Getting rid of AMAB body hair
August 6, 2018 8:44 AM   Subscribe

I am AMAB - assigned male at birth, as in I have a 'male' body. I am not, however, a man. I have a lot of hair in the wrong places and I want it gone. I don't want facial hair and I don't want body hair. I can't see myself ever wanting either of those things. How can I get rid, temporarily in the first instance and permanently in the long run? This is a super embarrassing question, sorry!

I've always been a hairy person - it's a genetic thing, it runs in my family. I have dark hair on my shoulders, chest, stomach and back. I shave my face every day but always have unsightly darker patches where my facial hair grows. I have pale skin and dark hair, which makes it worse.

Not being much of a contortionist, I can't shave areas on my back and shoulders very easily at all (there are areas I can't reach) and it invariably grows back pretty quickly in the areas I can reach. Even when I've just shaved, there are dark 'dots' because the hair is so dark. I see men with no hair on their upper body - does it just not grow on some people, or are they doing something to get rid of it?

I don't have vast sums of money to throw at things like laser hair removal which can run into hundreds or even thousands and which I'm aware is probably the only long-term option for my face, although it might be (and probably will be) an option at some point in the future when I'm more financially secure.

I've looked around online resources on this sort of thing but I can't find anything that's not quite intensely masculine in tone, which I find a real turn off. It's starting to affect my life - I don't get out and meet many new people because I'm tired of being read as male and explaining to anyone who'll listen that I'm not. I can't look at myself in the mirror. I want to be able to get away with feminine clothing and accessories more, but I can't because of this hair issue.

So my question is - what options do I have to get rid of a) the darn dark patches on my face when I've shaved and shaved and shaved; and b) the hair on my upper body that I either can't reach at all or can't fully get rid of because it's so dark? Either products I can get and things I can do at home, or things I'll have to go somewhere for are valid options.

I don't live in a remotely queer-friendly area - which is why I haven't done much about this yet - but have a city within reasonable travel reach (namely Manchester) that is likely to have queer-accommodating places for beauty treatments etc, if that helps to inform any answers.
posted by winterhill to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have a cis male friend who has his back/chest waxed because his body hair really bugs him. He seems really happy with the results. I wonder if you might try hitting up a salon for that, and while you're there ask for their thoughts on facial hair removal?
posted by Stacey at 8:56 AM on August 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Does GroupOn or its equivalent social shopping experience still exist where you are? Those platforms often have laser hair removal coupons that bring the price of services down from hundreds of dollars to tens of dollars for an introductory package. I know several people (all cis-women, but some who had a pretty large amount of very dark hair to deal with) who have dealt with their hair removal issues by simply moving from salon to salon using groupons, and never paying full price. It's a pain to always be looking for the next place (often the coupons are only good for 3-5 visits and one body part), and you can't find one place you feel safe and welcome and stay there long term unfortunately, but maybe it would give you the room to deal with the most difficult to deal with or upsetting patches of hair?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:04 AM on August 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

I've been prescribed Spironolactone for the off-label use related to hormones, and they told me at the time that this medication is used for the purposes you are seeking, i.e. a reduction in androgenic hair growth aka hirsutism. I did have the rare side effect of renal failure, but it is obvious when this happens - everything gets really sparkly and the blood test for kidney function is cheap and fast. I suggest that you review information related to treating polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), because managing the hormones is a big part of managing that condition.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:04 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding Groupon or coupons for laser hair removal for your face. Waxing for back and larger areas. The good news is that you are the best candidate for laser - fair with dark hair.
posted by 41swans at 9:35 AM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm currently working with a group of AMAB women in a grad student capacity, and just last week two of them were talking about their experiences with electrolysis - one of them in particular reported having very good results from that. She also mentioned that it was covered by her insurance, which I suspect is very rare (the other person in my group said she had not been successful getting it covered so far), but is that something you could consider?
posted by DingoMutt at 9:37 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who has been pretty happy with electrolysis, except for insurance hassles (they were paying, then they weren’t, now they are, but she has to get reimbursed, etc). You are in the UK, though, and I have no idea how that works there. My friend had to do quite a few appointments with gender specialists and develop a transition plan to get the required certification for insurance coverage to begin with. The U.K. situation is probably quite different.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:48 AM on August 6, 2018

Waxing is good, but it requires you to grow the hair to I think about 1/4 of an inch before you can remove it, which could leave the dysphoria intact.

