Why do men grow nose and ear hair?
It tends to start gradually. Maybe you spot a few long hairs dangling from your nostrils. Or perhaps your barber asks if you would like the mini thicket of hair sprouting from your earlobe trimmed along with your sideburns.
However it begins, rest assured that this is a normal part of aging for many men. But why does it happen? The short answer is that hair growth later in life has a lot to do with testosterone and genetics. Still, that doesn’t mean you have to live with it. If it bothers you, there are plenty of ways to nip it in the bud.
Nose hair, don’t care?
Hormones come into the picture by influencing when and where hair grows on the body, what type it is and how long it grows. During puberty, for instance, androgens (sex hormones that are more abundant in men than in women) such as testosterone trigger hair follicles on the face, chest, underarms and pubic area to replace existing short, light hairs with thicker, darker hairs that grow for longer periods of time.
As men age, typically as they enter their 40s, 50s and 60s, testosterone’s effect on hair growth may start to become apparent in new, sometimes perplexing, ways.
“Testosterone primes or changes the hair bulb” in certain susceptible areas, said Dr. Bradley Anawalt, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Parts of your body that you may not even have realized have hair follicles, like the top of your nose or your earlobes, can become sensitive to the testosterone that has been building for years. This causes the hair there to become thicker and to grow longer, resulting in more noticeable, straggly hairs.
These new, errant hairs “reflect the slow effects of testosterone over a lifetime on those little hair bulbs in those areas,” Dr. Anawalt said. “Many of these changes take years.”
Genes also play a role in this process. If you come from a long line of men who grow full beards or long nose hairs, there’s a good chance you or your son will inherit this feature as well.
Paradoxically, testosterone can have the opposite effect on the scalp if you’re genetically predisposed to baldness. In this case, testosterone inhibits hair growth in follicles on the head, causing scalp hairs to fall out and be replaced with short, fine, barely perceptible hairs.
Another curiosity: Testosterone seems to have no effect on eyebrow length. The reason your eyebrows become bushier or thinner over the years is not entirely clear. It could be because of different hormones or other aspects of aging, Dr. Anawalt said.
For many men, the sudden appearance of extraneous hairs may be inconsequential. But if you decide you want to get rid of them, you have several options.
Laser hair removal. For long-lasting results, laser hair removal can be done on sections of the body over several sessions. But it tends to work best on hair that is dark (not fair or gray) because the laser works by targeting the pigment in hair, Dr. Daveluy said. The light from the laser is absorbed as heat by the hair’s pigment, which then damages the follicle, preventing it from growing hair. The more sessions you do, the greater your chances of stopping hair growth permanently. One downside: It can be painful or uncomfortable.
Electrolysis. If you have light-colored hair, you may consider electrolysis, Dr. Daveluy said. During this procedure, a tiny needle is inserted into each hair follicle, where it emits an electrical current that destroys the follicle and stops it from growing hair. Like laser treatment, electrolysis can be painful and needs to be done over several sessions, particularly if you are hoping for permanent results. It also works on dark-colored hair.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends looking for a board-certified dermatologist for laser hair removal and either a board-certified dermatologist or a board-certified electrologist for electrolysis. Also be aware that both treatments can cause irritation and permanent skin discoloration.
Nonpermanent strategies. Shorter-term solutions for hair removal include waxing, shaving, clipping, plucking and using hair-removal creams.