Which Is Better: Waxing, Shaving or Laser? Hair Removal 101

Hair removal 101

Summer is almost here — and that means it’s time to get back to our “high visibility” hair removal routines. Who wants to miss out on a spontaneous beach trip or visit to a rooftop pool because of leftover winter stubble? Not us.

If you’re just coming out of hibernation, now is a great time to consider your options when it comes to keeping the bikini line, underarms and legs smooth, bump-free and swimsuit-ready.

We all know that keeping our bodies hairless in all the right places isn’t always smooth sailing — all hair removal methods have the potential for issues such as nicks, bumps, ingrown hairs and general discomfort.

Here, we take a basic look at the multitude of removal options, and their different levels of pain, commitment, expense, convenience and longevity.

Professional Waxing

How it works: Warm wax is applied to the area and removed in the opposite direction of the hair growth, pulling hairs out at the root.

Best for: Legs, underarms and bikini area, and great for those with coarse, darker hair.

Pros: Temporarily removes hair at the root for an average of around three weeks of smooth skin (two to six weeks depending on your hair type/thickness).

Cons: Waxing needs some regrowth in order to be effective, as the wax needs at least 1/4-inch of stubble to adhere to. Treatments can be moderately painful, as hair is being ripped out at the root, but become more tolerable over time. Waxing can also lead to ingrown hairs.

Cost: Anywhere from $35-80 for salon waxing, depending on areas waxed and your salon of choice.

Tip: Don’t drink and wax, says Noemi Grupenmager, founder and CEO of Uni K Wax Centers. “Some people come in after consuming alcohol thinking it’ll ease the pain, but alcohol tightens pores, making it much more painful.” Stimulants such as coffee can also increase sensitivity. 

Also, do your research and find a salon that uses good quality wax. Better quality wax can mean a less painful experience, says Grupenmager. “Our Uni K Wax is warmed to body temperature and has natural oils, which have great benefits for your skin. Our wax is also very elastic and stretches to remove hair without paper strips, causing less of a pull to the skin, meaning a more comfortable hair removal experience.”

Shaving

How it works: Removes hair at the skin’s surface by cutting it off with a razor.

Best for: Legs, underarms and those with fine, lighter hair. 

Pros: Inexpensive, painless, quick and easy, and shaving creams used can help moisturize the skin, keeping it soft.

Cons: Regrowth happens quickly, and since hair is cut off at the surface, regrowing hair is blunt, not tapered, so it can appear thicker. Razor burn, nicks and cuts can happen. And regular shavers can also be prone to ingrown hairs.

Cost: Razors and shaving cream can be inexpensively purchased at any grocery or drugstore. Today’s razors, such as Schick’s new Intuition Pure Nourishment ($9.59, drugstore.com), also contain moisturizing strips that help nourish the skin and lather as you shave for a smoother, easier, one-step shaving experience. 

Tip: For those who can’t quit their shaving habit, “growth reduction” products promise to help inhibit hair regrowth and thus reduce the frequency of shaving required. Whish Body’s pomegranate-scented Shave Saviour Hair Inhibiting Gel Swipes ($8-$20, whishbody.com) are individually packaged towelettes that not only soothe and replenish the skin after shaving (or waxing, or even laser hair removal), they actually help slow hair growth and reduce the density of hair with regular use. Similarly, Completely Bare’s Don’t Grow There ($9.99, completelybare.com) lotion moisturizes the skin and helps inhibit regrowth.

Depilatory Creams

How it works: Hair removal creams use chemicals to weaken the hair so you can effectively wipe it away.

Best for: Those who want quick, easy, relatively painless at-home results. Most popular for facial hair, bikini line and underarms.

Pros: Can be done at home, and removes hair slightly below the surface of the skin, so promises slower and less coarse regrowth than shaving.

Cons: Chemicals in these products can irritate sensitive skin, particularly in more delicate areas. These creams are infamous for their odor and can also lead to ingrown hairs.

