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The Truth Is Not as Hairy as You Think

August 16, 1994|KATHLEEN DOHENY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Every day, New York dermatologist Robert Auerbach hears the same question:

Is this normal? patients ask while pointing to a hair that has sprouted or a hair that has vanished.

Most of the time it is, Auerbach tells them.

Once patients know they are normal--or as normal as the next hairy or unhairy person--doctors say patients are more receptive to the facts of hair:

* Excess hair--whether it's on a man's back or a woman's chest--is usually not a health concern, only a cosmetic problem. Ditto for too little hair in places where it's valued, such as the head.

* In rare cases, excess hair is a medical problem. Known as hirsutism or hypertrichosis, the condition can spring from abnormalities in the ovaries or the adrenal or pituitary glands. If your doctor suspects this, Auerbach says, a work-up will be ordered. Treatment options include medication and surgery.

* About 99% of hair patterns are genetically driven, says Auerbach, who is also a professor of clinical dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine. If your mom has dark forearm hair, don't be surprised if your arms are a match.

* Hair follicles have built-in time clocks that govern when they will stop and start producing. Baldness is thought to occur when particular follicles turn off.

* Forget about treatments to help your hair grow more quickly than normal. Hair is on its own timetable. "Hair may grow faster (on its own) in the summer," Auerbach says, "but the data is not hard and fast."

* Bad-perm victims, take note: Hair on the scalp grows for about three years before falling out. The hair follicle then rests for three months.

* Biology is kinder to eyebrow-dying fans: Like most other body hair, eyebrows have a six-month life cycle.

* Women tend to get more facial hair with age. Common sites are the chin and the upper lip. Chin hairs can be especially bothersome if they grow inward and pimples develop around them, says Dr. Rhonda Rand, a Beverly Hills dermatologist and UCLA assistant clinical professor of medicine.

* To get rid of excess hair? "There's no harm in plucking, bleaching, shaving, waxing or (undergoing) electrolysis," Auerbach says. Shaving, contrary to folk wisdom, won't make hair grow in coarser.

* Although minoxidil (Rogaine) is viewed as an effective baldness treatment, there are other options, such as transplants and toupees.

* Hair Angst is ancient. But thankfully the treatments have improved greatly since 420 BC, when Hippocrates fended off further balding by applying potions of opium, pigeon droppings and spices.

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