June 30, 2009

One Sunny Day

The first week of this month was not a good shaving week. You know the kind? You can't seem to get close enough to the problem hairs, and no matter what you do the angry bumps keep popping up like excited concert patrons doing the wave, and then you keep catching those bumps with your razor causing nicks galore! I couldn't figure it out--fresh razor, generous moisturizing. And I can never quite pinpoint bad skin to my cycle or stress, so I was at a loss.

And of course, life doesn't care if your body is rebelling.

A couple of months ago I had volunteered to help out at a picnic for children in June that my company sponsors. We had wonderful weather for the day; a very honest daylight situation. They hand out baseball caps with the event name embroidered on it, so I figured that would hold my hair down to the sides of my face so I could hide behind it.

But as I approached my station I realized: Oh, crud. I'm handling food. I was going to have to tie up my hair.

Just keep your head down and stay in the shade, I told myself. I looped my hair up through the back of the cap and snapped on my rubber gloves, continuing to pep-talk myself. Okay, just have fun: the sun is shining, music's blaring, you're not at your desk, and these kids are having such a good time and they're not going to care what you look like.

And then a very handsome man joined our station, pulling on his gloves. His biceps stretched out his short sleeves--no joke, he was very fit. Even if a girl isn't interested in a man, she certainly doesn't want to appear the circus side show. He took up a spot next to me, towering head and shoulders above my own modest height.

I think I must have gawked up at him in disbelief at my own bad luck. Why me? Why now? And as he looked down at me to greet and ask what job he could do, on his face spread this giant grin. The beautiful day and the time off work was getting to him, too. And I found myself grinning back like a goofy idiot.

I didn't forget the bad skin day I was having, but the uncharacteristically good weather, the exuberance of the kids, and my teammate's jokes and happy smile made me feel better. I felt like I could do anything, my face notwithstanding--even shop for bathing suits. It was a great day.

And it just goes to show you that even though the way you feel about yourself affects your attitude, it can also be the other way around. It's possible to enjoy the day even if you don't look or feel your best.

June 23, 2009

Product: Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel

One of the products I have seen recommended for sensitive skin has been Aveeno's line of shave gels. I have always had a positive view of Aveeno's products in general; I've liked their moisturizers and they've had this connotation of making natural products for as long as I remember. Some people I know with eczema and other skin problems prefer Aveeno's products to many others. They are a little on the expensive side, but I've been struggling with making my skin happy while I shave for so long that I'm fine with spending a couple of extra dollars.

Took me a while to find Aveeno's shaving products. My usual drug store doesn't carry them, even in the men's shaving section, but I did find them at Rexall for you Canadians. The only two available when I finally found them were the Therapeutic and Positively Smooth gels (they also have an Ultra Calming gel). I decided to try Therapeutic first, just because it sounded more like what my poor skin needed.

Aveeno Active Naturals Therapeutic Shave Gel (with natual colloidal oatmeal) - 198 g

  • Water, palmitic acid, triethanolamine, sorbitol, methyl gluceth-20, sorbitan stearate, isopentane, stearic acid, glycerin, sunflower seed oil glyceride, isobutane, dimethicone, peg-8 benzoate, methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, phenoxyethanol, hydroxyethylcellulose, avena sativa (oat) kernal flour, panthenol, hydroxypropyl methycellulose, tocopheryl acetate, allantoin, benzaldehyde, aloe barbadensis leaf juice

Things I liked:
  • It smelled like marzipan! It has no added fragrance, so this is just the natural ingredients and they were not overwhelming like they are in most fruity/flowery women's shave gels.
  • It lasted very well. Two months, and I started using it on my legs up to mid-thigh, armpits and chest, as well as my face. So it can be said that it lathers really nicely.
  • It seemed to make a small difference to the irritation I tend to get on my chest, calves, and back of my thighs.

Things I didn't like:
  • (Keep in mind I've been shaving most of my face except my chin with mineral oil.) After one week of shaving my face with this shave gel, my skin started becoming as dry and flaky as it did before I started using oil. I didn't notice irritation decrease here, either.

Did it do what it promised?

It is said to to provide "a close, smooth shave" and "protect against razor burn, nicks, and cuts." The oatmeal and allantoin are meant to soothe the skin and moisturizers "rehydrate and reduce dryness."

It also says, right on the can, to shave every other day. And seeing as how I also disobey several other shaving suggestions, it's hard to fairly evaluate such a yummy product when I don't "shave as directed." It "can significantly reduce razor bumps," but for me, it was the same as using any other shave gel I've tried; just smelled better.

