Everything You Need to Know About Hair Growth Inhibitors, According to Doctors

I've been shaving my legs since I was 12. As most women probably experienced, back then, it was a big deal — on par with getting your period, and for me, a whole lot more exciting. One Friday lunch in 2002, my group of friends and I made a pact that come Monday, we would arrive at school hair-free from the knees down. I stole my sister's razor and did the deed, and the rest is history.

Since then, I've tried almost every hair removal method invented, but for some reason, I've always remained skeptical about hair growth inhibitors. Looking at some of the products sold online, most hair growth inhibitors claim to starve hair of nutrients, prevent formation of hair follicles, and stop hair growth. If you ask me, a magical potion that makes hair stop growing sounds too good to be true. That's why I've done us all a favor and gone straight to the experts to see if these growth inhibitors live up to the hype.

What are hair growth inhibitors, and how do they work?

According to Max Malik, medical director and founder of Cosmetics Clinic, "a hair growth inhibitor is a cream or spray that can reduce and remove unwanted hair growth for an extended period of time; removing hairs from the root and slowing regrowth." They are topical products, available over the counter, and usually require you to shave before applying.

Do hair growth inhibitors actually work?

Unlike laser hair removal, hair inhibitors tend to work best for those with lighter hair, rather than dark. However, Malik warns that there is little to no evidence that suggests hair inhibitors stop hair growth completely. Sophie Shotter, medical director and founder of Illuminate Skin Clinic, agrees. "Some may slow hair growth but will not stop it and will not remove the need for other hair removal methods," she said. In other words, as soon as you stop using it, hair will start to grow back.

Are topical hair growth inhibitors safe?

"There isn't enough evidence to assess the safety of most of these products," Shotter said. "A lot of the nonprescription products available are purely based on botanicals and so shouldn't do harm to people who are not allergic to them." A good rule of thumb is to do a patch test on your inner arm 24 hours before use to make sure you don't have any reactions.

"If you notice any unwanted side effects, discontinue use immediately," said Dr Ross Perry, GP and medical director of CosmedicsUK.

What alternatives are recommended?

While waxing has been proven to slow hair growth and shaving is great for short-term results, Shotter, Malik, and Perry all agree that laser hair removal is the best long-term solution for those wanting to slow and reduce hair growth. Should you suffer excessive facial hair growth, Shotter recommends you visit your doctor, who may be able to prescribe a medical hair inhibitor called Vaniqa, the only product that's clinically proven to stop hair growth.