But I also want to reassure you that many ladies have this sort of problem, more than you'd think! You may want to look into resources for PCOS cis ladies - which is going to be lady-focused 'agh this hair is everywhere fuck it all!' but won't focus on the reasons why you have that hair.

Also, nthing the 'groupon laser hair removal and move on'.

But also - if the primary problem is your face, this is something that can absolutely be worked on with a good tweezers and a few hours of time. And after a while of tweezing, the hair just does not grow back in the same way. It still grows, but it's less thick and dark. You can also do this, if you have a non-sharp tweezers with a good grip, while you watch TV while home alone, which makes it less of a laborious chore.

Good luck!
posted by corb at 9:50 AM on August 6, 2018 [7 favorites]

The good news is that this is something many, many women have dealt with because women have body and facial hair despite not being "supposed" to. So there is an entire industry dedicated to this. Waxing for body or facial hair, and threading for your facial hair are both popular options. You can also bleach hair between sessions.

However, they all cost something. Can you give us a sense of what your budget is? I ask because a have a friend who chose laser removal and said the sessions basically each cost just a little bit more than a waxing session. (though waxing costs can vary so much, from like $5 for an upper lip at a neighborhood salon that caters to immigrants to $70 for that same lip at a day spa with wine for rich ladies)

If you have a really tight budget, there are lots of depilatory products at the drugstore you can try. Stuff like Nair (cream) smells terrible and doesn't work super well, but it might help. You can also buy home wax kits, at least for the areas you can reach easily.
posted by lunasol at 9:55 AM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Hair minimizing creams are thing. I current use them for my menopausal black hairs that turned up on my chin & lip, and on my on leg/pubic/armpit hair in my younger days.

The ordinary makes a serum or moisturizer & their are several good brands of moisturizer out there that do the same thing. They do not work fast, they work best if the hair root has been removed as in waxing or plucking as it works on the hair when it's growing in not already grown in so takes longer if you just shave but it will still work if you persist. Anyway it makes hairs that grow back a lot thinner & lighter. It takes a couple of months of use to really show a difference however it's super easy to use & not super expensive, and it would work with things like waxing to help slow regrowth so you could go longer between waxings and make the hair that comes back lighter & thinner, it doesn't stop hair growth so much as make it super duper fine & grow back more slowly.

Not sure if it will help, but removing body hair is something most women do in one way or another so no need to be embarrassed. As others have said ladies with PCOS are the experts in this area so checking out some of their forums or subreddits might be a good way to pick up tips.
posted by wwax at 10:02 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

The canonical answers in my neck of the woods are electrolysis to remove hair and hormones (spironolactone and estrogen) to stop it coming back. You might look into local trans and gender variant online groups or meetups - people on a Slack or email list for your region will have very detailed info on what insurance allows and for whom. You might have luck with concealer and foundation for the "5 o'clock shadow"/face coloring.

Unfortunately, there's literally nothing we can do to guarantee that everyone we encounter will read us as our identified genders. It has helped a bunch of people struggling with dysphoria, including me, to take a few steps back from "passing" as a concept. Whether you think the next ten people you see are men, women, young, old, disabled, queer, nerdy, and so forth is mostly about what you expect those conditions to look like and only sort of about how they present themselves. Similarly, whether those people read you as a woman is mostly out of your hands. If they make shitty assumptions, that doesn't mean you've done anything incorrectly and it super doesn't mean you should pour more energy into presentation. (full disclosure: I'm an afab guy and I know standards are lower for us and it sucks. I'm sorry.)
posted by bagel at 10:04 AM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you are pale with dark hair, you can buy a hair-removal laser to use at home. (In the US, the Tria laser is the one people buy.) They're $400 or so (you can find them on sale), but for $400 you can laser yourself as much as you want for as long as you want, which is a bargain compared to professional laser removal or electrolysis or whatever if you have a lot of hair. They're FDA approved in the US, and have been in use for about a decade; results vary (as with all hair removal), but if you have pale skin and dark hair they work pretty well for most people.

