Hello, my name is Anna and I’m a depilation addict. I’ve been attempting hairlessness for the last 25 years. It shouldn’t be a problem along the lines of say, other –aholisms, like drink, drugs, gambling or sex. But it is. You see, I am hairier than most men. Think not of soft downy lady-hair but thick, black, coarse hair that grows all over my face and body, that I spend a fortune obsessively removing. Hair that, if it were to reach its full follicular potential, could be a Channel 4 Extraordinary People documentary. Like any fully paid up addict, if you told me tomorrow you’d discovered a side-effect-free way of removing my unwanted hair permanently, legal or not, I would sell my own grandmother to obtain it.
It wasn’t always this way. I grew up being told I was pretty (don’t you just love mothers) blissfully unaware that my heavy jet black monobrow and lower back covered in thick black hair would ever be an obstacle to my world domination in the beauty stakes. Then I went to the beautician for the first time, my ever diplomatic but uber-groomed mother saying ‘It’s time.’ Nothing was off limits for my spatula-wielding hot-wax happy therapist – legs, upper lip, cheeks, chin, back, bikini line, even my toes, fingers and arms (I was 12!). I knew to expect pain. I was brought up in Australia but ethnically speaking I come from a long line of hirsute Greek/Egyptians and my cousin Maria had clearly warned me about this rite of passage. But nothing prepared me for the brow wax. I lay on the therapist’s chair, the rest of me red and spotty when she shone one of those fluorescent lights on me and peered so closely at my forehead that I could see her nose hair.
‘Hmmm. Hold on, I have to get a consult from the other girls.’ She ran outside and returned with the salon owner and what looked like three trainees who watched my subsequent brow-reshape like interns observing Dr Kovacs removing someone’s gall bladder in ER’s Trauma One. I was officially a specimen and from that day forth, my big, fat hairy Greek life began.
First, in an attempt to escape Brow-gate humiliation, I tried home depilation. That was back before the makers of Nair had discovered a way to mask its unique bleach-meets-self-tan smell and my OCD mother wasn’t having its stinking blobs clogging up her drainwork.
Then came Nad’s. The oddest phenomenon in hair removal ever, it was a little container of cold gel made of sugar and water by an Australian mum with a Lebanese background, whose daughters had the same hair issues as me. No heating, you just spread it on, cover with a sheet of paper and rip it off. Although the stuff has become a worldwide phenomenon (see nads.com) – making Lebanese mum a guzzillionaire, her daughters famous examples of defuzzing success – for me it just didn’t work. Basted in thick green toffee, I sat on the cold bathroom floor and cried about my bad hair life.
Speaking of, you know. I do go for the occasional Brazilian, though my very first ‘flight strip’ caused an involuntary chuckle and ‘What’s that?’ from my husband rather than the lustful Fabio-like lunge I was hoping for. Who can ever predict or begin to understand male sexuality? I recently did an experimental piece for a national newspaper in which I stopped grooming for three months. His first reaction to my unedited nether-regions wasn’t disgust at all but delight and the rather alarming exclamation, ‘Hmmm, peasant girl.’ I’ve yet to succumb to a Hollywood though – that’s the obsession with waxing everything in the vaginal vicinity so that only what you were born with remains. Besides finding it a little creepy, I’ve heard they get itchy. Anyway, wouldn’t one get cold?
But nothing, nothing prepared me for the epiphany that was my first full face threading. Until recently, I was addicted to full facial waxing. But hair grows back in angry black spikes, almost whisker-like, faster and thicker each time. I needed an alternative or I’d end up looking like Rolf Harris. At the beginning of last year I met Vaishaly, a London facialist famed for her facial and eyebrow threading. My first threading session was with Vaishaly herself, a stunning, tiny brunette and the most outstanding advertisement for her own beauty techniques one could get. I wanted to look like that so I asked to have whatever she has.
