In our never-ending quest for beauty, many women are faced with the challenge of regularly removing unwanted body hair. This often involves shaving various body parts every few days, knowing that any lapse will result in unpleasant, prickly stubble.
Various alternatives to shaving exist – they fall into three primary categories:
1. methods that remove the hair at the surface,
2. methods that remove the hair down to the root, and
3. methods that actively prevent the hair follicle from growing new hairs.
The more common ones are discussed below. For each, I will provide the optimum target areas, advantages, disadvantages, and potential warnings.
Methods that remove the hair at the surface
Advantages: relatively quick, easy, inexpensive, and painless
Disadvantages: hair grows back quickly, and often seems coarser, thicker, and darker
Shaving is the removal of hair by using a razor or some other blade. It has been practiced for thousands of years. It is typically done using soap and water, or some sort of lather, to soften the hairs and to help the razor glide more easily across the skin. Shaving can be used on any part of the body.
Disadvantages – can irritate the skin
Warning: it is not uncommon to cut yourself, or slice off a layer of skin
Chemical depilatories are hair removal creams or lotions which are applied directly to the skin, break down or dissolve exposed hair, and are then washed off. They were widely advertised in the ’70s, but seem to be less commonly used at present. They are recommended for use on legs, bikini area, arms, and underarms, but NOT on the face.
Advantages – their primary advantage over shaving is that the results can last somewhat longer than shaving, and the hair seems to grow back somewhat finer.
Disadvantages – generally smelly, and rather messy to use
Warning – it is possible that your skin will be sensitive to the chemicals – it is a good idea to try it on a small area of skin the first time, to minimize any potential issues
Methods that remove the hair down to the root
Advantages: because the hair is completely removed, regrowth takes much longer, so these methods do not need to be repeated as often; the new hair tends to be much finer than with shaving
Disadvantages: more time-consuming, somewhat painful
Tweezing is the removal of a single hair at a time with a pair of tweezers. It is highly effective, but best-suited to very small areas, such as eyebrows and upper lip.
Advantages – highly effective on small numbers of hairs
Disadvantages – can be somewhat painful, especially the first time
Threading is an ancient method popular in Eastern countries which has grown in popularity in the West over the past few decades. It uses a twisted cotton thread to remove rows of hair with near-surgical precision. It is most commonly used for eyebrows and upper lip, but can be used anywhere on the face.
Advantages – faster than tweezing, and especially good for shaping eyebrows
Disadvantages – difficult to do on your own – best to have it done; can be more painful than tweezing, due to the larger number of hairs being pulled
Waxing is done by spreading a thin layer of melted wax on the skin, pressing some sort of cloth or paper against the wax, and when the wax has hardened rapidly pulling it off against the direction of hair growth. It can be used on any part of the body.
Advantages – can be used on larger areas of skin than threading or tweezing
Disadvantages – messy, may be uncomfortably hot, typically rather painful; may result in ingrown hairs. If done by a professional, can be quite expensive
An epilator is an electrical device which pulls out multiple hairs in the same time. The first epilators hit the market over thirty years ago. They can be used any part of the body, but should not be used on the face.
Advantages – can be used on large areas of skin, not at all messy (besides sweeping up the pulled hairs), can easily be done by yourself
Disadvantages – initial purchase of the device is required; time-consuming for larger areas; fairly painful the first few times; ingrown hairs are quite common for the first while
NOTE: I have been using one on legs and underarms for over twenty years, and swear by the great results – hair regrowth has gradually slowed and lessened – I can go weeks without epilating, and my legs are still smooth.
Methods that prevent the hair follicle from growing new hairs
Advantages: once you’re done, you never have to worry about hair-removal again!
Disadvantages: MUST be performed by a licensed professional; may take numerous treatments; prohibitively expensive!
Electrolysis is a process that delivers an electrical charge directly to the hair follicle through a fine metal probe inserted at the skin’s surface, and then removes the hair with tweezers. The electricity damages the follicle, so that new hairs should not grow back. It is appropriate for small areas, like face, bikini, and underarms.
Disadvantages: since it is done one hair at a time, it’s very slow; it can also be rather painful
Warning: again, it MUST be performed by a qualified licensed professional – this is not a time for bargain shopping! An unqualified practitioner may cause permanent scarring. This can be avoided by making sure you go to a reputable establishment.
Laser hair removal basically uses intense light beams to ‘zap’ the hair follicle so that it no longer grows new hairs. Each ‘zap’ covers a small area, roughly the size of your little finger-tip. While laser hair removal CAN be done on any area of the body, larger areas would be very expensive and time consuming.
Advantages: no skin penetration is involved
Note: because hair removal lasers target dark matter, they work best on people with light skin and dark hair.