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We learned so many beauty factoids while producing Allure's The Science of Beauty podcast (available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts) that we'll never struggle to make dinner-party conversation again. For example, did you know that hair is liquid before it sprouts on your head? Or that the word collagen is derived from the Greek word kolla, meaning glue, because it's basically responsible for holding our bodies together?
Those sorts of anecdotes make for fun party fodder, sure, but a tidbit that West Islip, New York-based, board-certified dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla shared during our episode on body hair has forever changed the way we approach one very important — but not often-discussed — aspect of our beauty routine: removing the hair above our upper lip. Let's just say our trusty face razor has officially been retired.
Mariwalla first defined terminal versus vellus hair. The former type is found in areas like your armpits and pubic region. It's thicker and coarser than the thin hair all over the rest of your body — including your face — which is called vellus hair.
Listen to Allure's The Science of Beauty Podcast: Ep. 11 | Body Hair
Dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla stops by to talk through all the many options for removing body hair, if that's what you choose to do.
But, "if you do a lot of shaving, for example, on your face, in some ethnicities [vellus hair] can actually turn into terminal hair," she said, noting this happens most frequently to Middle Eastern and South Asian women. The phenomena — called hypertrichosis, a thickening of the hair — typically happens on the face and not, say, your legs. ("Facial hair follicles tend to respond to stimulus and hormones in a different way than the body does," Mariwalla said.) Shaving, in particular, can exacerbate this because, unlike tweezing or waxing, it does not remove hair at the follicle.
And whether you're genetically predisposed to hypertrichosis or not, if you make the (very personal) decision to remove the hair above your upper lip, you may want to reconsider using a razor for that reason. "When we shave with a razor, the ends of the hairs may become more blunt because they are cut on an angle," says board-certified dermatologist Laurel Naversen Geraghty, who practices in Medford, Oregon. (You'll definitely want to check out her guest appearance on The Science of Beauty, during which she schools us on skin-care acids.) "This can lead to a coarse feeling as the hairs regrow because rather than a soft, tapered hair tip, there is a more blunt or angled end to the hair." As in: You're left with stubble.
While you might not mind stubble on your legs, those blunt ends can be more obvious on your face and make hair "feel" coarser — even though its actual composition remains unchanged. And, adds Mariwalla, "you may end up in a cycle where you are shaving your upper lip frequently because you are only cutting it at the surface of the skin [with shaving]."
No Mo-Stache Portable Lip Wax Kit
Nair Cream Hair Remover for Face
Laser hair removal can be an effective — though costly — long-term solution. (Depending on where in the country you live, a single session on the upper lip area can cost around $150, and up to eight treatments are required for lasting results.) Both waxing and using a depilatory cream are options that target the hair follicle, meaning you won't get the stubbly feeling that results from shaving. (If you go either of those routes, we recommend the No Mo-Stache waxing kit or Nair Cream Hair Remover for Face.) Each method has its drawbacks: at-home waxing can go wrong fast and some depilatory creams can cause irritation if used too often, says Mariwalla.
Of course, it wouldn't be fair not to acknowledge that shaving does have an upside: It's arguably the quickest, most fuss-free method for getting rid of fuzz.
But as with everything related to your body, the choice — to remove your upper lip hair or not, and if so, how — is entirely yours.