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From the San Francisco Chronicle

Used Twice a Day, New Cream Can End the Need to Pluck or Shave

Lucinda Chriss
San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, September 24, 2000

The first prescription cream to treat unwanted facial hair will be available this week. This is news women have waited a long time to hear.

"Hallelujah. This is better than winning the lottery," said Fran Pangakis, a business consultant based in San Francisco. After years of plucking, waxing, bleaching and electrolysis so painful she needed Novocain, Pangakis hopes she'll get the fuzz-free results she's never found, hassle-free to boot.

Doctors report having received requests for prescriptions months before the drug, Vaniqa, was even available. "I had no idea so many women remove hair every day. But patients are telling me now," says Dr. Lenore Kakita, associate clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Women accustomed to the instant results of wax or depilatories should know that Vaniqa takes six to eight weeks to make a noticeable improvement. Until then, women will need to keep up their usual hair-removal routine.

So far, Vaniqa's effectiveness looks good to Kakita, but she says it's too soon for women to ditch their tweezers. The drug was tested for Food and Drug Administration approval in 24-week, double-blind studies on fewer than 600 women. That's standard protocol for the FDA, but it will take thousands of prescriptions to see whether Vaniqa is the next Retin-A.

Vaniqa does look promising, and compared with waxing and electrolysis, it's relatively inexpensive, with a two-month supply costing $45-$50. Sixty percent of testers showed significant improvement, meaning hair grew back thinner, lighter and far more slowly. The drug works by hampering an enzyme required for full, fast hair growth. So regrowth is delayed and sparse, not gone forever. (Only electrolysis and lasers have proven to remove hair permanently, and both methods fail for some patients.)

Applied twice a day, Vaniqa works only as long as used; stop and facial hair returns to what it was before treatment began. Studies suggest that improvement continues over time. During the 24-week trials, testers' results kept improving, with no leveling off or backsliding.

Mary Mercadante, a homemaker in Bronx, N.Y., saw less and less regrowth over the year she used Vaniqa as part of a small test group. "By the end of the year, I was challenged to find much of anything to pluck," said Mercadante, who found that the drug worked on both dark and fine, light hairs.

While Mercadante experienced no side effects, 10 percent to 15 percent of testers reported stinging, burning or redness lasting for a few minutes after application. Two percent of testers withdrew from studies because of these irritations.

"Vaniqa can be used in conjunction with AHAs, Retin-A (wrinkle-treating substances) and sunblocks," said Dr. Ken Washenik, assistant professor and director of the dermatopharmacology unit at New York University.

As a lead investigator for Vaniqa, Washenik is prepared to answer the question he knows patients will ask. If the drug works on facial hair, what about the bikini line, underarms, legs? "There's no reason why it shouldn't work on hair anywhere, Washenik said. "People are going to try it, and that definitely includes men."

For information on Vaniqa, call Bristol-Myers Squibb at (877) 829-9715 or log on at

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