Removing unwanted hair has been one of the routine tasks of beauty care throughout

Removing unwanted hair has been one of the routine tasks of beauty care throughout written history – and probably before that – and there are a variety of methods that can be used. They range from traditional plucking to modern high-tech lasers. Which method, or methods, used to remove unwanted hair will depend upon a variety of factors, including where it is located and skin type. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but they don’t have to be painful, messy or frightening.

There are two types of hair on the human body. The very fine, soft vellus hair, sometimes called peach fuzz, covers all of the body except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. What is usually considered to be real hair is called terminal hair, and is on the head, but it also exists on the pubic region, under the arms, the forearms and the front of the legs; men also have terminal hair on the face, chest and sometimes the shoulders and back. During childhood, only the terminal hair on the head is active, but upon puberty the terminal hair follicles begin to change and to grow out thicker and darker as the melanin in the follicles begins to be produced. This secondary sexual characteristic hair, called androgenic hair, is often unwanted in many places.

There are also two types of hair removal: depilation removes the hair above the skin and epilation removes the entire hair, including the follicle. Neither method is really permanent: with depilation methods, such as shaving, the hair simply grows back; even when the follicle is removed, through tweezing for example, some can regenerate. This means that, whatever method of hair removal used, the process will be a lifelong task.

Shaving and depilatories are common ways of removing unwanted hair in most places. Both remove the hair that has already grown from the follicle, cutting it off at skin level through shaving or using chemicals to break down the keratin fibers in hair and wiping or scraping the weakened hairs off. Both are relatively inexpensive and painless (unless nicks occur), but they have a tendency to be messy and cause irritation. The process has to be repeated as the hair grows back.

Tweezing is often used to shape eyebrows or pluck out stray hairs on the cheek or chin. It can be slightly painful and is not practical for larger areas. Epilators, which are simply automated hair-pluckers, can cover more surface area and are often used on the legs and under the arms in lieu of shaving. Waxing, either strip waxing (with a paper or cloth backing) and hot waxing (usually a little more comfortable) also remove the entire hair, can be used over larger areas and is often used for bikini lines. Sugaring is similar to waxing, but uses a mixture of sugar, lemon juice and water. Threading is an ancient technique that is still used, and involves rolling a thin string across the treatment area, allowing the hairs to be trapped and pulled out. All of these methods can be a little painful and can also cause soreness, rashes and ingrown hairs.


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A one-step hair removal cream for fuzz on the face.
$24.00
0.5oz | BS228
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Hair removal cream for the bikini area with a unique angled precision applicator.
$30.00
2oz | BS250
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Thick, moisturizing formula with foam that doesn’t dry out your skin.
$20.00
5oz | WH063
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Slows hair growth, exfoliates, and reduces irritation.
$22.00
5.3oz | AN137
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Leave your skin soft while slowing the regrowth of hair with this cream.
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4.4oz | EJ003
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Thick, moisturizing formula with foam that doesn’t dry out your skin.
$20.00
5oz | WH064
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These epilation methods will give a respite of about two to three weeks before they have to be repeated. There are two reasons for this: Some of the follicles will regenerate and begin producing hair again, while other follicles weren’t actually removed at all. At any given time, about 15% of terminal hairs are going through a resting period, called catagen, during which many of the hairs would have fallen out anyway. As the resting follicles return to their active, anagen, stage they begin to grow hair again.

Instead of pulling out hairs, other epilation methods simply kills the follicle in place. These treatments make it less likely that the follicles will regenerate, but it is not 100% effective. For this reason, while electrolysis and laser hair removal are sometimes called “permanent” hair removal, they are really in the nature of hair thinning. After these methods have been used on an area, follow-up maintenance treatment is required to take care of the few hairs that do come back.

Electrolysis was developed about 150 years ago and uses a thin metal wire that goes to the base of the follicle in the pore (the wire doesn’t break the skin) and uses a very small electrical charge to kill the hair at its root. It is a long, slow, labor-intensive method of hair removal. While there are some home electrolysis kits, this technique is most often performed at a hair removal clinic.

Since the mid-1990s, when laser hair removal first became commercially available, it has replaced electrolysis for the most part. Laser treatments are faster, painless and very effective (although, as with all hair removal, not fully “permanent”), but it does have drawbacks. A laser emits a narrow beam of light focused to a particular wavelength to heat up the melanin cells (that gives hair its color), which kills the follicle. However, the laser only works on eumelanin, which produces brown or black hair, and not the pheomelanin present in blond and red hair; laser hair removal also does not work on white hair (which has no melanin at all) or grey hair (in which the melanin has stopped being produced). Furthermore, laser treatment only works when hair is in the anagen growth stage. Side effects, particularly some discomfort during the treatment, hyperpigmentation (dark spots), hypopigmentation (white spots), acne flares and swelling can occur.

To be effective, a series of laser treatments have to be performed. On average, a minimum of seven treatments, with a resting period of up to six weeks between them, are required to remove hair from an area. Once the initial course has been performed, however, the maintenance can be performed at home using personal laser kits. These home devices are carefully calibrated to avoid accidental burning, but that means that they are usually not considered being as effective as clinical treatments for first-time laser hair removal. They can be very useful for touch-ups, to keeping legs and underarms smooth.

Additional Hair Removal Resources:
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