By Valerie Monroe
If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at valeriemonroe.substack.com.
“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions.
Yes, you, Miss? The reader in the back with the fancy razor strop.
Q: What’s the best way to deal with facial foliage, aka kitty whiskers?
A: You may know that the ratio of estrogen to testosterone changes as we age. Diminished estrogen levels mean more unopposed testosterone, so we grow more hair where men do, namely on our faces. It happens. So, though there are many reasons to be alarmed these days, seeing more strays on your face isn’t one of them. And by the way, if facial fur doesn’t bother you, do as the Beatles say and let it be, let it be.
But if every once in a while, or even regularly, you’re unhappy to find a few dark (or white) hairs on your upper lip or chin, it’s fine to whack them off with a blade. (Don’t tweeze them; that’s more likely to irritate your skin.) I like these because how could you not, with a name like Tinkle?
One morning at an O, The Oprah Magazine editorial meeting, one of my magnificent colleagues happened to mention that many women where she grew up in the South regularly shaved their faces. I wish you could’ve seen the reaction of the other 12 or 15 of us. I, for one, suddenly saw this Southern belle very differently.
Since then, I’ve met many women who’ve shaved their faces (often in the shower, often in secret) all their adult lives. If you’re one of them, and you’re happy with the results, bless you.
Shaving your face in secret, though, makes me think of shame—and about why having hair on your face might make you feel ashamed. I want to encourage you to contribute to a conversation in the comments about what you think about this. I’ll start: Anything that doesn’t conform to mainstream ideas about femininity can make us feel like deviants. The beguilingly hirsute naturalist Charles Darwin might say hair growing where it wouldn’t typically grow on a female—no matter how old she is—sends a mild shock through our hard wiring because it indicates something “off” about fertility (and advancement of the species). Interesting idea, Chaz. You’ll be hearing more about him at a later date.
Once in a while, marketing geniuses, unawares, save the day. Not too long ago they replaced the word “shaving” with “dermaplaning,” the result of which was that the act of removing hair from your face became an acceptable—even coveted—beauty treatment. There’s no downside (or should I say, downyside) to shaving or dermaplaning, says New York City dermatologist Doris J. Day, MD; the hair on your face feels soft because it’s been there forever. Shave it and it might feel a bit coarser but not appreciably.
Laser hair removal works only for some of us. It’s not effective on white, blonde, red, or light hair (that’s a rabbit hole for another time), and you’ll need up to six to eight treatments along with occasional maintenance appointments. Please see a bona fide MD because you must have an evaluation before any session with a laser. And if you’re olive- or dark-skinned you have to be extremely careful because the wrong type of laser can cause post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (a dark stain) or a burn. But the 1064 NdYag laser works well to remove dark hair on dark skin, says Brooke Jackson, MD, a Durham, NC, dermatologist. It takes three to five treatments and then maintenance treatments every few months.
Electrolysis—a procedure in which the follicle is destroyed by heat through an electrical current—is a good solution for stray hairs, but it’s not great for large areas, because . . . ouchie!
Dara Levy, developer of a hair removal and exfoliation device, says she created the Dermaflash because it’s designed to remove vellus hair—the fuzz women have on their faces—rather than coarse terminal hair, which is what men have. She is an extremely persuasive proponent of the device, and I noticed on Dermaflash’s Instagram that there seem to be many women (of all ethnicities) who are happy with their results. I personally can’t vouch for it as I haven’t tried it, but if you’re uncomfortable with your facial fuzz, it might be worth a look.
Another beloved dermatologist once told me that if you can’t see the hair on your face from an arm’s length away, don’t bother with it. I used to agree, but not anymore. Why? Because the things I can’t see now from an arm’s length away are vast and legion. Who knows? I could be obliviously sporting a Van Dyke. A quick bi-weekly check-in with a magnifying mirror and my dainty Tinkle does the trick for now.