Learn These Different Ways to Get Rid of Unwanted Body Hair
Hair removal methods range from easy and cheap (like shaving with a razor) to high-tech and expensive (like laser hair removal and electrolysis).
There are hair removal methods for every part of the body, skin type, time commitment, and budget. That said, very few methods get rid of hair permanently. The hair removal method that’s right for you will depend on your needs and preferences.
This article discusses 10 ways to remove unwanted body hair. It explains how each hair-removal method works and the pros and cons of each.
Shaving is an introduction to hair removal for many people when they’re young. It’s also the most temporary method of hair removal and lasts one to three days.
- How it works: Shaving uses a razor to cut the hair off at the surface of the skin. Razors come in many different styles ranging from inexpensive disposable razors typically used on wet skin to higher-cost electric razors used on dry skin.
- Pros: Shaving is a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to remove unwanted body hair. Most people learn it rather quickly. Disposable razors are widely available and come in a variety of styles. Electric razors are easy to use.
- Cons: Shaving can cause nicks, cuts, and skin irritation, commonly known as razor burn. Hair regrowth will have a blunt tip instead of its natural, tapered tip, which makes the hair regrowth more noticeable. Ingrown hairs are a common side effect of shaving.
- Tips: You can get a more effective shave by moisturizing your skin first. Shaving cream, hair conditioner, and body wash will help the razor glide smoothly over your skin and prevent nicks, cuts, and scrapes. If using shaving cream, remember to rinse your blade between strokes.
Contrary to popular belief, shaving does not make the hair shaft thicker or darker. It also does not make hair grow faster or slower.
Pulling or Plucking
Physically pulling hair out of its follicle is an easy, cheap way to remove unwanted hair. It is best for single stray hairs that are long enough to grab.
- How it works: There are many different techniques for pulling or plucking individual strands of hair. The simplest is grasping a single hair with your fingernails and pulling. More advanced methods like tweezing or waxing are explained below.
- Pros: Plucking a stray hair with your fingers is quick and free. Physically removing the hair makes it take longer for it to grow back because it has to grow to the surface of the skin before it will be visible. Plus, repeatedly pulling hair out of the follicle can cause enough damage to stop it from producing hair.
- Cons: Plucking out a strand of hair can hurt. Some hairs are stubborn and require multiple attempts to pull out. It is only recommended for removing single strands of hair. For some people, pulling out hair can become a compulsive disorder, known as trichotillomania.
- Tips: For pulling individual stray hairs, wait until the hair is long enough to grasp between your fingertips. Use a firm hold close to the skin’s surface and quickly tug on it. If you are unable to remove it after a few attempts, try another method.
What Is Trichotillomania?
If you feel a strong urge to pull hair out of certain parts of your body and feel pleasure or relief when you do, talk to your healthcare provider. This is a sign of trichotillomania, a rare condition on the obsessive-compulsive disorder spectrum.
Tweezing is a common method for removing unwanted stray hairs and shaping eyebrows. It can take three to eight weeks for the hair to regrow after tweezing.
- How it works: Hold tweezers in your dominant hand and use your other hand to stretch the skin around the hair or hairs you want to remove. Use the tweezers to tightly grip the hair close to the skin, and pull it out.
- Pros: Tweezing is an effective way to remove hair, eyebrows, nose hairs, and stray facial hairs. Plucking is inexpensive because all you need are tweezers.
- Cons: Tweezing can be very time-consuming and isn’t very effective for hairier body parts, like the legs.
- Tips: Tweezers come in a variety of styles. The right tweezer will depend on the type of hair. Flat tweezers are better for individual course hairs. Slanted tweezers are better for eyebrows as you can use the flat edge to pluck multiple hairs at once or the pointed tip for more precision. Pointed tweezers have a narrow, angled tip that is helpful for ingrown hairs. Tweezers that combine pointed and slanted tips can be useful for a variety of plucking jobs.
