Body hair removal is as much of a personal choice as any other beauty treatment. We can't deny that for many, there's been a lengthy history of societal pressure to remove it—but as the conversation around how we present ourselves progresses, it's a good time to remind yourself that the decision is ultimately your own. If you want to leave your body hair alone, then feel free to let it grow. Alternately, if you'd like to remove your body hair, there's a long list of options currently available.
So if you're curious to explore those options, we're bringing you all the relevant information. We spoke to dermatologists, trichologists, and beauty experts to demystify how each process works and the pros and cons of each. Below, our detailed guide to six different types of body hair removal you can choose from.
How It Works: Even if you haven't tried this one before, you're likely familiar with the process. Hot wax is applied to your skin; it grabs on to the roots of your hair, cools down, and then gets pulled off. In order for it to be done effectively, you need to have at least a few millimeters of hair growth above your skin so the wax can properly attach. Your aesthetician may also trim your hair before waxing; when your hair is too long, it can cause extra pain as it comes off (speaking from personal experience).
"This actually removes the organ responsible for hair growth, the follicle or root, out from underneath the skin," says Dominic Burg, M.D., chief scientist for Evolis Professional. "It not only removes your hair but also damages the cells and apparatus needed to grow a new hair in its place, so new hairs come in finer and less substantial, more so with repeated waxing."
Pros and Cons: Waxing can be done on any hair type and is relatively affordable depending on whether you do it at home or which salon you go to. Most at-home kits will run you $5 to $30, while salons typically charge $30 to $90 (Brazilians are more expensive than basic bikini waxes since they're more involved).
Dr. Burg also notes that waxing is quick, reduces growth over regular sessions, and can remove large areas of hair. On the flip side, "it can cause inflammation and irritation to your skin," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D.. Those with sensitive skin should try a patch test first, and it might be a good idea to apply gentle, anti-inflammatory creams to the treated areas afterward. Want more advice from pro waxers? Click here.
How It Works: Here's a quick hair biology lesson: All of your hair goes through cycles of growth (anagen), regression, rest (telogen), and fall. "The hair on your body has a short growth phase and a medium-long resting phase," explains Dr. Burg. "Each type of hair has its own cycle, and you can surmise what this is by looking at the length, thickness, and growth rate. Leg hair has a medium growth phase and a long resting phase of around six months, whereas pubic hair has a resting phase of three months."
Laser hair removal works best during the active growth phase, which means you will need several sessions to see semipermanent or permanent results, since not all follicles are in the same phase at the same time. An intense beam of light bypasses the surface of your skin and gets absorbed by hair follicles, destroying their ability to generate new hair over time.
Pros and Cons: You're unlikely to experience ingrown hairs with this method, and while sessions can be expensive, results will also last much longer than methods like waxing or shaving. Chris Karavolas, owner of New York's Romeo and Juliette Laser Hair Removal, estimates that clients need "six sessions on average, spaced six to eight weeks apart, in order to achieve permanent hair reduction." The sessions themselves are short; underarms and bikini can be treated in five to 10 minutes, while a larger area like your full leg may take 20 to 30 minutes. While pricing will vary by geographic location, Karavolas estimates a full package (for permanent reduction) costs around $3,500 for legs, $1,000 for underarms, and $1,000 for your bikini line.
While earlier lasers only worked well on those with light skin tones and dark hair, newer technology has made it a more readily available option. "Light skin tones would use an Alexandrite laser and dark skin tones should use an NDYAG laser," says Karavolas. "It's important to choose the right provider with the right experience and equipment." Dr. Burg notes that laser may not be very effective on hair "with little pigment."
An at-home option is an IPL device, based on different technology, which is not as effective as in-office laser treatments but is helpful when it comes to maintaining results afterward. "The most important difference is the type of light used to achieve the results," says Braun global dermatologist Justine Hextall, M.D. "IPL has a broad range of wavelengths and a wider beam of light versus laser's narrow-focus beam." The FDA-cleared Braun Silk-Expert 5 has our approval. The one limitation: "It is most effective on light to medium skin tones with hair ranging from natural blond to dark brown or black."
