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Vaniqa At-A-Glance

Strengths: Valid though not slam-dunk option for controlling the growth of unwanted facial hair; minimal side effects.

Weaknesses: Cost and daily compliance; you must continue to use whatever hair-removal method(s) have worked best for you; Vaniqa is available only by prescription and works only for just over half of the women who try it.

Unwanted facial hair is an ongoing dilemma for many women, and the cosmetics industry has responded with all manner of products to deal with this ubiquitous beauty problem, from waxes to depilatories and "special" moisturizers claiming to contain ingredients proven to slow hair growth. With the exception of the latter, these are viable options for dealing with unwanted hair, as is using cream bleach, having electrolysis, or undergoing laser hair removal (the most costly, but also the most effective option). Vaniqa ($50–$60 for 30 grams/1.05 ounce) is a prescription topical product that is said to reduce unwanted hair growth. Its active ingredient is eflornithine HCl, an ingredient that inhibits the enzyme ornithine decarboxylase within the hair follicle. This effect is believed to be what causes Vaniqa to slow hair growth. The base formula for Vaniqa is a blend of thickeners with silicone, mineral oil, preservatives, and water, so it is suitable for normal to dry skin and not the best for oily or blemish-prone skin. However, if you are restricting its use to a small area (such as the upper lip, where women tend to have the most bothersome issues with unwanted hair), any skin type can use Vaniqa. Vaniqa is also compatible with other skin-care products and may be applied under makeup.

What's important to keep in mind (and it's a fact stated repeatedly in the literature for Vaniqa) is that it does not stop hair growth; it merely slows it down. If you are already using other hair-removal methods on a routine basis, you will need to continue that while using Vaniqa. The difference is that if Vaniqa works for you it is likely that you will be spending less time removing unwanted facial hair, and regrowth will likely not be as resistant to removal as hairs not treated with Vaniqa.

So, how well does Vaniqa work, and what does the research report? A recent double-blind study comparing use of Vaniqa alone with use of Vaniqa combined with laser hair removal showed that the combination had a 93.5% success rate. In contrast, the upper lip area treated with Vaniqa alone had a less impressive success rate of 68% after the six-month study period. Clinical studies for Vaniqa have demonstrated that 60% of women will experience a reduction in hair growth after eight weeks of daily treatment, and the most common side effect is minor skin irritation. Of course, that statistic means that 40% of women won't see a difference with Vaniqa, but that doesn't mean it's not worth trying to see how well (or if) it works for you. If Vaniqa works for you, you must continue to use it, because if you stop, within weeks the rate of regrowth will return to what it was before you started treatment.

The insert that accompanies the Vaniqa cream warns that "You should not use Vaniqa if you are less than 12 years of age..." and there are animal studies that showed definite fetal problems. That means this drug is not to be used by pregnant women, and probably not by lactating women, though there is no research about that risk. It also states that "Vaniqa may cause temporary redness, stinging, burning, tingling or rash on areas of the skin where it is applied. Folliculitis (hair bumps) may also occur," as well as acne. As with any prescription drug, there are risks. However, if Vaniqa works for you the risks are relatively small and will resolve themselves once you stop treatment. Not everyone who uses Vaniqa will be thrilled, but if it works for you and you pair it with a series of laser hair-removal treatments, odds are good you'll be able to make unwanted facial hair a distant memory.

Sources for the above: Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, July 2007, pages 54-59; Dermatologic Surgery, October 2006, pages 1237-1243; Current Medical and Research Opinion, August 2005, pages 1227-1234; Skin Therapy Letter, April 2001, pages 1-3, and December 2005/January 2006, pages 1-4; and American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, February 2001, pages 197-201.)

For more information about Vaniqa, call (877) 382-6472 or visit

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