Waxing can be done at home or in a salon. Wax clings to hair, making it easy to remove multiple hairs at a time. For best results, hair should be at least one-quarter inch (6 millimeters) long. The results can last three to six weeks.
- How it works: Waxing involves spreading warm wax over the skin in the direction of hair growth. Strips of fabric are applied over the wax, pressed in, and allowed cool briefly, so the hairs stick to it. The fabric strips are then quickly pulled off in the opposite direction of hair growth, taking the hair with it.
- Pros: Waxing is an effective way to remove large amounts of hair at once. Any area of your body can be waxed, including legs, back, chest, lips, armpits, eyebrows, and bikini area.
- Cons: Hot wax can burn your skin and should be used with caution. Side effects of waxing include pain, skin burns, red bumps, irritation, ingrown hairs, infection, and torn skin.
- Tips: Taking Advil (ibuprofen) 30 minutes to an hour before your waxing appointment can make it less painful and reduce swelling—especially when waxing large sections or delicate areas. To reduce redness and soothe irritation, apply aloe to the skin after waxing. Reapply as needed for relief.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, waxing should be avoided when using the following medications:
- Isotrentoin (within the past six months)
- Topical tretinoin (retinoid acid)
These medications can thin your skin, making it more fragile. This could cause the skin to tear when the wax is removed.
Sugar waxing, also known as sugaring, is a popular form of hair removal that works in the same way that traditional waxing does.
- How it works: A natural, sugary substance with a honey-like consistency is spread on the skin in the direction of hair growth. Then, a cloth or paper strip is applied atop the wax and pulled off in the opposite direction of hair growth.
- Pros: Sugaring offers the same benefits as waxing, but is easier to clean up. The “wax” is made with real sugar and other nourishing, natural ingredients, so it’s water-soluble. It’s easy to clean up with warm water, whereas traditional wax tends to be more stubborn. Sugar wax can also be made at home using ingredients you have in your kitchen—sugar, lemon juice or vinegar, and water.
- Cons: Sugar waxing can be painful and have side effects similar to waxing, including skin irritation, redness, and ingrown hairs. Like waxing, people should avoid sugaring within six months of taking isotrentoin, a medication for cystic acne.
- Tips: Before trying sugaring at home, watch several videos to understand the process. Make sure the wax is cool before applying it to the skin.
Threading is a form of hair removal that’s most often used to shape eyebrows. It is typically done in a salon, and the results last three to six weeks.
- How it works: Threading is done by doubling and twisting a thin cotton or polyester thread, which is then rolled over areas of unwanted hair, plucking the hair at the follicle level.
- Pros: Threading is quick, precise, and typically inexpensive. Unlike tweezing, where single hairs are pulled out one at a time, threading can remove short rows of hair at once, making it ideal for shaping eyebrows.
- Cons: Threading is difficult to perform on yourself, so you will likely need to pay a professional. It can hurt as much as waxing and take longer, so you will need to endure the pain a little longer. It can also leave skin red and irritated, but generally not as irritated as waxing.
- Tips: Apply aloe after threading to soothe irritated skin.
Depilatory creams, like Nair, contain a chemical called thioglycolate mixed with sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide that literally melts hair away. Thioglycolate disrupts the chemical bonds that hold skin and hair cells together (disulfide bonds).
- How it works: Apply depilatory cream to the area of unwanted hair and leave it on for three to 15 minutes. The chemical dissolves the hair and creates a jelly-like substance that is wiped or washed off after the appropriate amount of time.
- Pros: Depilatory creams are a very effective way to remove unwanted body hair at home. They can be used for large patches of hair (such as legs). Depilatory creams also work very well on thick, coarse hairs and are a common solution for removing pubic hair. The results last longer than shaving.
- Cons: The chemicals in depilatory creams can be abrasive and irritate delicate skin. Depilatory creams also have a very strong odor. Always follow package instructions and do not leave on the skin longer than directed.
- Tips: Depilatories should first be tested on a small patch of skin at least 48 hours prior to a larger application. Applying a hydrocortisone cream after hair removal may help relieve irritation.
