Decades ago, the only methods for dealing with problems of facial and body hair were shaving them off with razorblades or bleaching them to make them less noticeable. As neither shaving nor bleaching produce completely flawless results, women became anxious for access to alternatives to dealing with unwanted hair.
In the 1980s, a new method of removing unwanted facial and body hair arrived on the market: the epilator. An epilator is a handheld device that looks like an electric razor when viewed from the side; however epilators actually pluck the hair out by the root rather than cutting it off where it protrudes from the surface of the skin.
Today's epilators come in three different types.
Spring epilators were the earliest type of epilator produced by manufacturers. The inside of the head of a spring epilator features a tightly coiled spring that turns thanks to the motor inside of the base of the unit. As you move the epilator across the surface of your skin, hairs become wound around the springs. When the hair is completely tangled around the spring, the pull of the motor yanks it away. While some manufacturers still make spring epilators, the type has been largely replaced by other styles.
Rotating disc epilators work under a similar principle as spring models; however, the type replaces the spring with a series of metal discs that capture the hair. Because rotating disc epilators typically pull out hairs faster than springs, the style quickly became more popular than the original spring epilator models.
Tweezer epilators are the newest type of epilators available on the market and largely considered the most effective type. The tweezer type contains metal discs that move back and forth rather than spinning. As you move tweezer epilators over our skin, the discs make a tweezing motion that traps the hairs and then plucks them away. Today's tweezer epilators refer to discs they contain as "tweezer heads." The larger the numbers of tweezer heads present in the epilator, the more hair is removed at once.
Epilators have some distinct advantages over shaving and alternative hair removal methods, including:
- Epilators can be used at home, so you don't have to schedule an appointment at a dermatologist's office, spa or salon every time you need to remove unwanted hair.
- Like shaving, epilators provide instant results, unlike cream hair removal formulas that must be left in place for several minutes.
- Epilators do not pose a risk for nicks and cuts like traditional shaving.
- Epilators do not expose your skin to abrasive chemicals or have any type of unpleasant odor.
- Epilators pull body and facial hairs out by the roots, leaving behind no black shadow under the skin.
- Because epilators fully remove the hair, their results are longer lasting than shaving. The best epilators produce results that last up to six weeks.
- After the initial investment in an epilator, you do not need to continuously buy shaving cream, razors, razorblades or depilatory creams, which saves you money with moths or years of use.
- Some epilators are safe to use on the face, where women traditionally do not use razors.
- Repeated use of epilators can actually destroy the hair follicle, permanently preventing the regrowth of hairs. This benefit can take years to emerge, however.
Along with their many advantages, epilators do have some disadvantages when compared with shaving and other hair removal methods that you should keep in mind:
- The plucking sensation caused when the hair is lifted out by the root can be uncomfortable, particularly when you're removing hair from large areas.
- After epilation, it is common to experience minor redness. Although this typically fades within 24 to 48 hours, you may not be able to use an epilator immediately before a special event if the area that you're treating will be visible.
- Epilators have a higher up-front cost than shaving or depilatories.
- Like razors, epilators may miss hairs on curved portions of your body, such as your underarms.
- Epilators have moving internal parts that can malfunction or break. Some epilators come with warranties, through which manufacturers will replace or repair their products within a certain number of months or years after purchase.
- The use of epilators can result in ingrown hairs. This occurs when dead skin cells become trapped within the pores in areas where hair is beginning to grow. Since the hair cannot pierce through the blockage or clog, the hair remains trapped under the surface of the skin, where it causes swelling and redness and can become infected.
- Depending on the model, an epilator may miss shorter hairs and require you to allow your facial or body hair to grow to a minimum length prior to use.
Tips for Using Epilators
For best results when using an epilator, keep the following tips in mind:
- Read the instructions for your epilator thoroughly before your first use.
- Prior to using an epilator, thoroughly cleanse the area with a mild cleanser to remove excess oil that can decrease the effectiveness of epilators. If you have oily skin, select cleansers that are especially formulated for removing excess oil. For other skin types, opt for a moisturizing cleanser to lessen irritation. Thoroughly dry the area after cleansing.
- After you have cleansed your skin, apply a light dusting, talc or finishing powder to your skin. This mattifies the area and makes it easier to remove the hairs, which gives you the added benefit of less discomfort. Apply the powder by running your hand in the opposite direction to the hair growth to lift the hair shafts and make them easier for the epilator to catch.
- Always run the epilator in the opposite direction than the hair growth. This makes it easier for the springs or blades to capture the hair.
- As you use the epilator, use your free hand to pull your skin taut. A flatter surface decreases the risk of missed spots and also cuts down on discomfort.
- Because the arms, face and bikini area are more sensitive, start using an epilator only on your legs. This allows you to get used to the discomfort and build up a tolerance for the sensation prior to moving to areas where the discomfort may feel more intense.
- Never use an epilator on your face unless the product instructions and specifications state that the model is safe for facial use.
- Immediately after you finish with the epilator, apply a moisturizer to help combat redness and irritation. Look for moisturizers that contain soothing natural ingredients like aloe vera, sandalwood oil, cucumber extract and tea tree oil.
- In the days that follow your epilator use, exfoliate the treated area daily. This helps remove the dead skin cells that cause ingrown hairs from your pores. The best exfoliator products contain both sources of mechanical friction like beads or the ground husks of nuts and chemical exfoliative ingredients like alpha hydoxy acid, glycolyic acid or salicylic acid.
Dealing With Ingrown Hairs
Regular exfoliation can help prevent and eliminate ingrown hairs but in some cases, the ingrown hair does not resolve itself and can cause infection. If an ingrown hair does not respond to at home treatment, see your doctor. You may need an antibiotic cream or oral drug to eliminate the infection.