How It Works: Shaving is arguably the fastest and most affordable way to remove body hair, and we don't have to go into extreme detail on this one: It removes your hair by cutting it at the surface of the skin. It's hard to mess up, though you may find it helpful to prep by exfoliating beforehand.
Pros and Cons: Since your hair isn't removed at the root, it grows back in a few days, meaning you'll have to remove it more frequently. Sometimes you get ingrown hairs and sometimes you get razor burn, which is inflammation caused by shaving too forcefully. Avoid irritation by choosing a good razor—we're fans of the recently launched Schick Intuition f.a.b. disposables, which feature two sets of blades that work separately in both directions, so you can shave both upward and downward without tugging on or nicking your skin. You could also consider the Venus Extra Smooth Sensitive Razor, which combines extra-thin blades with a moisture ribbon and a pivoting head that helps the razor glide smoothly over your skin. (See more of our favorites here.)
How It Works: These are topical creams that you apply on your skin, let them work their hair-removing magic, and then wipe away. This can be done easily in the shower. "Hair removal creams use chemicals to dissolve the hair at the surface or just below the surface," says Dr. Burg. "These only last until the hair grows above the surface. These creams can be easily used at home but not on sensitive areas, where they can cause chemical burns and irritation."
Pros and Cons: Like shaving, this essentially removes hair close to the surface, so results will only last a little longer than using a razor. But it's also painless on approved areas—as long as your skin doesn't react to the chemicals. Remember to spot-test any new cream before using it to ensure it won't irritate you. (And also remember that leaving the cream on too long will definitely cause irritation, so don't do this.) One we love? Nair Cocoa Butter Hair Remover Lotion.
How It Works: "Electrolysis is a process in which a tiny needle is placed within the hair follicle and an electric current is used to burn away the root of the hair," says Dr. Zeichner. Like laser treatments, it works best on actively growing hair follicles. According to Dr. Burg, there are different types: galvanic electrolysis (which uses the electric current to cause a chemical reaction) and thermolysis (which uses radio waves to cause local heating in the follicles). The end result is permanent hair removal, and it can be done on all skin types and hair colors.
Pros and Cons: It will hurt. A lot. Dr. Zeichner also cautions that it has the potential to cause dark spots and scarring. "It can be very time consuming," adds Dr. Burg. "Modern apparatus have multiple probes that can be used simultaneously by skilled operators, but it can take many hours of treatment to remove hair from an area, as opposed to seconds or minutes using other methods. However, electrolysis is considered the most permanent method of hair removal." It typically costs $30 to $100 per session, depending on the size of the area you're getting treated, and can require multiple sessions.
How It Works: Tweezing every strand of your body hair is an endeavor we wouldn't suggest embarking on, as you'll probably be sitting there for years. Enter epilators, devices which essentially combine motorized rows of tweezers to cut down on time. "Epilators look a little like electric shavers in appearance, but instead of blades, they have rotating cylinders with integrated tweezers which remove the hairs at the root," says Dr. Hextall. Unlike waxing, epilators don't need too much hair to grab on to, so you don't need to wait that long for new growth. To use, you simply turn on the device and move it gradually over your skin, applying even pressure. One session should last up to four weeks, since you remove hair at the root.
Pros and Cons: We wouldn't really recommend doing this on sensitive areas of your body, like your bikini line, since the sensation is not particularly pleasant. It takes a little longer than shaving or waxing but provides longer results. Our current pick is the Braun Silk-épil 9 SensoSmart Epilator, which can grab hair as small as a grain of sand and is fully waterproof. (Pro tip: Epilate in warm water—it will hurt much less.)
Sarah Wu is a writer in Berlin. Follow her at @say.wu.
Originally Appeared on Glamour