Everyone has different reasons for wanting hair removal, so each of us will weigh the pros and cons of each method differently. Here are some highlights.
Most questions I get from men are about back and chest hair. I usually recommend Waxing as the safest option. Those with lighter skin tones and dark hair seeking longer-term results (that may or may not be permanent) might look into Laser.
Although Electrolysis can be a good permanent option for those with sparse hair, most men find this method to be painful, expensive, and time-consuming for large areas.
Male beards: This is the ultimate stress test for any hair removal method. Shaving is by far the most popular option. Electrolysis can be permanent, but it requires a serious commitment of time and money. Beard removal is possible with electrolysis, but it will take a very long time and must be done by someone with a lot of experience. The heavier the beard, the more likely you are to get scarred, so it’s very important to choose an electrologist recommended by someone who had male facial hair removed and is done and happy. Some with light skin and dark hair have found Laser useful, but there is limited data on how long it will last and how often treatment is successful. There are early indications that super-long pulse lasers might be an acceptable alternative to shaving for black males, but it’s too soon to tell for sure. Laser can sometimes lighten the color of facial hair and reduce the amount of shadow, but some have reported patchy or grid-like regrowth that looked odd. If you seek complete and permanent beard removal, it’s very important to do a lot of research and understand the difficulty of the undertaking.
Women’s facial hair: For mild to moderate female facial hair, Tweezing is probably the most popular option. Some women prefer to conceal fine dark hair by bleaching rather than removing it. The prescription topical cream Vaniqa has been a great maintenance solution for about half the women who try it. If you want the hair gone for good, consider Electrolysis with an electrologist recommended by someone who is done and happy. Some women with light skin have found Laser helpful for heavier amounts of dark hair, but there is limited data on long-term effectiveness or what percentage respond to treatment. Women with high levels of androgens may benefit from Prescription oral medications, and should discuss the matter with their endocrinologist or medical specialist.
Pregnant and nursing women often see increased amounts of hair. They should consult with a physician before undergoing any hair removal method that uses energy or involves chemicals or drugs.
Bikini area is a common question I get. Shaving is most popular, though it’s important to moisturize heavily before and after, and use a new blade. Many find a product called Tend Skin to be helpful in reducing irritation and razor bumps. Waxing can be painful, but it lasts a while. Electrolysis is very painful for most, but if done properly, it can be permanent. Some with light skin and dark hair have found Laser to be a good option, but it’s extremely important to avoid sun before and after laser treatment to avoid discoloration that can last many months.
Legs are still cleared by Shaving most frequently, with Waxing and Cream depilatories being the second and third most popular options. Some women with light skin and dark hair have found Laser to be a good option, but there’s limited data on long-term effectiveness and success rates. I suggest a rotary epilators if you’re fairly limber and don’t mind self-inflicted pain.
Some women ask about arm hair. I suggest rotary epilators or Waxing for arms, but make sure to exfoliate and moisturize a lit to avoid ingrown hairs. I generally don’t recommend Shaving, since the hair feels coarse and bristly as it grows out. Some women with light skin and dark hair have found Laser to be a good option, but there’s limited data on long-term effectiveness and success rates.
Chest, nipples, abdomen: for a few stragglers, Tweezing might be an option, but if you want them gone for good, you might look into Electrolysis. If you have a fair amount, electrolysis is still a good option, or maybe Waxing for a longer temporary result than Shaving. If you’re light-skinned with a lot of dark hair, you might try Laser, but there’s limited data on long-term effectiveness and success rates.
Transgender and intersex people
Prescription oral medications such as androgen blockers are typically part of the course of treatment for these conditions. These can reduce the amount of body hair and halt the growth of future facial hair, but they will do little to affect existing facial hair.
Body hair: I suggest Waxing while androgen blockers take effect. For light-skinned women with significant amounts of dark body hair, some have found Laser to be a good quick fix, but there is limited data on long-term effectiveness and success rates. Since body hair will generally diminish over time, it’s usually a better use of time and money to concentrate on facial hair and deal with body hair once the face is under control.
