The bare facts about hair removal

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What do you do about unwanted hair? I have to confess to a pick and mix approach: I wax my legs, shave my armpits and had my bikini line lasered years ago, with the occasional top-up of intense pulsed light treatment since. Here are my tried and tested hair removal methods.

My philosophy is simple, the method entirely depends on the unsightliness of the regrowth. The hairs on my legs are almost invisible, my armpit hair is not and as a year-round swimmer I’ve learned not to take chances with exposing angry red bumps at the edges of my cossie to unsuspecting strangers.

Shaving and hair removal creams

Shaving is fast and convenient and it isn’t difficult to do it properly. Adequate lather and soothing moisturiser afterwards usually guarantees a good result for legs and armpits. Bikini area shaving can be tricky and requires a bit more preparation. After a shower is best, with a new razor angled to avoid any chance of nicking, following the direction of the hair growth. Trim the hair first, use a sensitive skin shaving gel or cream and apply an aloe vera-based moisturiser after rinsing off.

Shaving is a pretty good method for legs and not quite so good for other areas where the coarser hairs grow at least twice as fast. Another disadvantage is that the sheared off hairs can look and feel bristly and in sensitive areas it can cause an unsightly rash that only time (usually a few days) can cure.

Depilatory creams are famous for their awful perm-solution odour. This tends to be unavoidable because they contain calcium hydroxide, which dissolves the disulfide bonds linking the protein chains that give hair its strength, making the follicles disintegrate. Regrowth takes longer than shaving and the hairs are tapered.

These advantages need to be weighed against the time and mess factor. Depilatory company Veet has introduced an in-shower hair removal cream that works a little faster than traditional formulations – three minutes compared to five. Just long enough to wash and condition your crowning glory.

Waxing

Waxing, done properly, gives a very good finish to all areas of the body and hair takes a couple of weeks to regrow. While the regrowth is less vigorous, ingrown hairs can be a problem. For some, going to a professional will solve this, for others regular light exfoliation and the use of a dedicated product can do the trick. Some people don’t react well to waxing at all, developing a pimply rash that can take hours or days to subside.

Another factor to consider is that waxing, even when performed by an expert in a salon setting, can be painful. To an extent this depends on individual sensitivity, time of the month and the thickness of the hairs. If you are waxing at home, do small areas at a time, pulling the fabric strip against the direction of the hair growth. For people who tolerate it well, the sensation is comparable to pulling off a sticking plaster.

Home waxing is safest with a cold wax. If you are using a heated wax, never apply it to your skin while it is hot enough to be runny, it should be tacky in texture. For the bikini area, as with shaving, a preliminary trim will make the job easier.

Finally, the sad truth about waxing is that you have to go through a few days of regrowth until it is long enough to wax again. While this doesn’t matter so much on the legs, in areas where the growth is stronger it’s not such a great look.

Sugaring

Sugaring is the Middle Eastern alternative to waxing but requires exactly the right consistency of sugar paste to work well so it’s not such an easy home treatment option.

Epilation

Rotary epilation uses a device with a rotating head that plucks the hairs out by the roots. As with many gadgets, this takes time and patience to master, let alone cover an extensive area. The time factor (it takes at least an hour to treat the legs) along with the pain involved – some models also can pinch the skin – seem to be the main disadvantages. Having a cool shower afterwards is recommended to reduce inflammation. As with waxing, the regrowth needs to be long enough for the mechanism to grasp before you can epilate again but it does offer the same long-term results.

Laser treatment

Laser treatments use a specific light wavelength to target the melanin in the hair shaft and zap the follicle so it won’t readily produce more hair. Each treatment tends to reduce hair growth by at least half, with between three and six treatments achieving a long-lasting result. Further growth over time tends to be very sparse.

There are a few limitations. Laser treatments work best for dark hair on light skin and badly on fairish hair or dark skin. An Nd YAG laser can be used on darker skins but is slightly less effective, and some fair-haired people have tried dyeing the hair to be treated a darker colour. It is always advisable to undertake a light-based treatment when your skin is at its palest.

Laser treatment is mildly painful, like having a rubber band flicked against your skin, and the area will be slightly red and tender afterwards. It’s comparatively expensive, although if you amortise the cost compared to waxing treatments, for example, it’s actually economical.

Intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment works similarly to laser, except that it treats an area rather than individual hairs so it’s much faster, and in my experience less painful and causes fewer after effects. Because it’s both quick and effective, this is a great option for removing hair from larger areas.

With either laser or IPL treatments it is absolutely critical that you go to a properly trained and qualified operator to ensure the best results.