The US model DOES warn not to use it on male beards because the hairs are very close together (and it can cause burns), but that warning isn't carried in other countries, and on hair removal boards a lot of AMAB do use it for exactly that, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

"I see men with no hair on their upper body - does it just not grow on some people, or are they doing something to get rid of it? "

Both. Some men have barely any hair on their upper bodies naturally, and some are hairy naturally but put a lot of effort into removing it. (And, in Hollywood and magazines, there's a lot of makeup/retouching on those bare chests to hide the follicles that might give it away that a guy wasn't naturally hairless.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:07 AM on August 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Fair skin and dark hair are the perfect combo for IPL laser hair reduction. You need a series of treatments and it can get expensive but it's highly competitive and there is always a deal on it so don't ever pay full price for it.
posted by headnsouth at 10:10 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've tried all of the above and only recommend the laser hair reduction. Electrolysis did not seem to make a difference 1x a week for 4 weeks. Different Groupon spas have different types of lasers that work varying well with techs who have varying experience. It takes many sessions. I found though particularly with my underarms that a handful of sessions reduced the dark patches you mention so that shaving has much better results, more sessions would result in more reduction. I have fair skin and dark hair as well. The home laser I bought and tried did not work well, maybe they are better now. Waxing and depilatory creams seem no better than shaving - the stubble still comes back very quickly. Some laser spas have a full body price with unlimited return sessions for some time period - this would be good for the future when you find a good spa that seems like it will be in business for a while.
posted by RoadScholar at 10:19 AM on August 6, 2018

Just wanted to say that you are not alone in being a lady with a ton of body hair. I come from a family of very hairy women. As a bonus, I have sensitive, ingrown-prone skin. My mother did electrolysis for years on her chin and neck. The fact that she had to do it for years should indicate to you how well it worked. I've tried waxing (too hard on my skin), Nair (smelled horrid, didn't work but also irritated my skin) and sugaring and of course, shaving. Sugaring was great, but just like waxing, you have to grow out the hair to a certain length before you can have it ripped out again. (The sugaring I'm talking about is where they use like a ball of of caramel to yank hair out, no cloth strips involved.)

I have yet to try threading, epilating or laser hair removal. I've been meaning to ask an AMAB friend of mine who she used for her laser hair removal because it seems to have worked so well. Like you, I have pale skin and dark hair which I understand is the best candidate for laser hair removal.

If I were you, I would try to save up for laser hair removal and try using the topical hair reduction treatments mentioned above in the meantime. If you decide to try some other type of hair removal that involves ripping it out, remember to tend to your skin before and after. Exfoliation, moisturizing and anti-ingrown-hair treatments are often required.
posted by purple_bird at 10:28 AM on August 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

On a very short term basis a lot of hair shadow (those dark patches) can be covered up with clever makeup. Different techniques work for different people depending on hair and skin texture and color and face shape, but usually a combination of color correcting concealer (probably in a pink for you) with some contouring and a lot of setting powder is the way to go.

I'm a cis woman but I have an awful preteen boy mustache that stands out on my very pale skin. Sometimes I wax it, sometimes I let it be and on special occasions I shave that sucker and disguise the stubble with makeup. The other thing to take into account when collecting your stubble coverup arsenal is environment. If I'm attending a wedding in a humid hot place I know I have to wax the stache ahead of time because any makeup will melt off my face. But if I'm spending my day indoors I do the shave and makeup routine. If I were doing it on a regular basis I would invest in better makeup for that, like dermablend.
posted by Mizu at 10:28 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's a shortage right now, but there is also a prescription cream called Vaniqa in the U.S. that slows hair regrowth considerably. You still have to pluck/wax/whatever, and it takes about two months to kick in if it's going to work for you, but it is definitely a help. It's also not inexpensive (about $125 for a tube that lasts about two-three months for facial hair application, with the coupon from the website), but it's still cheaper than many of the other options, so if you're in a situation where you can't afford laser right off the bat, it might help you out until you can.

Tons of women have facial hair, so, while I'm definitely not saying you don't have the right to feel unhappy about it, please know that having it doesn't disqualify you as a woman.
posted by praemunire at 10:52 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm also pale skinned with reasonably dark body hair. For budget hair removal I've opted for an epilator. It gets the hair out by the root so you don't have to deal with shadow or stubble as you do with shaving - it leaves you hairless longer and regrowth is more subtle because it's the natural tapered hair tip rather than blunt-cut stubble. Epilating doesn't require as much regrowth as waxing to be effective, and since it's not a labour-intensive process it's easy to do touch-ups as needed. I've used mine on limbs, armpits, bikini-line, and face - the model I chose has different attachments suited for different body areas.