Facial hair: Although some with light skin and dark hair have found Laser to be a quick fix for heavy androgen-induced facial hair, most women with these conditions have not been able to go one year after final laser treatment without supplementing laser with another hair removal method. Because these conditions have a lot of attendant medical expenses which are often out-of-pocket, I make the following recommendation: If you seek permanent facial hair removal and cannot afford to risk time or money on methods with limited data on effectiveness and success rates, it’s probably safest to invest in Electrolysis with a practitioner recommended by another woman with your condition who is done and happy. When choosing an electrologist, operator skill is the most important thing, but I also suggest finding someone who uses the blend method, since it’s probably going to be more effective.
Please select the following link for more on hair removal for transgender women.
Your skin characteristics
Darker skin tones
Shaving is often problematic in darker-skinned people with curly hair, since the hairs are more prone to ingrowns (called razor bumps or technically pseudofolliculitis barbae). You also need to be careful with Laser. The darker the skin, the more likely you with have pigmentation change from laser. There are early indications that super-long pulse lasers might be an acceptable alternative to shaving for some black males, but it’s too soon to tell for sure. Those with darker skin tones should get a patch test done prior to full laser or electrolysis treatment and wait a week or two to see how the skin responds.
Sun worshipers, outdoorsy-types, and tanning bed clients
Laser can be very problematic if done on skin that has just been exposed to the sun. Sun exposure immediately before or after laser treatment can result in significant patchy change in skin color that can last several months. Those who get laser treatment or Electrolysis should avoid taking sun on the treated areas for a while after treatment (probably at least a couple of weeks to be safe).
Using certain skin medications
Drugs like Retin-A (trentinoin), Accutane, and alpha-hydroxy acids can cause problems with Waxing. Because these drugs work to exfoliate skin, if you wax while using these, you might take off a layer or two of skin along with the hair. Check with your doctor before waxing if you’re taking any skin medications.
Some people are allergic to metals used in some electrolysis probes. Some people also have allergic reactions to the active ingredients in Cream depilatories, Powder depilatories, and Waxes. If you are allergy-prone or have sensitive skin, do a patch test before full treatment.
Heavy scarring or keloids
Skin with a lot of acne, psoriasis, moles, warts, scars, pigmented lesions, etc. should not be treated without first consulting with a dermatologist.
Your body area to be treated
Back and chest
For men, Waxing or Shaving are usually the best options for large areas like chest and back. Some have found Laser useful, but there is limited data on how long it will last and how often treatment is successful. Electrolysis can be permanent, but it requires a serious commitment of time and money. For women with just a few hairs, Tweezing or Electrolysis can be good options.
Legs and arms
Again, Waxing or Shaving are popular options. If you want something that lasts like waxing, which you can do at home, I recommend rotary epilators like the Braun Silk-epil. Some with light skin and dark hair have found Laser useful, but there is limited data on how long it will last and how often treatment is successful.
This area is discussed under Men, Women and Transgender above..
Type/amount of hair
Gray, blonde, and red hair
Laser probably won’t be very effective on these types. Since gray hairs are often more coarse, they are generally harder to remove.
Rotary epilators, Waxing, and Shaving with electric shavers may be hard to use on these hairs. The finer the hair, the less likely laser is going to work on it, since it contains less melanin. Electrolysis often takes longer on fine hairs, since it’s harder to locate the follicle, and the shallow roots make it more likely you’ll get skin damage.
These are ideal for Laser, but for some reason still unknown, some people with dark hair don’t respond to laser treatment. Some find that concealing dark hairs by bleaching them is a better option than removing them. Those with dark hair will see the most dramatic results when they are removed. Dark hairs will usually look better when epilated (removed from the root), since shaving and depilatories can leave them still visible under the skin.
Next: compare all methods
Once you have determined your specific needs, consult the charts below.
- Comparison of all hair removal methods
- Methods done at home
- Methods done professionally
- Proven permanent hair removal methods
Trans image: Jonna Karppinen