Visible ear hair isn’t very attractive and can be embarrassing. It's a normal process associated with aging and is generally harmless, unless it becomes excessive and affects hearing ability. A number of safe and effective treatments can reduce and eliminate this unwanted hair, either temporarily or permanently.
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Hearing the Facts
According to John F. Romano, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology at Cornell Medical Center, no one is sure what causes hair in ears to grow. One theory is that as you age, hair follicles in your ears become more sensitive to the male hormone testosterone, which stimulates the unwanted growth. Those with ear hair are in good company, however -- according to a 1984 study conducted in Mineola, New York, and reported in the "New England Journal of Medicine," 74 percent of the men surveyed had ear hair. It’s not all bad news: Ear hair serves an important function, protecting the ears from foreign objects and loud noises.
There are temporary and permanent solutions for removing unwanted ear hair. The temporary solutions are the cheapest and include shaving with a safety razor or specialty electric model, using a small pair of scissors, chemical depilatories or waxing. Permanent solutions include electrolysis, which uses heated probes to cauterize the hair root, and laser therapy.
Electrolysis can cost $50 to $100 per hour, but the average cost for laser hair removal can approach $500 or more, as calculated by the Society of Plastic Surgeons. For permanent hair therapy to be effective, the hair follicle has to be in a growth stage -- but at any given time, approximately 10 percent of the hair follicles are resting and not growing hair and another 5 percent are shedding hair, according to the Yale School of Medicine. This is why more than one treatment is usually required.
Tips and Tricks
Dr. Romano recommends making shaving easier by lathering up but then removing the lather just before shaving to make it easier to see what you’re doing. An electric razor may be easier for you to use, or you might look for a personal grooming shaver, which is smaller in width and makes it easier for small areas such as the ear. When using scissors to trim the hair, disinfect them first to avoid contaminating the sensitive ear area with bacteria to prevent an infection. Be aware of unusually cheap products, which may not work well or constitute a safety hazard. Clip or shave ear hair in the morning, or when you are at your most alert, in a well-lighted area; make sure you clean your ears first. Gently position the hair for easy trimming using a cotton swab. Using a magnifying mirror helps you see what you’re doing so you avoid nicking or injuring your ear.
Dr. Romano warns that when using a depilatory, never stick it into the ear canal and always test a small amount on your skin first to see if you have a reaction. When using scissors, ask for help from your doctor or beautician if you can’t see the hair very well, because one slip could seriously damage your eardrum. If shaving, be careful not to nick the outside of the delicate ear tissue. Wax is not recommended in general unless used by a professional, because it can drip into your ear canal. Electrolysis and laser therapy are contraindicated for people with certain medical conditions such as heart disease, pregnancy or those with skin or bleeding disorders.