Cost: $6-12 on average for a tube of cream or spray-on depilatory lotion.

Tip: Choose a cream suited for the specific area you’re treating (and maybe light some scented candles in the bathroom to mask the strong smell most of these products tend to have!). Veet’s In-Shower Hair Removal Cream ($8.79, drugstore.com) has a water-resistant formula that’s great for legs and underarms, while most brands, such as Nair, do bikini line or facial-specific formulas.

Hair removal products

Laser Hair Removal

How it works: Laser pentrates the skin to target the hair shaft and inhibit hair growth. It essentially destroys the follicle, meaning it can achieve permanent removal. Typically, the hair in treated areas falls out within 2-3 weeks.

Best for: People with hair darker than their skin — while professional dermatologists can vary the type of laser used, laser is not suited to people with dark skin or pale hair, because it targets the melanin in the hair, so the laser needs to be able to lock on to the dark pigment and needs to differentiate the dark hair from the skin.

Pros: Great for long term hair removal in all areas. “It causes no damage to the dermis so the most sensitive skin can be treated,” says New York dematologist Dr. Ariel Ostad.

Cons: Laser hair removal can be painful, with most people describing it as a “snapping” sensation against the skin, and a sensation of heat from the laser. Also, it requires visit to a dermatoligist for best results. “It is important to go to a dermatologist who can offer different lasers which are customized to the patient’s skin color and hair color,” says Ostad.

Cost: $95 to $250 per treatment, with an average of six sessions recommended, depending on the area being treated. Several cycles of treatment are usually recommended to capture the hair follicles at different stages of the growth cycle. Some people require touch-up treatments, especially on larger areas.

Tip: While it may seem expensive, in the long run, many consider laser removal to be an investment that can pay off. “It is the most effective and cost effective treatment considering how much one can spend over a lifetime with options such as waxing or electrolysis,” says Ostad.

Electrolysis

How it works: Uses a fine, needle-shaped electrode to apply an eletrical current to the hair follicle.

Best for: Small areas such as the face (eyebrows and upper lip) and underarms, because it treats each hair/follicle individually, so is time consuming and can get expensive.

Pros: Can permanently remove hair and is suitable for very fine and light colored hair, unlike laser which works best on darker hair.

Cons: When improperly done, electrolysis can lead to scarring or skin discoloration. Treatments can be uncomfortable, and cause a “stinging” or “pricking” sensation. And permanent results require multiple sessions.

Cost: Averages at around $45-65 for a 30-minute session. 

Tip: Dehydrated follicles can be more difficult to treat, so be sure to drink plenty of water the day before, the day of and the day after your treatment.

DIY Kits and Gadgets

Shaving and depilatory creams are obvious quick, at-home hair removal options, and even waxing can be done at home for those brave enough to try the DIY Brazilian with products such as the Completely Bare Bikini Wax Kit ($20, completelybare.com) or the Nair Brazilian Spa Clay Roll-On Wax roller ($9.49, drugstore.com). But there are plenty of other gadgets available for at-home hair use. The Epilady and similar devices have been around for over 20 years, and they mechanically remove the hair at the root, essentially tweezing the hair out and offering smooth skin for several weeks, similar to waxing.

One newcomer on the market is the no!no!, a gadget that uses pulses of heat to crystalize or singe and remove hairs from the surface of the skin. It is simple, quick, and painless — the name comes from the company’s “no hair, no pain” motto — but is a temporary solution that, in the beginning, needs to be done 2-3 times a week.

Today even laser hair removal can be done at home with new gadgets such as the Tria Hair Removal Laser 4X, the only FDA-cleared laser available for home use.The hand-held device uses the same technology used by professionals for in-office laser hair removal, to permanently disable hair follicles. The company offers a skin tone and hair color selection service online to ensure the device is suitable.

Read more: The Secret To Getting In Shape

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