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At-Home Hair Removal: The Pros and Cons

Choosing between shaving, waxing or depilatories? Use our insider knowledge to choose the best method for you.

April 12th, 2012

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At-Home Hair Removal: The Pros and Cons

Some women chase after the perfect hair removal method like other people search for the perfect diet—employing a mix of anecdotal knowledge, frequent experimentation and pure superstition.

This “fuzzy” logic can come at cost—razor burn, rashes and ingrown hairs, to name a few of the bothers. Find the hair removal method that works best for you by getting up to speed on what's really going on when you go from hair to bare. 

Shaving

Pros: Quick, non-damaging to hair follicles
Cons: Short-lasting, razor burn, ingrown hairs, skin shadows, nicks

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First, let's put that number one shaving myth to rest: “Shaving hair does not make hair grow any thicker or faster,” says Amy McMichael, M.D., professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. In fact, McMichael explains, shaving has no effect on your hair follicles, the cup-shaped organs where your hairs originate.

The “shaving shadow” though? That's real, McMichael says. Razors can irritate your skin enough to call up an immune response. Your white blood cells jump into action and cause pigment cells to release extra coloring into the skin. 

Razor bumps happen when ingrown hairs get irritated by repeated shaving. Ouch! So far scientists have only thoroughly studied the condition in men (sorry ladies), but McMichael has found that upping the number of blades on your razor may reduce razor bumps in beards.

The key to minimizing these irritations, Audrey Kunin, M.D., dermatologist and president of DERMAdoctor, says, is decreasing razor drag. That drag causes causes micro-abrasions along your skin. “You want to be sure your skin is moist, and you want to be sure that you've applied something that's going to give some kind of slip to skin,” Kunin advises.

Waxing

Pros: Longer lasting, doesn't leave stubble
Cons: Painful, encourages pigmentation around follicles, ingrown hairs, time-consuming

Waxing yanks hairs out of their follicles. While shaving can traumatize your skin at the surface level, waxing wreaks its havoc deep within the follicle. “White blood cells are coming in responding to this trauma,” Kunin explains, “and like any other situation where there's too much inflammation, scarring can result.”

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This scarring can cause a few of your follicles to quit producing hair, McMichael says. However, she doesn't see waxing as a reliable method for permanent hair removal. The trauma it causes is more likely to bring out patchy pigmentation around your follicles than it is to end hair growth.

Waxing often leads to ingrown hairs due to the large number of open hair follicles it leaves behind. “Any time you remove a hair and it's a curly hair,” Kunin says, “the hair that's growing out, if it's less than a quarter inch in length, can spiral back in to the skin through that hair follicle opening.”

Depilatory Lotions

Pros: Typically pain-free, longer lasting
Cons: Possible chemical irritation, messy, somewhat time-consuming

Depilatories, like Nair, change the protein structure of your hair, so the strands break down and dissolve into a jelly you can wipe away. Not exactly appetizing, but pain-free granted you're not overly sensitive to the lotion's chemicals.

Like with shaving, depilatories leave the hair follicle intact, McMichael says. But depilatories do reach slightly deeper into the hair shaft than your razor, so their effects can last longer than a shave.

MORE: Explore the Body Skin Special Section

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