I started using it on one leg while shaving the other with mineral oil as usual, and I did feel it was a little nicer to use than some of the fruity gels for women I've had up to this point. As I said, it made a small difference to the legs and chest, but no difference in my armpits. It feels like such a nice shave gel, though, that I'd keep using it if I was simply looking for a pleasant medium for legs only.

But for the purpose of using it on your face, I can say you may find it makes a difference for you, but for me it did not.

I wonder if I could get that smell in a moisturizer...?

See what other people have thought of this product:
Reviews on epinions.com
Reviews on amazon.com

June 16, 2009

We have a possible answer!

A quick recap: I met a candidate for our new family doctor at the beginning of the new year, liked her, and went back for a long-awaited physical in April. At that time, I told her about my hirsutism and that I was eager to find out what was causing it. (I've read a lot of trepidation and embarrassment ladies have about seeing their doctor for this kind of matter, so I detailed that discussion in this entry.) My new doctor sent me for blood tests, some to measure routine things with a few additions to investigate my hormone levels. After some shuffling around with my appointment, we finally settled on June 11 to discuss the results.

I wasn't too nervous before I left for the appointment. Usually I get really jittery when I'm expecting something big in the afternoon, and can't focus on anything. I was doing okay until I got there. The clinic waiting area was abnormally quiet and I had forgotten my book, so I sat there clasping and unclasping my hands, tucking them under my elbows, and listening to the office staff rescheduling appointments and booking referrals. Even then, I couldn't focus on my worry. After twenty minutes, they called my name and put me in an examination room, where I waited for fifteen more. In that silent space, facing the bio hazard box of syringes on the wall above the little sink, I managed to tackle what was bothering me.

I wanted something to be wrong. Twisted, but true. It had to be better than hearing, "There's no reason for your excess hair." And since I have hardly had a thing wrong with me my whole life, this seemed the most likely answer. But on the other hand, I didn't want anything to be too wrong with me. What if, despite my regular cycles and other lack of symptoms, the tests indicated a possibility of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome? I do have a family history of ovarian problems. Something that affects your fertility, your weight, your insulin as well as the hair--if that was the answer, so be it, I would work through it, but it was not news I wanted to hear either.

Basically, some kind of answer had to be better than no answer at all. But maybe there had been no telling results from that blood test years ago, and that's why no one was bothered about helping me find it and telling me what was on it. Maybe my dermatologist at the time really had known what he was doing when he sent me off for laser hair removal without investigating whether or not I was a good candidate. Maybe there was no other answer than, "It just is." And I tried for those fifteen minutes of silence to prepare myself for that.

My doctor came in and took me to another room, almost like a closet, where her computer was tucked away. We went through the results together. I had never seen the results of a blood test with my own eyes before. The things that were too high or too low in my blood were bolded and in red, and next to them were the normal ranges. There were some things unrelated to the hirsutism that needed to be addressed with a daily supplement; nothing serious. My thyroid is slightly overactive, explaining my revved up metabolism, so I have to go for another blood test in a few months so she can monitor what it's doing. I noticed she wrote down another androgen test on the requisition form.

What was most relevant was my androgen levels. Both testosterone and other androgens were elevated--not overly so, but noticeably enough to show up big and bold and red on the screen. I was so flustered that this might actually be the answer that I didn't retain the exact numbers she showed me. She says this is a possible explanation for the hirsutism, and when she decides which specialist to refer me to, she will let me know. She touched my arm, looking truly sympathetic as she made sure this was okay with me.

I don't mind waiting. Seeing a possible answer makes me feel so much better. I was a little stunned, and wandered through the next door drug store in a haze. I couldn't remember enough of my reading and research to recall exactly what was done for high levels of androgens, or a sensitivity of hair to those androgens, both of which can cause the excess dark hair. So I just floated through the store, picking up the recommended vitamins and few beauty tidbits I needed. I vaguely recall nearly breaking down into tears in front of the lotions. This sales clerk asked me if she could help me and I felt so self conscious that I probably acted very guilty--like she wanted me out of the store.

In the mean time, I have another blood test (ugh) on my horizon. Then goodness knows what the specialist might want to do to me. I may find myself becoming good at being poked by needles to the point where I won't have to lie down anymore. Knowing that it is all to find an answer certainly helps. I also have a lot of reading up on anti-androgens to do, so I have good questions to ask in the future. The Hairtell forum has been quite interesting in that regard.

