Ways to Remove Unwanted Hair for Good

Explore a variety of hair removal techniques and their pluses and minuses.

Woman lying on treatment table having leg wax
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The desire to remove unwanted hair usually starts during adolescence and never stops. Whether it's hair on the face, armpits, legs, bikini line, or other parts of the body, many women and men are intent upon getting rid of it. There are lots of different ways to remove unwanted hair, but very few get rid of hair permanently.

There are hair removal methods that range from easy and inexpensive (shaving) to high-tech and pricey (laser hair removal).

These hair removal methods work for every part of the body, every skin type, every amount of time and, most importantly, every budget.

Hair Growth 101

Understanding how hair grows helps us to more effectively remove it and prevent it from growing in the first place. Each hair is part of the pilosebaceous unit, which consists of the hair shaft, hair follicle, sebaceous gland, and erector pili muscle.

Hair growth and shedding is a continuous cycle that has three phases:

  • the anagen phase, or growth phase
  • the catagen phase, or transitional phase
  • the telogen phase, or resting phase

Hairs spend a different amount of time in each of these phases, and that time is determined by genetics, hormones, and the part of the body where hair is growing. All of these factors must be considered when choosing a method of hair removal.

Shaving 

Shaving is everyone's first introduction to hair removal. It's also the most temporary method of hair removal.

Shaving cuts the hair off at the surface of the skin. Contrary to popular belief, shaving does not make the hair shaft thicker or darker. It also does not make hair grow faster or slower. It does, however, cause hair to grow in with a blunt tip rather than a natural, tapered tip, which is what makes hair noticeable.

Get a more effective shave by moisturizing the skin first. Shaving cream, hair conditioner, and body wash help a razor glide smoothly over the skin without causing any nicks, cuts, and scrapes.

Bleaching 

Bleaching isn't technically a hair removal method, but it is a way to make hair much less noticeable. It's an especially useful method for parts of the body that have thin, but dark and noticeable hairs like the arms, face, and neck. Bleach is applied to the desired area and removes pigment from the hair.

Sally Hansen Creme Hair Bleach is one of the most popular drugstore bleaching kits. It uses a bleaching cream that quickly, gently, and effectively lightens the hair.

Physical Methods of Hair Removal

Physically pulling hair out of its follicle is a common and inexpensive method of hair removal. Physical removal makes hair take longer to grow back because it has to grow to the surface of the skin in order to be visible. In addition, repeatedly pulling hair out of the follicle can cause enough damage to the follicle to stop it from producing hair.

Plucking 

Plucking hair with a pair of tweezers is an effective way to remove hair, but it can be very time-consuming. Eyebrows and stray facial hairs are easily tamed with a pair of tweezers—the legs, not so much.

Waxing 

Waxing is an effective way to remove large amounts of hair at once. Wax is warmed up and spread over the skin in the direction of hair growth. The hair becomes embedded in the wax as the wax cools. A strip of fabric is applied to the wax, which is then quickly pulled off in the opposite direction of hair growth, taking hair with it.

Extreme caution must be taken when using hot wax, as burns can occur. Usually, there is residue left on the skin, which is easily peeled, wiped, or scratched off. There are also wax-coated hair removal strips that don't use heat and are ready-to-use, like the Sally Hansen Hair Remover Wax Strip Kit.

Sugar Waxing 

Sugar waxing, also known as sugaring, is a popular form of hair removal that works in the same way traditional waxing does. A natural, sugary substance with a honey-like consistency is spread onto the skin in the direction of hair growth. Then a cloth or paper strip is applied atop the wax and pulled off in the opposite direction of hair growth.

The main advantage of sugaring over traditional waxing is clean up. The "wax" is made with real sugar and other nourishing, natural ingredients, so it's water-soluble. It's easily cleaned up with warm water, whereas traditional wax tends to be a bit more stubborn. The Moom Organic Hair Removal Kit is an excellent at-home sugaring kit.

Depilatories

Depilatories use a chemical called thioglycolate mixed with sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide that literally melts hair away. Thioglycolate disrupts disulfide bonds, which are the chemical bonds that hold skin and hair cells together. It's very effective, but it can also be extremely irritating to the skin because the chemical ingredients can melt away skin cells.

A depilatory is applied to the area with unwanted hair and left on for 3 to 15 minutes. During this time the chemical dissolves the hair and creates a jelly-like substance that is wiped or washed off after the appropriate amount time.

Because depilatories are so abrasive, they should first be tested on a small patch of skin at least 48 hours prior to a larger application. Applying a hydrocortisone cream after hair removal may help relieve irritation.

Electrolysis

Electrolysis is a method that involves inserting a fine needle into the hair follicle and applying an electrical current to the follicle root. This procedure actually burns the hair root, theoretically preventing it from producing more hair. Each hair follicle must be treated individually, and it usually takes several treatments to completely destroy a follicle.

Electrolysis is a permanent form of hair removal, but it has several drawbacks. There are no standardized licensing guidelines for electrolysis, so finding an experienced, effective technician is difficult. If you're interested in electrolysis, talk to people who have tried it and experienced permanent results, or talk to your doctor.

Electrolysis is painful, and its side effects include infection, keloid formation, hyper-pigmentation, and or hypo-pigmentation. It's also not immediately effective. Electrolysis requires repeated treatment for up to 12 to 18 months. It's easier to destroy hair follicles that are in the anagen phase, so it's recommended to shave approximately 3 days before treatment, so anagen phase hairs are visible.

Laser Hair Removal

Hair removal is a common application of laser technology, but it's not permanent and it's not for everyone. Lasers work by emitting light at various wavelengths, energy output, and pulse widths.

Most lasers used for hair removal target melanin, or pigment, and are therefore designed to burn structures that contain melanin. The more melanin, the more damage. Laser hair removal works best for light-skinned people with dark hair. As with electrolysis, laser hair removal is also more effective in removing hairs that are in the anagen phase. Laser treatments must be repeated.

Vaniqa

Vaniqa is an FDA-approved, prescription-only topical cream that reduces and inhibits the growth of unwanted facial hair. Vaniqa works by inhibiting an enzyme that is needed for cell reproduction and other cell functions necessary for hair growth.

Vaniqa is applied twice a day to areas of unwanted facial hair. Noticeable results are usually observed after 4 to 8 weeks of therapy. Application of Vaniqa needs to be continued for as long as inhibition of hair growth is desired. It continues to reduce facial hair growth for up to 8 weeks after discontinuing treatment.

Vaniqa may also be used in combination with laser therapy. In fact, according to a small study of 31 women with unwanted upper lip hair in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the combination of Vaniqa and laser therapy was found to improve hair reduction over laser therapy alone. 

A Word From Verywell

Unwanted and/or excessive hair can negatively impact a person's quality of life and may even have psychological consequences like anxiety and depression. The good news is that there are a number of ways to remove hair, but no single therapy works best or is right for everyone. Talk with your doctor to devise an appropriate hair removal strategy for you. 

Sources:

Hamzavi I, Tan E, Shapiro J, Lui H. A randomized bilateral vehicle-controlled study of eflornithine cream combined with laser treatment versus laser treatment alone for facial hirsutism in women. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007 Jul;57(1):54-9.

Shenenberger DW, Utecht LM. Removal of unwanted facial hair. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Nov 15;66(10):1907-11.

Wanitphakdeedecha R, Alster TS. Physical means of treating unwanted hair. Dermatol Ther. 2008 Sep-Oct;21(5):392-401.

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