Oy, that title! Sorry, loves. My love of a pun will get me in trouble one of these days. Aaaanyway. Where were we? Oh yes. Hair. Sometimes it can seem as though the bulk of most women’s lives is spent worrying about hair. Above the neck, we want it to be lush, shiny, abundant and/or on fleek. Below, we want it… Well, gone. And yes, of course the societal pressure on women to look like perfectly plasticky, hairless mannequins is a product of the patriarchy and internalized misogyny and I would never suggest to another woman that she needs to get rid of her fuzz. In fact, I really dig the new trend of women growing out and dyeing their armpit hair. Still, most of us continue to shave, wax, laser and pluck with abandon and I figured it might be helpful to do a roundup of the various options available, especially since summer is the season of short shorts, bikinis and sleeveless tops. I do tend to ramble on, so I will give a pro-con summary of each option, should you be inclined to skim.
I consider myself uniquely qualified in the area of hair removal, since I am blessed (ahem) with a Jewish girl’s lush fur, which I have spent a lifetime eradicating. In fact, my mother is fond of telling me that I was born with hair on my ears and running down my back. Thankfully, I didn’t retain these Wolf Girl attributes beyond babyhood, but excessive hairiness continued to be an issue. Shaving my legs was both uncomfortable and laborious, while also feeling like a bit of a Sisyphean task, since having shaved my legs in the morning, I would get a below-the-knee 5 o’clock shadow by evening. Which brings us to lasers.
Lasers. Aside from being something my Star Wars loving 7-year-old kid would find seriously awesome, lasers are considered to be the final word in final hair removal. With the exception of the painful and tedious electrolysis (which really isn’t ideal for large areas like legs or arms because it requires zapping each individual hair), it’s the only hair removal option that comes close to being permanent.
If you are sensing a “but”, you are right. For starters, lasers don’t work equally well for everyone. One of the main reasons is that lasers target melanin in the skin and hair, targeting the contrast between the two, so results will differ depending on your skin and hair color. Typically, the best results are seen by people with lighter skin and dark hair – darker skinned women and fair blondes get the worst results, although newer generation lasers can be adjusted for dark skins.
Laser hair removal is also not entirely painless: getting the treatment on my legs and arms felt like having rubber bands snapped against my skin and treating the bikini area can border on excruciating. Oftentimes, laser hair removal also isn’t entirely permanent: hair stops growing for a while, but eventually it begins to sprout back, necessitating additional treatments. In fact, these days people tend to refer to it as a “semi-permanent” option.
The biggest issue with laser hair removal is probably its cost. The price of treatment can climb into thousands of dollars for large areas like the full leg. I was lucky: I got the treatment on my arms and legs when I lived in Romania. At that time, laser removal was first becoming popular and because at the time the cost of living in Romania was much lower than in the US (at least for expats), I only spent around $120 per session and had fabulous results. These days, I can go for months at a time without shaving my legs and no one would be the wiser without close scrutiny. And my formerly gorilla-like arms are now virtually hairless. The good news is that there are always deals being offered on laser hair removal on bargain sites like Groupon and Gilt, so you might be able to find a reasonable (albeit still pricey option).
For those of you concerned about toxins, some lasers require the application of a gel, that, I would guess, is not the most organic of products. You may also be offered a numbing gel or cream like Lidocaine – also, sadly, not organic – and a cortisone cream post-procedure to reduce irritation. The baby wipes offered pre and post-treatment are also not the cleanest. I would suggest bringing your own wipes (I like these Box Naturals ones, if only because they look so chic, but do note that they contain phenoxy) and a calming product to use post treatment. I am completely obsessed with the In Fiore Bikini Balm – more on which later.
Pros: (relative/potential) permanence; time-saving (the sessions are relatively brief, spaced about a month apart and once completed, you may not need to worry about hair removal much at all); possible to avoid exposure to questionable ingredients.
Cons: cost (your best bet is scouring deal sites for a discount option); doesn’t work for everyone; painful (although the pain isn’t terrible, it’s still worth mentioning, since there are almost completely painless methods out there); some people can experience burns.
Waxing/Sugaring. The midway point between lasers and shaving is waxing. I’m sure by now most, if not all, of us know the drill: hot wax is applied to our appendages, faces and/or nether regions (and, let’s face it, sometimes backs), covered by a cloth and ripped off, extracting unwanted hairs and stifled screams. Waxing is often seen as preferable to shaving because by ripping hair out by the root, it ensures slower regrowth. With regular damage to the hair follicle, continual waxing of an area can make the hair finer and even eventually stop the hair growing entirely, though it does take a long time and usually just some of the hairs stop growing (they are tenacious littler buggers!).