I want to encourage whoever may read this to be assertive in finding out why they have excess hair, especially before investing in expensive treatments. Doctors have one of the toughest jobs out there and they went through years of research and training to get where they are, so of course you should respect their expertise. But they are also human. They are busy and stressed, so you might happen to slip through the cracks. Your condition may not seem as important to them as someone with a life endangering health issue. People often say "Be your own advocate" but I never would have thought much about it until I found myself at a loose end, personally. Perhaps I was too young, not ready (I left it for years, for goodness sake), or hadn't done enough of my own research to be aware of what the dermatologist was doing and not doing when referring me to a laser clinic before doing any tests. I could have been better equipped to ask him questions or insist on tests, instead of nodding meekly and shelling out college money on a procedure that did not work well for me and taught me very little.

So, yes. Be your own advocate. Research is the best tool to have in your arsenal. Temper it with respect for the professionals. Getting answers, even possible ones, feels so good.

June 9, 2009

Five Shaving Rules I Don't Know What I Did Without

Last week I was encouraging ladies to defy shaving rules, if they think it will help.

This week, these are the rules I could never dispense with:

Rule: Shave in or after a shower/wash your face with warm water/hold a warm washcloth for a few minutes to the skin before your shave.
Not that I am very good at shaving in the shower without a mirror, but the practice of prepping the skin with warmth is one of the main things that has improved my shaving and the overall health of my skin. Open pores are easier to clean, for one. And for another, it apparently softens the hair shaft for the blade to cut it more easily. According to some sources, the cut edge of the hair is not as sharp, and therefore not as likely to re-enter the skin and cause an ingrown hair. This practice hasn't eliminated bumps for me personally, but it has reduced them somewhat.

Exfoliate regularly.
Along the same lines as above, this skin prep however is not necessarily something you'd want to do right before or after shaving, especially on our face. It could irritate skin that probably already dislikes all the sharp things that are touching it these days. Still, using a facial scrub (or something similar) once or twice a week will remove any dead skin cells that might otherwise get into your hair follicles and cause infections. I find that it also keeps the path free for your shaved hairs to emerge from the skin without becoming ingrown. Again, this hasn't made my shave experience perfect, but my skin was a lot worse before I used it, so it must be helping. I prefer to use a scrub with a little salicylic acid in it, but others may find that too harsh drying. I also do a little once-over with a wash cloth every morning just to release those hairs from the skin.

Rule: Always use a fresh, clean blade.

Absolutely. The sharper the blade, the better the shave. A dull blade makes you press harder for that same close shave, or go over the same area again and again, giving you more irritation; and a dirty blade can work dead skin cells into pores, causing infections. The problem I had with this rule was that when a disposable blade loses its edge by the fourth or fifth shave, I can't always afford to replace it. That's at least six razors or cartridges in a month, and more garbage going to the landfill. Not great.

However, that sharp blade is something you really don't want to skimp on. While I was still in school I felt bad constantly putting "more razors" on the grocery list, and would use the same blade for two weeks. Ouch. Now, because my legs are far more hardy than my face, I'll often use a blade for one week on my face, and then demote the blade to the shower for use on my lower legs. It helps me combat the guilt of the wastefulness of disposable razors.

It's not the suds that count.

As you recently saw me discover when I experimented with mineral oil for the first time, it's not the lather that gives the best results. It's what's between the blade and the skin that counts, and that's really just a tiny, tiny layer of lubricating medium. I'm still trying out different shaving mediums myself, but I think everyone should know they don't have to be afraid to try a medium for themselves just because it doesn't lather.

Finish off the shave with a rinse of cool water.

I've found several advantages to this; it boggles my mind that I didn't think to try this when I first started. It feels very soothing, for one. For another, it closes up the pores again so it's more difficult for dirt to get inside. Cool water will also help stop any nicks from bleeding (depending on their severity, of course).

In addition, I read some things in that shaving article I linked last week that I had never heard of before. I've been testing them for the last couple of weeks:

Rule: Massage the skin to get the hairs to stand up.
There are muscles attached to the hair follicles called the arrectores pilorum. These guys are responsible for goose bumps, making hair stand up when cold or frightened. So if you stimulate these muscles, it apparently pushes the hairs on your face up and makes them easier to cut. I also read that a quick massage while applying the shaving medium encourages the skin to release its natural oils to stay soft. Definitely something I'm game to try if it helps.

Rule: Don't shave immediately after waking up.
It is suggested that body fluids need at least 20 minutes to redistribute. When you wake up, they are all on the surface and it is impossible to get a close shave because the skin around the hair follicles is swollen.