Electrolysis is a permanent form of hair removal that is performed in a salon. It takes several sessions to be effective and can take 12 to 18 months to achieve desired results.
- How it works: Electrolysis uses a fine needle inserted into the hair follicle to apply an electrical current to the follicle root. This burns the hair root, theoretically keeping it from producing more hair. Each hair follicle must be treated individually, so it usually takes several treatments to completely destroy a follicle.
- Pros: Electrolysis works to remove all types of hair permanently. Once treatment is completed, hair will not grow back, so maintenance treatments are not needed.
- Cons: Electrolysis can hurt and has other side effects and risks, including infection, keloid scar formation, hyperpigmentation (darker patches of skin), and/or hypopigmentation (patches of lighter skin). It’s not immediately effective and can be costly.
- Tips: Electrolysis should only be performed by a board-certified dermatologist or a board-certified electrologist. Electrolysis works best when hair follicles are in the anagen (growth) phase. Shave approximately three days before treatment to ensure the anagen-phase hairs are visible.
Laser Hair Removal
Laser hair removal is used to permanently remove or reduce hair. Laser hair removal should be performed by a professional. It takes two to six treatments, spread out between four to six weeks, to be fully effective.
- How it works: Laser hair removal uses lasers that emit light at various wavelengths, energy output, and pulse widths. The laser vaporizes the hair, causing a small plume of smoke with a sulfur-like smell. Hair removal lasers target the pigment in the hair (melanin).
- Pros: Once treatment is completed, hair should not grow back for several months or years. New growth should be less noticeable.
- Cons: Laser treatments must be repeated to see consistent results. Hairs that are destroyed by the laser are gone, but new hairs can grow. You may experience discomfort, swelling, and redness similar to a sunburn on the treated area. Laser hair removal should only be performed by a licensed professional and can be costly. When not done properly, laser hair removal can cause burns, permanent changes to your skin color, and scarring.
- Tips: Laser hair removal works best for light-skinned people with dark hair. As with electrolysis, laser hair removal is also more effective at removing hairs that are in the anagen phase. To relieve discomfort after treatment, apply a cool compress.
Stay Out of the Sun
Following laser hair removal treatment, your skin will be more sensitive to light (photosensitive). Avoid exposing treated skin to direct sunlight, tanning beds, sun lamp, or any other indoor tanning equipment.
Vaniqa (eflornithine) is an FDA-approved, prescription-only topical cream that reduces and inhibits the growth of unwanted facial hair. Noticeable results are usually seen after four to eight weeks of treatment.
- How it works: Vaniqa works to slow hair growth by blocking an enzyme responsible for cell reproduction in the hair follicle.
- Pros: Vaniqa works well for slowing the growth of unwanted female facial hair around the lips or under the chin. It takes about a month to see results, which last at least eight weeks after stopping treatment. Vaniqa can also be used in combination with laser therapy.
- Cons: Vaniqa is only available by prescription, but unlikely to be covered by insurance as hair removal is considered a cosmetic treatment. The medication can cause acne, burning, redness, stinging, swelling, and tingling. If these side effects do not subside or are severe, contact your prescriber. Vaniqa does not completely stop hair growth—it only slows it. You will still need to use other hair-removal methods, just less often.
- Tips: Apply to clean, dry skin twice a day. Wait for it to dry before putting on sunscreen or makeup.
There are many options for hair removal, such as waxing, shaving, and electrolysis, and there are pros and cons to each approach. You might have to try more than one to find the hair removal method that works best for you.
A Word From Verywell
Unwanted and/or excessive hair can negatively impact a person’s quality of life and may even have psychological consequences like anxiety and depression. The good news is that there are a number of ways to remove hair, but no single therapy works best or is right for everyone. Talk with your healthcare provider to devise an appropriate hair removal strategy for you.
By Heather L. Brannon, MD
Heather L. Brannon, MD, is a family practice physician in Mauldin, South Carolina. She has been in practice for over 20 years.
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