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The secrets of body hair removal

Which body hair removal method is right for you? Dave Harvey, M.D., a Piedmont dermatologist, gets to the root of this issue by examining seven of the most popular hair removal techniques and addressing the pros and cons of each.

1. Tweezing

Tweezing refers to the manipulation and removal of hairs by plucking them with a metal forceps-like device.

The advantage of this approach is that is easy, inexpensive and excellent for removing stray hairs in the eyebrow and ear areas,” says Dr. Harvey. “In a negative light, this same technique can be painful, induce ingrown hair formation and, unless done with sterile technique, can cause staph infections.”

2. Threading

Threading is an ancient hair removal technique that originated in the Middle East and Asia, and it is quickly gaining popularity in the United States. Threading uses a cotton thread to pull hair in a “lasso-like” fashion and lift the hair out of the follicular sheath. The effects of threading typically last for about six weeks.

“The pros of this procedure is that it is a fast, clean, and effective approach, especially for treating eyebrow areas,” says Dr. Harvey. “The disadvantages of this technique is that it requires an experienced technician, can only be used in the face area, and commonly induces unwanted hair breakage when performed incorrectly.”

3. Laser hair removal

Laser hair removal involves using a hand-held laser light source to remove unwanted hair. The advantage of this technique is that it induces permanent hair reduction. It is also relatively painless due to an application of topical anesthetic, works well for some skin types and usually only takes about 15 minutes.  

The disadvantages of laser hair removal are that multiple treatments are required, it is more expensive than other techniques, it can induce burns, and it does not consistently work as well for blonde, gray or red hair types.

“Patients are also required to stay out of the sun before and after treatment,” says Dr. Harvey.  “And they may also need to be pretreated with antiviral agents if they are prone to cold sore infections.”

4. Waxing

Waxing involves spreading heated wax over the skin and then quickly tearing the strip off in the opposite direction of hair growth to remove hair from the root. The effects of waxing last for four to six weeks, and almost any area of the body can be waxed except for eyelashes and eyelids.

“Waxing is quick, cost-effective and can give nice results,” says Dr. Harvey. “But waxing can also be painful, induce bruising, cause skin burns from hot wax and produce bacterial infections.”

It can also lead to a rash or ingrown hairs.

5. Shaving

Shaving uses a razor or blade to trim hair follicles to the level of the skin. Shaving is fast, inexpensive and employs a one-step method which gives terrific results, says Dr. Harvey.

The disadvantage of shaving is that is can stimulate ingrown hair formation, create cuts, burns or abrasions on the skin, and may induce bacterial infections if the razor is not cleaned well. Shaving in an area where a wart virus is present can also cause warts to spread.

6. Depilatories

Depilatories are alkaline-based creams or foams placed on hair follicles until they break down.  The hairs are subsequently wiped away five to 10 minutes after the product is applied.

“The advantages of using these chemicals are that they are fast, relatively inexpensive, and easy to apply,” says Dr. Harvey. “The disadvantages are that they have an odor, can induce rashes or burns, and have short-lived results.”

After using a depilatory, you may notice hair above the skin surface as early as the next day, and the technique can create the appearance of a shadow due to remnant hairs which are visible under the skin.

7. Electrolysis

Electrolysis is an FDA-approved treatment for permanent hair reduction. Like laser hair removal, it targets the hair follicles that are in the active growth phase. But electrolysis uses an electric current applied with a very fine needle-shaped electrode to destroy the root.

The advantage of electrolysis is that it has an excellent track record in treating all skin types, unlike laser hair removal, says Dr. Harvey.

The disadvantages of electrolysis are that it is sometimes painful, requires multiple sessions, can be expensive, and is difficult to perform if the hair follicle is bent or altered. This can occur if a patient has been previously treated with a waxing or tweezing procedure, which makes the follicle more difficult to find and destroy.

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