Expert Thoughts on Hair Removal
When it comes to beauty concerns, hair may be the great equalizer: Most, if not nearly all of us, have at least some hair growing in places we’d rather it didn’t. “It’s a common issue that we help people address all the time,” says Bonnie LaPlante, an aesthetician at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. “And when you remove unwanted hair, it gives people a big boost in confidence.”
There are plenty of hair removal options beyond simple shaving, of course—from waxing and threading to depilatories and electrolysis…even lasers. That, though, can make it tough to know which are the best for your particular need(s). Since most hair removal treatments are not permanent, you’ll need to keep them up to keep growth at bay, so you’ll want to select one that is both effective and appropriate for the area you’re treating.
Facial Hair (eyebrows, lip, chin, sides of the face)
Waxing is quick and effective for the upper lip, chin, sides of the face and eyebrows, and it’s also one of the least expensive options; it’s particularly well-suited to blonde, fuzzy hair, says LaPlante. “If the hair on your face is darker and thicker you may want to use laser or electrolysis.” (More on those below.) There are two different types: strip waxing, where the aesthetician applies a thin strip of warm wax and then quickly removes it, and European hard wax, where a thick coat is applied and left to sit for about 30 seconds and then pulled off. (The latter is typically more expensive, but it causes less irritation and redness, making it a better option for sensitive areas like the face, underarm and bikini area.) “It’s best to find someone trained in the use of European hard wax, since it’s trickier to use,” LaPlante says. No matter which method you choose, if you experience redness after waxing, she suggests applying an ice pack or ice cubes wrapped in a cloth to your skin for about five minutes immediately afterward to soothe inflammation.
Depilatories—alkaline-based creams that break down hair follicles—are also quite effective, though their results are more short-lived. You may want to skip these products, however, if you have sensitive skin or are prone to allergic reactions, regardless of where you’re trying to get rid of hair. “They are strong and a lot of people’s skin irritated from the harsh chemicals,” cautions LaPlante.
A chemical-free alternative? Threading. Growing in popularity, this service involves a technician wrapping a thread around each hair and rolling it to pull it out. “This gives nice definition to eyebrow shape,” says LaPlante. “And if you can feel hair on your face, it can be removed with threading, which is not always the case with waxing or depilatories.”
Body Hair (forearm, chest, legs)
“Hair on your forearm, chest and legs isn’t much different from that found anywhere else, so you can try different removal solutions based on your preference,” says LaPlante. “When working with our guests, we wax this area.” You might consider doing so too, since it allows the technician to cover the most ground in the least amount of time—a real help, considering the amount of hair that tends to grow in these areas. To stay hair-free, get waxed every six to eight weeks, LaPlante suggests. (If you’re planning to get your legs done for the first time, go two weeks after your last shave.) “Once you start waxing, hair growth lessens and the hair that does return grows in softer,” she says. “People think waxing makes hair grow back thicker, and that’s not true—you just have to keep it up.”
You can use depilatories on your body, if you prefer. Since these areas tend to be less sensitive than your face, you may find the creams are less likely to cause redness or irritation; the results won’t last nearly as long as with waxing, however.
Bikini Area Hair
Of course, the bikini area can also be waxed (or you may use a depilatory). You’ll likely need to go for this service every six weeks, though many women like to be waxed more often (about every three to four weeks) in summer or if they’ll be wearing a swimsuit. “Be sure to regularly exfoliate the area with a loofah or a coarse wash cloth to prevent painful ingrown hairs,” LaPlante suggests. If you’re prone to them, which is often the case in this area, laser or electrolysis treatments may be your best bet, however. “Laser treatments remove hair by heating follicles at their base to prevent new growth,” explains LaPlante. But, “they’re most effective for those with lighter skin and darker hair,” she says. Electrolysis, the only permanent hair removal treatment approved by the Food & Drug Administration, involves placing a thin probe in the hair follicle and emitting a shortwave radio frequency to stop hair from growing. This option requires multiple treatments—15 or 20 visits—and is a painstaking process that requires killing every single hair follicle, making it an expensive choice. What’s more, each treatment needs to occur at the appropriate time in the growth cycle of the follicle to be most effective.
Sometimes, your biggest hair concern isn’t getting rid of it, but what crops up once you do. Here are two of the most common hair removal problems and LaPlante’s advice for dealing with each:
Razor burn: “When you shave, you’re putting tiny nicks in the skin. Add sweat or deodorant on top of that and it’s not hard to see how it can become painful and inflamed,” says LaPlante. To avoid razor burn, she suggests shaving at night so you have several hours to let your skin rest before it encounters these potential irritants. Whenever you shave, be sure you’re not using old or poor-quality blades, which will drag instead of glide, and always hydrate your skin. LaPlante suggests choosing a shaving cream that contains soothing aloe vera. (You can also consider waxing your underarms instead of shaving, thereby avoiding razors altogether.)
Ingrown hairs: We’ve already established how common these are on the bikini line, but the truth is that they can happen anywhere, says LaPlante. “Usually they occur with any hair that’s curly and coarse, which is why men tend to get them in their beard.” She says that ingrown hairs are similar to pimples, so you can use acne remedies like salicylic acid washes and benzoyl peroxide to help treat them. A hydrocortisone product can be helpful for swelling if the ingrowns are really bad, and you can use an anti-bacterial cream if an ingrown hair becomes infected.” LaPlante recommends looking for an alcohol-based product to kill the bacteria that lead to ingrown hairs.