair. 
  • Infected hair follicles: Folliculitis is one of the most common skin disorders. It appears as pinpoint red bumps, each one involving a hair strand, occasionally with pus on top of it. It is most commonly seen after shaving.

Medical conditions that can lead to excessive hair growth

There are some medical conditions as well as medications that can cause excessive hair growth. These include:

  • Hypertrichosis
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • Sex hormone-producing tumours
  • Certain drugs

Though the hair-removal methods for these remain the same, it is instructive to know about them. The reason: some of these conditions, for example, PCOS, cause hormonal imbalance so the hair may grow back eventually - even after laser hair removal.

Hypertrichosis or werewolf syndrome

Hypertrichosis is defined as excessive hair growth anywhere on the body in either males or females. The causes are not exactly known. But taking certain drugs, as well as juvenile hypothyroidism (decreased thyroid hormone in a child’s body), juvenile dermatomyositis (rashes and muscle inflammation in children), acromegaly (a hormonal disorder causing too much growth), malnutrition, and advanced HIV/AIDS infection have been associated with the condition.

Hypertrichosis can occur in various parts of the body like:

  • Hypertrichosis cubiti (hairy elbow syndrome) 
  • Hypertrichosis palms and soles 
  • Hypertrichosis of the auricle (ears)
  • Hypertrichosis of the nasal tip

 

Polycystic ovary syndrome PCOS-linked facial hair growth

PCOS is a hormonal disorder in which the body produces excess androgens or the so-called male hormones. The result: the growth of cysts in the ovaries that may cause the ovaries to swell. The symptoms of PCOS are:

  • Irregular periods
  • Abnormal hair growth on face, chest, back or buttocks
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Weakening and thinning of hair
  • Acne

Cushing’s syndrome

It is a condition in which the adrenal gland starts making too much cortisol - the stress hormone. Cortisol is necessary for life as it helps in responding to situations such as an illness. The common symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome are:

Sex hormone-producing tumours

There are some tumours that produce sex hormones (testosterone or estrogen), thus promote the growth of abnormal hair in the body. These tumours are pretty rare and are present on the adrenal gland. They can be of three types:

  • Androgen-secreting tumours: It gives masculine features in females like abnormal hair growth, coarse voice, acne and ambiguous genitalia.
  • Estrogen-secreting tumours: It gives feminine features, in males like the absence of pubic hair, development of breasts and infertility.
  • Mixed-sex hormone-secreting tumours: Mixed masculine and feminine features are seen in this type.
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