I’ve just turned 30, and I have to deal with a problem I’ve never faced before: nose hair, or, more specifically, the super-fast growing, long, bristly nostril hairs that reduce you to a weeping child when you pluck them. I set out to learn why they were suddenly happening to me—and how they were growing so damn fast. Here’s what I found out.
How Hairs Grow
All the hairs on your body have a three-stage lifecycle:
- In the anagen stage, the hair grows quickly as new cells get added to the “bulb” or base of the hair “follicle.”
- In the catagen stage, the hair stops growing as the cells in the bulb responsible for hair growth die off. The hair stays put but doesn’t get any longer.
- In the telogen stage, which happens around a few weeks after the catagen stage, the cells in the bulb rest and regenerate. When they’re ready, new hair starts to grow again, and the old hair falls out. Now we’re back to the anagen stage.
While all hairs in your body go through the same three stages, they do it at different rates. How long a hair eventually grows is determined by how long it stays in anagen. Head hairs can remain in anagen for years and grow to over three feet long, while most body hairs only stay in anagen for a couple of weeks and so grow to less than an inch.
It’s All About the Androgens
And all that about hair stages would be lovely—if things neatly stayed that way. As you grow older, however, how long each hair follicle stays in each stage changes. The main culprits are androgens, and specifically, testosterone.
Testosterone is why, as males go through puberty, they start to grow a beard and generally just get hairy. The follicles on their face and body react to the increasing levels of testosterone and go from producing small, fine hairs to bigger, pigmented ones.
And testosterone levels don’t just change at puberty—they also change, in both men and women, as we age. Which then affects our hair growth. This is why men both go bald and get really hairy everywhere else.
In what’s called the “Androgen Paradox,” head hairs spend less time in anagen in response to changing testosterone levels, while body hairs and, worst of all, nostril hairs spend more time in it. This is why many men’s hair seems to migrate from the top of their head to their ears and nose.
Women are also affected by changing testosterone levels, just not as strongly. Their head hair can thin, and body hair thicken as they age, but they’re a lot less likely to go bald or end up with a forest growing from their schnoz.
Be Careful Plucking Them
As annoying as they are, nostril hairs are an essential part of your body’s defense. They filter out particles of things like dust you would otherwise breathe in.
You also have to be very careful plucking them. When you pull them out, germs can get in and cause a skin infection. And, while a little bit of skin irritation is annoying, it can actually be a whole lot worse than that. The blood vessels that run through your nose connect up with those that lead to your brain. There’s a very small—though not zero—chance of the infection getting to your brain.
And as we all know from zombie movies, brain infections aren’t a good thing. As well as turning into the walking dead, you could end up really dead.
About the Speed Thing
When I started researching nose hairs far more deeply than anyone should, I had one big question I wanted answered: why did they seem to grow so quickly. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good scientific evidence that they do. But there was one theory, unsubstantiated and only posited on Men’s Health, that makes sense.
Their theory is that we have two kinds of nose hairs: those that grow normally, and those that grow in a curl and then, generally at an inopportune moment, unfurl. It’s not that they grow any quicker; it’s just that most of the time, they grow inside our nostril,s and we only find them when they unravel, ready to annoy us.
Now, where’re my tweezers?