November 24, 2014
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Hair removal techniques

A little fuzz on a woman's upper lip? "Riiiip!" goes the hot wax strip. A tuft of tangled hair sprouting from inside an older man's ear? "Snip," go the scissors. From brows to bikini line, from pits to privates, and all the way down to the tops of our toes, we tweeze, wax, cut, shave, and do all manner of other things to remove the unwanted hair from our bodies.

We are, after all, mammals. We are hairy creatures living in a society that values smooth, hairless skin - while at the same time prizing a full, lustrous head of hair. So it makes sense that so many of us seek to remove hair from the spots on our bodies where it is considered undesirable. But are all hair removal techniques safe and recommended?

Want to test your pluck? With a steady hand, some patience, and the right conditions, plucking can be a safe, easy, and affordable way to remove hair - one by one! Depending on how quickly your hair grows, a plucked hair will take several weeks to grow back. Still, you are essentially yanking hair out of its follicles against its will, which can cause a skin reaction of tiny red bumps to flare up. Also, a painful ingrown can result from a hair that breaks off beneath the surface of the skin. Since tweezers are often used near the eyes, be sure to sterilize your tools with rubbing alcohol.

What's "sew" great about threading? Threading is a quick, simple, and very inexpensive hair removal technique. A trained aesthetician quickly runs a loop of thin cotton thread across the skin, which pulls the hair up from the roots. It is a bit like turbo-plucking, since the thread pulls up several hairs at a time. Threading can definitely hurt, and it can cause minor skin irritation. But it is thankfully over very quickly!

Is waxing a rip off? A hot, sticky wax is applied to the skin. A cloth strip is pressed onto the wax and is then quickly ripped off, pulling up your hair from its roots - along with dead skin cells. And, yes, it all feels just as pleasant as it sounds! Any resulting redness, inflammation, or irritated bumps will eventually give way to smooth, hairless skin. Whether from a spa treatment or from an at-home kit, skin will remain hairless for 3 to 6 weeks. For best results, wait to wax until body hair has grown to at least 6 millimetres in length. Waxing might not be your best option if you use certain types of acne medications or if you have moles or sunburn.

Should you sugar? Like waxing, sugaring involves a sticky substance (a sugar paste) spread onto the skin and a cloth strip that lifts and pulls hair up from beneath the surface. Sugaring may be less painful and less risky, since it can be done without applying heat, does not pull off skin along with hair, and contains less irritating ingredients.

Should you shave? Dragging a blade across your skin will cut hair off at the surface. This is depilation, as opposed to epilation, where hair is pulled up from the root. Shaving is simple and cheap, but the smoothness stays for only 1 to 3 days, and you risk razor burn, ingrown hairs, and the nicks and cuts caused by bad blades or butterfingers. Prevent problems by shaving in the shower so your skin is softened by the warm water and moisture in the air. Avoid ingrowns by shaving in the direction of hair growth. And switch out your razor regularly so you always use a sharp, even blade.

Dare to depilate? You can buy a cream or liquid depilatory from the drugstore for affordable DIY hair removal. Applied to the skin, these products break down the proteins of hair, causing the hair to dissolve so you can wipe it right off. Skin will remain smooth for a few days to a couple of weeks. Chemicals in depilatory products have been known to cause skin irritation and inflammation. And the strong odour of these products may linger.

Should you go electric? In electrolysis, unwanted hair is basically electrocuted. An electrologist pokes a needle into the hair follicles, zapping and destroying the roots. In laser hair removal, a laser does the zapping. Both techniques can be painful, as one would imagine, and both can cause irritation, inflammation, or scarring. Because a pro must perform the procedures - and because several sessions may be necessary - electrolysis and laser hair removal are among the most expensive hair removal techniques. On the other hand, they are also the most permanent.

Amy Toffelmire


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