Part of me thinks I should really stop hanging out on discussion fora. While they can be bastions of great friendship, humour, knowledge and generosity, I've also experienced the other side of it: narrow-mindedness, nastiness, arguments worse than any in real life, and people turning on you at the drop of a hat. Sometimes it feels as if I'm too old, and beyond the immature individuals that can frequent these places.
However, it seems that I just can't keep away, and my current favourite forum is that of the MoneySavingExpert website, which covers all subjects from how to save old style to which diet works best. It was while I was on the Health and Beauty bit of the forum that a conversation started about unwanted excess facial hair in women. It's one of society's remaining taboos: nobody in real life ever talks about this, so as I suffer with this myself, I joined in the discussion keenly, waiting with bated breath to see if solutions would be offered that I had not already tried (or dismissed as impractical).
I first suffered the demon facial fur when I was about 15. I don't remember how I first started trying to combat it (but as I wasn't waxing the rest of my body then, I suspect it involved a razor), or exactly when I began trying to remove it (although it was probably when I realised it was noticeable, when girls at school added this to the long list of things that they already made fun of me for). Quickly realising the limitations of shaving, I turned to my mother, who was sympathetic, and suggested wax. This didn't hurt too much and she seemed to be suggesting that I would only need to do this once a month. So as we stood over the gas stovetop waiting for the wax to melt, I remember thinking, "Yeah, once a month...I can handle this."
Sadly, the hair grew back again too quickly, and so I resorted to the razor again for more regular maintenance. Of course the vicious cycle with excess facial hair is that you have to let it grow in order to wax it, but that you don't want to let it grow in case it becomes too visible (and with my hair being dark brown against my pale skin, I have it pretty bad). Once I started waxing the rest of my body hair, I went for a combination of shaving and tweezing, knowing that removing the hairs at the root would (...eventually...) reduce the growth. In more recent years, I have resorted to hermitdom for the first five days of each school holiday, letting the hair grow long enough for it to be waxed, which does seem to improve the situation. The hermitdom and constant scarf-wearing at this time are less of a perk, however.
All of these ideas naturally came up on the MSE thread, with others being added, including threading (which carries the same problems as waxing) and depilatory creams (which unfortunately don't slow regrowth). But then a solution was suggested that I'd never heard of before: a prescription-only cream called Vaniqa*, which is said to reduce hair growth over time thanks to twice-daily use. I didn't know how it worked, but I was intrigued, and got myself some. The side-effects didn't worry me. The most common one is chin acne, which I again suffer from anyway, so I figured that I wouldn't be losing out much even if it didn't work.
All of this was at the end of August, or beginning of September this year. I naturally did my research before embarking on my trial of the product (which was carried out, by the way, entirely at my own expense), finding that while information about Vaniqa itself is readily available, finding tales of people's actual experiences is much more difficult. Perhaps it's that taboo subject thing. One excellent, very detailed account can be found here, written by Vickie in the early 2000s. Although people's experiences can of course vary, her report really helped me to make my mind up on whether or not to proceed (but I certainly didn't agonise over it in the same way that I considered whether or not to proceed with a course of Roaccutane).
So - to the product itself. I don't like the name Vaniqa, by the way, as it seems to suggest that excess hair is purely a cosmetic issue. Until society changes the way it sees beauty (yeah...good luck with that one...) it will always be much more than that, with sufferers often feeling and/or being socially stigmatised as a result of it. The cream itself, though, is easy to apply, is absorbed quickly into the skin, and doesn't sting at all. It's also not too heavy, so shouldn't clog pores - it's more comparable to a gel-cream than to, say, a heavier night cream. Apply twice a day after moisturiser, and wash your hands afterwards. Not difficult really.
The accompanying information in the Vaniqa leaflet clearly states that it may take up to 8 weeks to see a difference, and this is what I have found to be the case: having started the course at the beginning of September, I have noticed a huge reduction in hair growth between then and now (end of October). Even though the manufacturers say that you will need to keep using Vaniqa for the effects to be sustained (i.e. the hair may grow back if you stop), the increase in confidence that I've experienced makes the prospect of applying an extra dab of cream to my face each morning and night seem only of infinitesimal concern.
I'm really just amazed that GPs either don't seem to know about this product or don't want to prescribe it - this was never suggested once to me as a remedy when we did seek help at the doctor's surgery for my PCOS and talked to the doctor about the excess hair. Polycystic ovary syndrome can have such severe and long-lasting effects (as mentioned, I was 15 when the excess hair kicked in, and I'm now 26) that it almost seems criminal to not prescribe something that could potentially improve a sufferer's life so much. This also makes me question what other treatments could be lurking to assuage other PCOS symptoms (which include rapid weight gain, difficulty in shifting weight, acne, infertility, and more besides) and makes me wonder why doctors I've seen have had such a laissez-faire attitude towards the condition, rather than adopting a more proactive or combative approach.
The good news is that I still have stacks of cream left in the one tube that I've acquired. I probably use a pea-sized amount each day (not each application - each DAY) to cover my chin area, which just goes to show how far the cream spreads. Depending on your needs, you could make one £40 tube last at least six months, which compares favourably to the cost of several big-brand anti-ageing concoctions. This suggests that even when my tube runs out, I will be replacing it. And all thanks to those 'immature individuals' on MSE! Overall, the experiment appears to have been a success - and I would truly urge other sufferers to look into it too.
*Also available on the internet at around £40 a tube from various suppliers...but you go down that road at your own risk.