As Vaishaly took her magical spinning sewing thread to every little hair on my face – brows, chin, forehead, cheeks – the tears of pain literally streamed down my face. An hour later I emerged like a newly scrubbed doll, my eyebrows two stunning Bollywood-worthy arches and skin glowing and utterly hairless. Honestly, it was as if I’d had a facelift. Now, like childbirth, I forget the pain as soon as I catch sight of my hairless face each time.
The thing with threading is that hair not only grows back much finer and far slower than any other from of facial hair removal I’ve tried, it leaves the surface smooth from the get-go, without a hint of the angry pink follicles that have become the story of my former waxing, tweezing life. If someone ever invents a way the entire body could be threaded, my grandma had better watch out.
Vaishaly.com or call 020 7224 6088
The Braun Silk-Epil Xpressive Pro Wet & Dry costs £129.99 from Boots, Argos, Amazon, larger supermarkets and electrical retailers.
WHAT ABOUT LASERS?
Up to now, I have been regaled by many a doctor extolling the virtues of laser as that Holy Grail of hair removal, a system that is permanent. I shied away because traditionally laser hair removal was always best done on women with pale skin and dark hair. Having olive skin and dark hair, two years ago I had been told that my skin might end up discoloured with unsightly pale spots as laser works by being attracted to any dark pigment then zapping it, be that of hair or skin. Now, it seems things have changed and a new generation of lasers can help.
‘If skin is darker you can now use certain lasers on the skin that generate power more gently, rather than all in one go,’ says Dr Patrick Bowler, medical director of Courthouse Clinics. ‘Previously you would use one zap of energy with lasers, but new technologies such as the Soprano and Alexandrite lasers have scanning devices on them so the energy is spread out more evenly and targeting the hair and not the skin. This means an experienced practitioner can treat olive and Asian skin for hair removal in about 10-12 sessions. However, it’s still not possible to treat women with pale skin and blonde or red hair as there is not enough pigment in the hair follicle for the laser to focus on. It just won’t work.’
Make sure you see a reputable practitioner, advises Dr Bowler. In October last year the government de-regulated the use of laser technology making it easier for anybody with a laser to set up in business. Make sure your practitioner had had the technology for at least two years and they have used it on many, many clients. Ask to see before and after photos and to speak to previous hair removal clients. You can also check that they are registered with the Care Quality Commission at cqc.org.uk.
Could it be hormones?
My hairiness came courtesy of a set of hirsute Greek genes I couldn’t escape. But some hormonal conditions, most commonly Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can manifest as a hair overgrowth. ‘Such hair is called Terminal Hair by doctors,’ says Stephan Franks, Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology at the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, Imperial College London. ‘It usually shows up in the wrong places such as unwanted facial hair on the chin and cheeks, or hair around the nipples and trunk.’ Because PCOS is usually related to an excess of testoterone in the system, Terminal Hair usually comes in a ‘male distribution’ pattern, for example on the upper lip, chin, neck, breast bone and abdomen spreading downwards from the navel. ‘You may have excess hair alone as a symptom of PCOS or you may have normal hair growth and other symptoms, such as irregular or infrequent periods and/or acne,’ says Professor Franks.
So what can be done? First, you will need a diagnosis from a doctor, ideally a specialist so if your GP hasn’t an interest in PCOS, ask for a referral to someone who has. They will take a clinical diagnosis and perhaps do a testosterone level test. The good news is that along with hormonal treatments to balance out your PCOS (these include the oral contraceptive and other treatments that lower testosterone levels) you may also be entitled to hair removal treatment on the NHS such as laser, waxing or threading. ‘There is also a new prescription cream called Vaniqa which slows the rate of hair’s growth once it has been removed,’ says Professor Franks. ‘In the majority of cases it takes between two and three months to work but it is effective. It is not a hair removal cream but a local, medical treatment that that gets to the root of the hair and reduces the rate of its growth’. Talk to your doctor.
More information: pcos-uk.org.uk
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