The cons of waxing are fairly obvious: it hurts, it’s necessary to wait for the hair to regrow before waxing again, which can mean having to resort to shaving, it can lead to skin damage and infections, especially in the more delicate areas, and a lot of times the wax being used can contain any number of questionable ingredients (although it doesn’t stay on the skin for long, the heat of the wax can aid penetration). It is possible to avoid at least the latter issue: some spas now offer organic waxes or you could use sugaring.
Sugaring uses the same principle as waxing (hot goo applied to hair and ripped off), but is completely natural – a mix of sugar, lemon juice, water and sometimes glycerin. I haven’t tried it myself, but it’s also supposed to be less painful and easier to clean up. Frankly, I think the only disadvantage sugaring has when compared to waxing is that it’s not as widely available. Whether waxing or sugaring, if you want to avoid exposure to any questionable ingredients, you should definitely consider bringing your own wipes, baby powder (often used pre-waxing) and, if you are waxing, oil to remove any lingering wax residue.
Pros (Waxing and Sugaring): hair regrows much slower and can eventually become finer; can help avoid irritation and ingrown hair caused by shaving; since hair is removed at the root, it grows back feeling less stubbly than when shaved.
Cons (Waxing): painful; possibly questionable ingredients in wax; can damage skin; relatively expensive; having to wait for hair regrowth.
Pros (Sugaring): completely natural; less painful; doesn’t remove living skin cells – only dead ones – thus diminishing potential for skin damage.
Cons (Sugaring): expensive; not as widely available as waxing; having to wait for hair regrowth.
Epilators. Before waxing became the most mundane of cosmetic procedures, there were epilators. These are electrical devices that are, essentially, tweezers on steroids: a moving mechanism grips hairs and pulls them out at high speed. Using epilators has the hair weakening and slow regrowth benefits of waxing, without the chemicals or skin damage.
I remember the first first Epilady epilator that my mother started using some time in the mid-80s. It used the now-outdated coiled spring mechanism and was devilishly painful, but it certainly got the job done. My mother continued using it regularly for the next 20 years and eventually the hair on her legs stopped growing almost entirely. Unfortunately and despite all of her exhortations, I could never give in to the charms of the Epilady: my hair was far too thick and coarse, making its removal excruciatingly painful.
Are you wondering why I am even mentioning this medieval torture device and even surrounding it in rose petals? It’s because these days I am a knight in the service of the Lady of Epi. Of course, my devotion is not unconditional. For starters, as I mentioned, the coiled spring technology of the Epilady has become outdated: these days, most devices use rotating metal plates that come together and apart, grabbing and pulling out hairs as they do. The design is a definite improvement on the coil, but it certainly isn’t pain-free. In fact, if you are sensitive to pain, I wouldn’t recommend epilators as your primary hair removal method – and for the love of all that is holy, do not use it on your bikini area! Where epilators shine is the removal of stray hair. The perfect example of that would be maintenance between waxing or getting rid of the few hairs left post-laser (this is how I use it).
I also find epilators to be the ideal hair removal tool for facial hair. I’m not talking about eyebrows, of course, but if you, like me, are a proud owner of a lady-stache (high school was SUCH a fun time for me, you guys!), a good epilator might just be an answer to your prayers. I have always found waxing to be far too irritating for my delicate upper lip, leaving me red and causing unpleasant breakouts. Because epilators don’t damage the skin, however, I can even use them right before going out (though I wouldn’t recommend it, since some redness is possible) and breakouts have become a non-issue. Now look: I won’t lie to you, it hurts. In fact, in some areas it can be eye-wateringly painful. Still, considering the ease of use, not needing to leave my house, the low cost (my favorite device is under $33 on Amazon and it’s a one-time expense) and the perfect results, I am willing to put up with the pain.
Pros: Inexpensive; no exposure to chemicals whatsoever; at-home treatment; no damage to the skin.
Cons: Painful, especially for thick/coarse hair; limited usability (too painful to use in certain areas); time consuming (removal of copious amounts of hair over large areas can take a while).
