Hair Removal 101: What’s Best for You?


Photo: Ilan Rubin/Trunk Archive

Pretty much nobody wakes up and says, “Gosh, I can’t wait to remove my body hair today.” (If you do, though, live it up!) For most of us, dealing with unwanted fuzz is just another thing on the to-do list, so we don’t give it much thought. Hair is hair is hair, right?

Actually, according to New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Jeannette Graf, some hair-removal methods work better for certain hair and skin types. For instance, she says, “thick hair, curly dark hair, and dry skin do best with laser hair removal.” Conversely, those with thin skin and finer hair are ideal candidates for shaving, waxing, and depilatories. Should you switch up your defuzzing strategy? Read on to find out.

Shaving: The everywoman option.

Shaving is the default choice for many women, and with good reason: it’s quick, affordable, and painless. Plus, says New York-based dermatologist Dr. Jody Levine, it’s appropriate for all skin types — even if you’ve been razor-burned before. “Women may confuse irritation with having sensitive skin, when it’s actually their razor choice,” she explains.

Levine recommends using a multi-blade razor (like Venus Embrace Sensitive), always using a shaving gel to minimize friction, and waiting two or three minutes into your shower to begin shaving. “Be sure to not use a dull blade, as it may cause you to shave over the same area multiple times and apply too much pressure,” she says. To prolong the life of your razor, store it in a dry place and replace it when you feel the need to press harder for a clean shave. You should be able to get 10 to 12 shaves in before it’s time for a new blade.

Depilatories: Effective, but not for everyone.

Depilatory creams like Veet and Nair are another inexpensive at-home option. They work by chemically breaking down the keratin in body hair within minutes. Results last for two or three days, but some people don’t like the mess or odor. (Graf notes that all formulas have this smell; it’s from the chemical that dissolves hair.)  While depilatories remove both fine and thick hair, they can irritate some skin types. “I wouldn’t recommend depilatory creams for sensitive skin,” Graf advises. “If there is any question, perform a skin test on a small area first.” Waiting a few hours may be an inconvenience, but it’s better than potentially dealing with a reaction.

Waxing: Let ‘er rip!

If you want to deal with body hair only once a month or so, waxing may be ideal. Yes, it hurts like hell, but you’re smooth for weeks after. The catch? After that glorious stretch of hairlessness, you’ll need to let your hair grow in before the next waxing session. “Four or five weeks is the perfect time to wait between a wax,” says Lele Gomes, esthetician at the Rita Hazan salon in New York City. “Hair should be about half an inch long.” Then it’s time for another wax-and-rip session.

Laser Hair Removal: Nearly permanent, but pricey.

To eliminate body fuzz for good, consider laser hair removal. The treatment works by sending light to destroy the hair follicle, which causes hair to stop growing. “On average, it takes four to six treatments for results to be permanent, but patients see dramatic results after the first treatment,” says cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank. The best candidates have light to medium skin tones and dark hair, while people with light hair (think blond or gray) are unlikely to have great results.

The cost of laser hair removal varies depending on a variety of factors: the area being treated, how much hair is present, and the local cost of living. But you can expect to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Deeply discounted deals can be tempting, but no matter what, Frank recommends booking with a trained physician instead of a hair-removal spa. “A laser is a fancy knife,” he explains. “Although the procedure is extremely safe, if it is in the wrong hands, it can cause significant problems.” And that’s one hairy situation you’re better off avoiding.