With beauty comes a little pain—and this adage is particularly true when it comes to at-home hair removal. Ingrown hairs, razor burn and rashes plague even the best of us, but if you apply some logic by choosing the removal method that best suits you, these skin irritants can become a thing of the past.
The method: shaving
Shaving can be rough on skin—who hasn’t nicked themselves in the shower?—but it grants you instant gratification when the whim to go bare strikes. “Shaving is best for people whose skin doesn’t get irritated easily,” says Dr. Marina Peredo, MD, dermatologist and founder of Marina I. Dermatology and Spatique. However, shaving has its downfalls, such as razor burn, ingrown hairs and "shaving shadow."
Razor burn often results from shaving with a blunt blade or “against the grain,” and razor bumps occur when ingrown hairs become irritated from repeated shaving. Shaving shadow is the body’s immune response to irritation, causing extra pigment to mottle the skin. But, as Dr. Peredo notes, skin prep and shaver maintenance can thwart these negatives. “Choosing a wash that contains salicylic acid helps facilitate the removal of oils and dead skin, and using a loofa can reduce the potential of ingrown hairs,” she says. Disposable razors should be chucked after a few uses because they tend to rust. She recommends using shavers that have multiple blades, which allow for a lighter touch and deliver a closer shave—but these too need to be replaced often. Finally, make sure you use a moisturizing shaving lotion or cream that creates enough slip to prevent the razor from dragging—a common cause of skin aggravation.
The method: epilators
Your mother probably used an epilator at some point in her life, but have you? This electric device grabs multiple hairs at once and pulls them out at the root. “Think of it as a continuous cycle of tweezing,” says Dr. Julie Pena, founder of Likewise Skincare and Skin Solutions Dermatology and Skin Cancer Surgery. Like tweezing, epilators can be painful and produce red bumps—but these are only temporary. “This form of hair removal is best for people with sensitive skin or darker skin types because epilators don’t alter the surface of the skin (like waxing or shaving), so they don’t cause lasting irritation or hyper-pigmentation,” Dr. Pena says. The effects last longer than shaving since you’re pulling the hairs out by the roots, and “repeated epilation treatment will reduce the amount of regrowth and even soften the hair,” Dr. Pena says.
Epilate at night before bed, which allows redness to dissipate overnight
Avoid lotions or creams prior to use to ensure a better grasp
Soften hairs and open up the follicle with a lukewarm shower prior to epilating
Help hairs stand up for the epilator to grip by moving a towel against the hair growth
The method: waxing
We’ve all cringed at the waxing scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but aside from that initial ouch factor, waxing’s smooth results last longer (two to four weeks) with no immediate stubble. “Lighter skin types respond best to waxing because the hair is thinner and there’s less chance of hyper-pigmentation,” Dr. Pena says. Adds Dr. Robert Anolik, BeautyBar.com Medical Director, “Waxing shouldn’t be performed on any area affected by rashes or sunburn, or is overly dry or chapped.”
Side effects of this method can include “pinking” of the skin, which Dr. Pena says should disappear within six to eight hours. “Slight pinking is normal and indicates that the hair was removed from the root, rather than superficially broken off (like with shaving),” she says. And if you notice some bleeding, don’t be shocked: That’s fairly normal, due to follicle trauma. Avoid lotions, exfoliators, oils and sun exposure the day of your wax. And if you’re taking certain medications, like Accutane, skip waxing altogether.
The method: depilatories
If none of the above options fit your needs, you just might want to try a depilatory lotion, which “dissolves keratin, a basic constituent of the hair shaft,” says Dr. Anolik. This causes the hair to break off or dissolve, which you then simply wipe away. “This method is virtually pain-free and comes in various application forms, such as roll-on, gel, cream, or spray,” Dr. Peredo says.
The effects usually last a week, but as she points out, depilatories don’t always work on coarse hair. And if you have sensitive skin, depilatories may not be for you. “They’re formulated with chemicals that in effect ‘burn’ off the hair, so there is a risk of skin irritation,” Dr. Anolik states. He suggests conducting a patch test in advance. And then plug your nose: The chemical scent is less than pleasing, but it’s a rather small price to pay for silky smooth skin!
What's your hair removal method of choice?