Shaving. And now we come to the most common, popular, time-tested and accessible method of hair removal: shaving. There is nothing complicated about either the concept or the process of shaving and, in fact, the only real question is why, when it’s so easy, fast, painless and inexpensive, are we talking about and doing anything else? The answer, of course, is never simple (at least it isn’t on this blog). The truth of the matter is that shaving is actually not for everyone. For some, it can cause extreme irritation or ingrown hair, for others, like myself, there is the problem of the aforementioned 5 o’clock shadow and feeling like a hedgehog the day after shaving. And while I know that some women swear by shaving for their faces, the jury is still out on its benefits and it was never an option for me. Most women who chose to shave their faces (or at least the ones writing about it) seem to be blonde with fine, barely visible peach fuss, so I’m not surprised that shaving works for them. I am an, ahem, swarthier type, and so I fear that if I started shaving, I’d soon look like Jon Hamm in between takes.
Of course, all of the above reservations notwithstanding, shaving is, and will probably remain, the most popular hair removal method around, so it’s worth mentioning a few ways of making it a bit more glamorous and even more environmentally friendly. For starters, if you haven’t already, do ditch those heavily scented and abundantly foaming shaving products. Personally, I have never found them helpful, since the ridiculously thick lather made it hard to judge where it ended and my skin began, leading to more, not fewer nicks and cuts; and then there is the matter of iffy ingredients, not the least of which is that cloying fragrance. A lot of green beauty folks recommend coconut oil as a great shaving aide (of course!), but I prefer using whatever shower gel I’m using at the time.
Then there is the matter of razors. Not only are they fairly wasteful (and kind of ridiculously expensive, no?), the shaving strips on most of them are made of polyethylene oxide, i.e. a PEG – something most clean beauty proponents suggest avoiding. Solution? Oui Shave razors. The beautiful, gold-plated razors look like decorative objects and harken back to a less disposable age. They also feel reassuringly heavy in the hand, allowing for a comfortable, smooth shave. Oui also makes shaving oils (they come as a set with the Charlotte razor), which make shaving feel positively spa-like. And if you are completely opposed to using disposable razor heads, the brand also makes traditional razors that use metal, double edged blades.
Pros: fast; cheap; easy; convenient.
Cons: can cause irritation and ingrown hair; questionable ingredients in conventional shaving gels/creams and razor moisturizing strips; stubbly regrowth.
And now we get to the really fun part: products that help make grooming feel not only less annoying, but downright luxurious. I have already mentioned the In Fiore Bikini Balm and it is possibly my favorite body care product of all time. For starters, like everything In Fiore, it’s completely gorgeous and luxurious. It has the lush jasmine smell familiar to the fans of the line and its ingredients are elegant enough to use on your face. In fact, I once did just that by accident – the jar is quite similar to the Fleur Vibrant balm – and woke up the next morning with radiantly glowing complexion. Its true brilliance, however, is revealed when used as intended. It soothes the most sensitive bikini areas, prevents ingrown hair and calms inflammation as a charm. As you can see from the picture above, I have been faithfully using this balm on every vacation and it remains that rare product that is utterly luxurious and completely effective.
And what of those beauties who do not buy into prevailing beauty standards and choose to leave their lady gardens grow wild and free? Green beauty thought of them too! The cheekily named Fur Oil has been formulated to nourish and soften pubic hair and prevent ingrowns. It smells lovely and looks elegant enough to take pride of place on the most discerning of vanities. And frankly, I quite like that idea. It’s nice to be reminded that we shouldn’t be ashamed of our bodies, that we needn’t minister to them in covert shame – presenting the final, perfect result before the critical eye of society. In the end, it doesn’t matter if your personal style leans towards Wild Woman or Perfect Barbie: as long as you do what makes you feel the happiest and the most beautiful.
Nota Bene. The above list is by no means exhaustive. I have omitted several hair removal methods for various reasons. I did not mention threading because, although excellent, it is rarely used for anything other than eyebrow shaping and I wanted to discuss the more universal hair removal methods. I also haven’t mentioned electrolysis because it is very expensive, very painful and is not practical for removing hair on large areas (unless you are the poor Rita Hayworth, giving herself a brand new hairline). Finally, I haven’t mentioned bleaching and depilatory creams because… Well, frankly, they are bloody awful. Both are, obviously, chemically laden nightmares – I mean, one is a cream that melts your hair off – and both do not justify the ends with those unpleasant means. More often that not, bleaching actually tends to make hair more noticeable – and if your hair is dark, it will make it a lovely orange color. As for depilatory creams… I suppose to each her own, but really? Maybe don’t?
Disclosure. The Oui Charlotte Razor Set and Box Naturals wipes were generously provided by ecodivabeauty.com. The links are not affiliate. I have purchased all of the other products mentioned.