The Battle to be Bare: To Wax or to Zap, that is the Question
by Louis Silberman
For many men and women, hair removal is more than a process, more than a routine, and much more than simply a chore – it is a full-on battle. The latest styles and trends for both sexes call for a smooth, virtually hair-free physique. However, obtaining a bare bod is not always easy. Depending on the method of hair removal used, the process can be time-consuming, stubble can reappear quickly, and ingrown hairs can cause a painful and unsightly problem.
To arm themselves with the best weapons in the battle to be bare, Americans spend $10 billion on various products and services to remove unwanted fuzz. From razors to lasers, people are searching for the best solutions and experimenting with different ways to keep body hair at bay.
This battle is not merely a modern fight. The history of hair removal dates back to prehistoric times. Archeologists have found evidence that cavemen used sharpened stones and shells to remove their facial hair. Hair removal was also customary among the ancient Egyptians who regarded hairlessness as a status symbol. Men routinely used razors made from bronze to shave their heads, while women used more extreme measures of depilation, including blending mixtures made from arsenic, starch, and quicklime. They also used beeswax to pull hair from their legs.
Around 1500 BC, recipes for hair removal included combining a tortoise shell with hippopotamus fat or mixing various animal bloods together to create a hair removal concoction. Feline waste was also considered a viable method.
The men’s safety razor (a precursor to the disposable razors of today) was invented in the in the1880s. The first commercial razor marketed to women was introduced in 1915. To this day, shaving remains the most commonly used method of hair removal, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best solution for everyone.
Beyond the Blade: Modern Hair Removal Options
Waxing is a popular choice for many men and women because the results last longer than shaving. A typical waxing procedure will give an average client two to four weeks of smooth skin. Wax can typically be used anywhere on the body. For men, some of the most popular areas are the chest and back. For women, eyebrow and bikini waxes are often requested.
Pros: Long-lasting results, Effectively removes large amounts of hair at one time, Can be used on all skin types, Repeated waxing can lead to softer regrowth
Cons: Painful, May burn skin, May disturb hair follicles, Hair must be a certain length to wax
Chemical Depilatories are often used at home. These mixtures contain chemicals that weaken the hairs on the skin’s surface to the point where the hairs can be wiped away by a cloth or sponge. The process usually takes between five to ten minutes to complete. Depilatories are available in creams, gels, aerosols, and powders. They are most commonly used on the legs, bikini line, underarms and face. Typical results can last up to a week.
Pros: Easy to use, Provides longer-lasting results than shaving
Cons: Chemicals can irritate skin, Chemicals emit odor
Electrolysis is the only procedure approved by the FDA for permanent hair removal, although results can vary from person to person. Electrolysis works by using a fine needle to transmit an electric current into a hair follicle to destroy its root. Because the hair is treated follicle by follicle, it is often a lengthy process. Even a small area like the upper lip can take as long as four hours.
Electrolysis can be used to treat hair anywhere on the body except inside the nose and ears. Because hair grows in stages and each hair is not in the same stage at the same time, multiple electrolysis sessions are needed to achieve optimal results.
Pros: Only permanent hair removal method, Can be used on all hair colors and skin types
Cons: Time-consuming process, May be painful
Laser and IPL Hair Removal
Laser and IPL (intense pulsed light) hair removal are similar procedures that use different light-based technologies. Laser hair removal uses a pure monochromatic beam of laser light to target the melanin in the hair and damage the hair follicle. IPL hair removal uses a broad-based light that emits multiple wavelengths as opposed to one beam. With each procedure, six to eight treatments are usually needed for the best results.
Laser hair removal has come a long way since the early incarnation of the procedure in the late 1990s. Developments in laser and light-based technology now allow for the safe and effective treatment of many different skin types, although laser and IPL hair removal clients should be evaluated on a case by case basis.
Pros: Permanent hair reduction, Safe for many skin types, Can treat large areas
Cons: Burning or hyperpigmentation may occur, Area will be sensitive immediately following treatment, White or light hair cannot be treated
Radiofrequency + IPL Hair Removal
This method of hair removal uses a combination of radiofrequency energy and intense pulsed light to selectively target and damage hair follicles. The absorption of radiofrequency is not dependent on melanin, so this combination can treat a wider range of skin and hair types than laser hair removal. Each treatment typically results in less hair growing back, as well as a lightening of the hair color. On average, six to eight treatments are required for maximum hair reduction. Lighter colored hair usually requires more treatments than dark hair.
Pros: Can be used on all skin types, Can treat large areas, Permanent hair reduction
Cons: May cause redness or blistering
Once clients are aware of their hair removal options, it is important to note hair removal solutions are not “one size fits all.” A client may find a combination of hair removal procedures best suits his or her needs. For example, one male client may want to get IPL hair removal on his back, but shave his chest; and, one female client may want to get laser hair removal on her legs, but wax her bikini area.
Luckily, we have a plethora of hair removal tools available in the battle to be bare. Regulations concerning the training needed to perform electrolysis procedures and laser/light-based hair removal treatments vary by state, so it is a good idea to check with a national medical aesthetics training institute concerning regulatory practices.