Sunday, February 17, 2008

Let’s Be Fair: Exploring All Your Hair Removal Options

When it comes to removing unwanted facial and body hair, you have your fair share of options. Each hair removal method has its own set of pros and cons—some you’re probably painfully familiar with. But when considering laser for removing unwanted hair, it’s worth doing a quick review of all your alternatives.

For both men and women, shaving is a hair removal method that requires frequent, often daily, upkeep. As many of us can attest, shaving easily leads to cuts, as well as razor bumps and dryness, and usually the results are not as smooth as desired. The upside: low cost. Although we might cringe at an end-of-year tally of all the money put toward razors, blades, gels, and creams, shaving calls for minimal spending at tolerable intervals, which is gentle on the pocketbook. You also may want to consider the environmental impact of disposable razors and blades when weighing your hair removal options.

Since bleaching is a method of hiding unwanted hair and not removing it, it’s most effective on hair that is dark but not dense. An area of dense, bleached hair might attract extra attention, defeating the purpose of this treatment. Instead, most people rely on bleaching for hair above the lip and on other areas of the face, neck, and arms. It usually has to be repeated every 3-4 weeks, but like shaving, bleaching comes with a manageable price tag.

It’s no secret what the downsides to tweezing are: 1. It hurts. 2. It takes patience. Tweezing is done one hair at a time, so it’s not really meant for, say, a full back or leg. Usually reserved for the eyebrows and chin, the upside to tweezing is that it removes hair from its root. This means you get a nice, smooth surface and the hair takes longer to reappear. Also, lasers can’t be used on hair under the brows, so tweezing is still probably the best method available for sculpting the eyebrows. (Myth buster: Tweezing does not increase hair growth or make it grow in heavier or darker. When hair grows back and first emerges, it naturally starts out stubby and seems darker and heavier than soft, fully grown hair. Hair characteristics are based purely on genetics, not on beauty regimens.)

Much like tweezing, waxing removes hair from its root and leaves the skin quite smoother, for much longer, than shaving. Women commonly wax hair on their legs, bikini area, and face, while many men opt to have their chest or back hair waxed. The downside of waxing can be summed up in one word: ouch! The process requires that a layer of wax be applied to the skin, in the direction of hair growth, and then quickly pulled off, in the opposite direction of hair growth. Other downsides: It can irritate the skin and lead to ingrown hairs. It can cause a mess when done at home. It can be pretty pricey when done by a professional.

Sugaring works like waxing, except it involves an all-natural substance: sugar (go figure). The most well known sugaring brand is probably infomercial phenomenon Nad’s. While waxes usually have to be heated to be effective, sugaring substances do not, which makes them much less damaging to the skin. They can still be a bit of an irritant, however, since the hair is being pulled out from the root. This caramel-like substance is also easier to wash away than waxes, making sugaring a less messy treatment for unwanted hair.

Depilatories are made of chemicals that melt and dissolve hair. The process: apply a thick layer of the substance to the skin, and then firmly rub a washcloth up and down the surface of the skin, wiping away both depilatory and hair. Simply rubbing your hair off doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Unfortunately, as with many unwanted hair treatments, there’s a drawback. First, depilatories remove hair just from the surface, so it will reappear in a few days. Also, there’s a risk of burning or irritating the skin or eyes. You should always start with a small test spot and never use depilatories on the brows, genitals, near the eyes, or on inflamed or broken skin.

Electrolysis is the only unwanted hair treatment that can legally be marketed as permanent hair removal. However, this takes time, can be pricey, and it hurts! A treatment involves the insertion of an ultra fine wire beneath the skin and into the hair follicle. A slight electric current then travels down the wire and destroys the root at the base of the hair follicle. This process is repeated for each hair individually! So, one session of electrolysis can take some time, and since only the visible hair can be treated, multiple sessions are required. Many people opt for electrolysis just for smaller areas of unwanted hair, or as a maintenance treatment after laser hair removal on a larger area. Electrolysis does carry some risk of scarring, electric shock if the needle isn’t properly insulated, and infection from non-sterile needles. However, these risks are rare, especially if the treatment is performed by a skilled, experienced electrolysis practitioner.