This is a hard one for me. When I set my alarm for half an hour early, my half-awake brain sees the time and knows it's not really time to get up yet. It figures that since I've got half an hour before I need to be in the bathroom shaving, I might as well spend it asleep. It may take a while to retrain myself. Coaxing myself to have a nice leisurely breakfast doesn't work; I'm not a breakfast person, because I'm not a morning person. Talking myself into a warm, pleasant shower doesn't work either--I know I showered the night before and I don't wanna have to dry my hair again.

In two days, I'm going to find out what my bloodwork reveals. At last. Those of you who've read backposts know this is news I've been anticipating for years. Next week's entry could be very exciting. To put a name to the cause, to say "I've woken up every day for the past eight years to cringe at my reflection because of this," ought to be a profound relief, no matter what it is. ...Right?

June 2, 2009

Five Shaving Rules You Can Ignore

The most important thing I've learned after about eight years of facial hair removal, shaving for probably 70% of that time, is that to get a shave that is perfect for you, you have to do whatever works best for you. Rules for shaving are not so hard and fast as they are often presented. They are usually founded on sound principles for doing as little harm as possible to your skin, but I would hate to see women with facial hair try shaving and throw their hands up in despair because it's not working the way they want it to when they've followed all the rules! Besides, when you're looking at shaving advice designed for men, how does a woman know what's really right for her?

This is what I've personally found, and hopefully this will help some of you to try new things and see if it improves shaving for you. Many rules can be broken, as long as you're willing to accept the consequences:

Rule: Only shave every other day.
Shaving every other day will of course minimize irritation. When you shave, especially wet shave, you take not only hair but layers of skin off your face. But man, I only wish my hair grew that slowly! This one is definitely for the men, for whom a little stubble can look casual or dashing. If I have a day where I don't have to go anywhere, I'll take a day off from shaving and the next day's shave is so much better. But one has to earn a living and, you know, just go outside once in a while. Shave as often as you have to, but be sure to take good care of your skin in between.

Rule: Leave the shaving suds on for a few minutes before shaving.

I've seen this on one or two "How-to" sections of websites for manufacturers of shaving gels. Apparently this gives the moisturizing ingredients in foams and gels time to act on the skin. When you hear about some of the nice things they put in shave gels like soy, aloe vera, and amino acids, this sounds like a great idea.

I tried this with two shave gels in the past, but if my skin absorbed any of these good things, it never showed any sign of it. I noticed no difference in the quality of my shave, during or afterward. After reading that the ingredients that cause such mediums to bubble and foam actually dry out the skin, I wonder why one would want to keep such things on one's face for very long at all. Look for those wholesome additives in your moisturizers, I have a feeling they'll do more good there than in your shaving medium.

Rule: Never stretch your skin when you shave.
The reason they say this is because it cuts the hair so short that when you release your skin, the hair shaft can disappear inside and continue growing inward, causing lovely infected bumps. Putting such constant stress on your skin can also cause it to lose elasticity and age quicker, the same as if you rub too hard when removing your eye make-up.

All right for a man to have a bit of shadow or rasp to his jaw and chin, but women aren't supposed to, are they? So if the closest shave possible is more important than razor bumps, and stretching the skin is the only way to achieve that, you go ahead and defy barbers everywhere!

Rule: Don't shave against the direction of your hair growth.
They say this to help you prevent irritation. I've been hoping to find more explanation than that, but so far I've had no such luck. But it's true, regardless of why. The shave may be closer, but depending on the area of your body you're shaving, you can get an almost instant burn.

Some sites say it's okay to shave across the grain, but not against. I have found one barber cited as saying it's okay to shave against the grain. Wouldn't you know, she also has to shave her facial hair, and she is (or was at the time of this article) the director of the Arizona Board of Barbers. I find that fantastic. She doesn't make her advice a list of do's and don'ts. Just recommendations and "be carefuls." On this topic she recommends to start shaving once or twice in the direction of the hair growth, and afterward if you need to do a third pass in the other direction, do it then. I have found, with a sharper razor, I don't always need to shave against my hair growth anyway, except on my chin.

Rule: Use an aftershave.
I'm including this one because even though some experts disagree, I've seen it on so many shaving sites for men and believed it. The stinging of the alcohol-based toner made me think, "Oooh, it's working! Something's keeping it clean and tight!" But after a few weeks, the irritation got worse than I had ever seen it before. It's not always good for a man, so it's definitely not good for a woman. I've seen a couple of sources since that say now to use moisturizers instead, even for men.

When you understand why experts and manufacturers recommend these things, you should be able to make an informed decision about whether to follow them or not.