I've found the epilator to be less complicated, less messy, and less painful than trying to do waxing at home, and obviously much cheaper than going to a salon for waxing on a regular basis. Obviously there would be areas you can't reach yourself (like your back) or that you may find too sensitive to do yourself (doing your upper lip can be twingy!) but saving money by doing the easy stuff yourself can free up room in your budget for getting the difficult areas waxed or threaded at a salon.

If there are any aesthetician schools in your area they may offer salon services at a discount to people who are willing to be practiced on by their students. I've done this and the experience was fine, if a little slower than going to someone more experienced at a professional salon.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 11:00 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Genuinely friendly note for Americans - in the UK, health insurance is generally only taken up by the very well-off who want immediate treatment for everything. We have (mostly) free universal healthcare via the NHS funded by general taxation, though it doesn't cover everything.

Laser treatment for hirsutism isn't usually covered by the NHS as a cosmetic procedure barring exceptional circumstances, but I believe it is generally provided by individual Trusts as part of a gender-reassignment pathway (which it sounds like you haven't undertaken, forgive me); but given your circumstances it may be possible to get help on the NHS.

It likely won't be particularly quick, but you could look into getting a referral from your GP to your closest gender identity clinic which specifically help with non-binary and gender-identity matters. None in Manchester I can see, but there is one in Leeds and another in Sheffield which may be accessible? Their individual websites have more details on referrals and available treatments, so it's probably worth calling them first before you speak to your GP and they should be able to advise you.

It's also possible your GP may be able to help directly with prescription-only options in the shorter term. I was going to suggest you might be able to get Eflornithine cream (also known as Vaniqa I think) but quick research makes me think it may not be suitable give you were AMAB.

If you GP won't help you (not all are fully up to speed on every issue), you are entitled to a second opinion from another GP.

Good luck.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 11:02 AM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Non-binary trans woman here. For face, definitely laser (check groupon). Even if you can't afford a bunch of sessions, even a couple can help a lot towards facial hair being easier to shave/cover up with makeup (a whole separate question). I don't recommend tweezing or even threading if your hair is thick and course.

For body, laser is likely your best more permanent solution. Waxing could also work well. Other folks will use epilation instead there -- which can be really painful/irritating, but I hear works well for some folks. I shave my remaining body hair (which has lessened significantly on HRT), and if you do that make sure you have a strong exfoliation routine. Tendskin helps me.

I will flag that, if your body continues to be testosterone dominant, even as you laser hair it may grow back/you may grow more as you get older. Have you considered HRT as an option? Not sure how you identify, but there are options for a more non-binary transition.

In terms of finding more affirming resources online, this is something trans women/trans-feminine folks are talking about constantly, if that would be more affirming for you then men talking about this. Feel free to PM me if you want to chat through any of the above!
posted by kylej at 11:03 AM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Chiming back in to add -- for shaving, when it was more of an issue for me, I also bought attachments on Amazon that you can use with an electric body hair trimmer to make reaching your back, etc. easier.

Also: For other folks answering the question, flagging that the OP doesn't say they identify as a woman anywhere in their question. There are genders other than "man" or "woman," so encourage folks to avoid gendering them unless they chime in here to clarify otherwise.
posted by kylej at 11:09 AM on August 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think laser is really the best (and most cost/labor effective) way to deal with unwanted hair long term.

Another way to save money on laser hair removal (besides Groupon/coupons) is to optimally time the sessions. Do a little research on hair growth cycles. Most places will have you schedule appointments on a regular basis which makes no sense. Hair grows in cycles, with several sets of follicles which are active at different times, and it's a long cycle. You need to treat each set of follicles while they are active, not be continually treating the same ones, only to have new hair start growing and think it didn't work. Full treatment will take 1 to 2 years to get everything, not the less than 6 months a lot of places seem to promote. Get a few treatments, wait 3 or 4 months (off the top of my head, it's been years since I've been up on the details of this topic) till you see new growth, get a few more treatments, and so on. You'll be wasting money if you get 6 sessions in 6 months, only to have the same effect as two sessions, versus spreading those 6 sessions over two years.

That was the problem I ran into with groupon, I got a package for 6 treatments, which should be a good starting point for full removal, but the deal expired after 6 months, which isn't enough time for doing all the sessions. (So I ended up doing 3 sessions over 6 months and having half as much hair.)
posted by catatethebird at 11:16 AM on August 6, 2018

I had a number of electrolysis sessions a decade or more ago. The technician explained that some hair is in a growth phase, and some is in a rest phase, so that went some way to explain why it took so many sessions really make a difference. The hair has to be emerged from the skin because she had to grab it to zap it and pull it out. It needs to be in a growth phase. The laser also needs some hair length. I had that too, a couple of times recently, but it didn't work for me because I am very fair with nearly transparent hair. It's wiry, which is why I wanted it removed. I was unable to even find an electrologist - they seem to have all switched to laser.

One factoid I remember from my electrologist is that plucking distorts the root of the hair, making it much more difficult to remove permanently. I would wait until after meeting with an electrologist or laserist before embarking on plucking.

I have a friend who surgically transitioned in the early 1980s. She went through many, many laser sessions to have her facial hair, underarm hair, and other body hair removed. The sessions were painful, and she was treated by a dermatologist, as this was before the boutique approach to hair removal. She was given pretty large doses of Valium to get through these hour-long sessions several times a week for months. She looked totally female as relates to body hair after these sessions, but I don't know how hairy she was before, as I only met her after her transition. She did have some minor scattered facial scarring, which is a risk, but it was only noticeable because she never wore make-up (and still doesn't).
posted by citygirl at 12:12 PM on August 6, 2018

Mentha spicata labiatae (spearmint) and licorice reduce testosterone to lessen hairiness; eflornithine (generic Vaniqua) is available without prescription here.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:22 PM on August 6, 2018

If you can't afford electrolysis and your insurance doesn't cover it, I know several transwomen who have done it themselves. Obviously not going to work for areas you can't reach to shave, and there is a higher risk of scarring in DIY, and it takes a *ridiculous* amount of time to DIY, but it can be done and the devices aren't expensive, though they are lower power than the professional devices (I know at least one woman got hers used from an actual clinic when they upgraded. A google search will definitely find you some forums where women are discussing how to do it.
posted by liminal_shadows at 11:41 PM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, if you're super broke _and_ too short on time or too nervous to DIY electrolysis (the groupon thing for laser only works in major cities and I don't know where you are), you can try the hair removal creams like nair, though I'd go with one marketed more towards people of color for their facial hair. If you don't have sensitive skin that might give you satisfactory results for your back. Swipe some on a spatula or something similar and even if you can't reach with your hands, you have an option that's fairly affordable.
posted by liminal_shadows at 11:44 PM on August 6, 2018

Mentha spicata labiatae (spearmint) and licorice reduce testosterone

Licorice can also make you blood pressure go b-a-n-a-n-a-s if you eat too much or drink too much licorice tea. For a long time too, not just like a few hours. So beware of that.

I did use a cheapo home electrolysis thing to remove some hairs and it works, it's just slow and I don't know that you could do your back. Waxing is likely your best bet but I'm sure it'll hurt, sorry!
posted by fshgrl at 1:08 AM on August 7, 2018

Building on what Absolutely No You-Know-What said, my friend is a qualified laser therapist (from Ireland, not the UK but she is familiar with the system there) and she said that as this is causing you stress and affecting your mental well-being you should be able to get an NHS referral through a GP to a good laser clinic with Alexandrite Laser pale skin dark hair. She recommends bringing a good friend to the GP appointment with you to help you advocate for it if needs be. Good luck! This is absolutely something you deserve proper therapeutic assistance with.
posted by roolya_boolya at 4:48 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mentha spicata labiatae (spearmint) and licorice reduce testosterone to lessen hairiness
I'll have to get over to Pontefract!

I think in terms of gender identity clinics, it's a bit of a long and very involved process to go through when a gender transition isn't my end goal. The waiting lists are incredibly long (you're talking years) and I don't feel like taking up a space that should be used by someone who is transitioning and is in more pain than I am. I've had a lot of time to think about this, and my preferred end result would be no real gender identity as such, but on the feminine side of that. I am not invested in 'passing' as a woman, because I'm not a woman, but I feel deeply uncomfortable with being perceived as male.

I didn't realise that my combination of light skin/dark hair (my family background is Scottish) was the best combination for IPL laser. I was always told IPL laser would never work and not to even bother trying.

So to clarify, in terms of my back and shoulders and the places I can't reach myself, the best option would be to go and get someone else to do it, eg. waxing? That doesn't sound too bad.
posted by winterhill at 7:24 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

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