Hair Removal 101: To Shave, to Wax, or to Laser?

The lowdown on every popular hair removal method.

Hair removal 101

Summer is in full swing right now, which means that we’re at the top of our “high visibility” hair removal routine game. After all, who would want to miss out on a spontaneous beach trip or excursion to a rooftop pool because of a few errant hairs or a swath of razor burn? Not us, that’s for sure. If you’re just getting into gear, or you’re finding that your regular approach isn’t working for you, now is a great time to consider your options when it comes to keeping your bikini line, underarms, and legs smooth, bump-free, and swimsuit (or skinnydip)-ready.

We all know that keeping our bodies hairless in all the right places isn’t always smooth sailing—all hair removal methods, whether it’s waxing, shaving, or laser, have the potential for issues like nicks, bumps, ingrown hairs, and… general discomfort. Let’s take a cursory look at the multitude of removal options, and with them, the different levels of pain, commitment, expense, convenience, and perhaps most importantly, longevity.

Professional Waxing
How It Works: Hot (but not too hot!) wax is applied to the desired area and removed in the opposite direction of the hair growth, pulling hairs out from the root.
Best For: Legs, underarms, and bikini areas, and great for those with coarse, darker hair that tends to be stubborn.
Pros: Temporarily removes hair at the root for an average of three weeks of smooth skin, which can range from two to six weeks depending on your hair type and thickness.
Cons: Waxing requires some regrowth in order to be effective, as the wax needs at least a quarter inch of stubble to adhere to. Treatments can be moderately painful, as hair is indeed being ripped out at the root, but it becomes more tolerable over time. Waxing can also result in ingrown hairs.
Average Cost: Anywhere from $35-80 for salon waxing, depending on areas waxed and your salon of choice.
Tips: “Don’t drink and wax,” warns Noemi Grupenmager, founder and CEO of Uni K Wax Centers. “Some people come in after consuming alcohol thinking it’ll ease the pain, but alcohol tightens pores, making it much more painful.” Stimulants, like coffee, can also increase sensitivity. Also, do your research and find a salon that uses good quality wax. Better quality wax can mean a less painful experience, says Grupenmager.

Shaving
How It Works: Shaving removes hair at the skin’s surface by cutting it off with a razor.
Best For: Legs, underarms, and those with lighter, finer hair.
Pros: Inexpensive, painless, quick, and easy, and shaving creams used can help moisturize the skin, keeping it soft.
Cons: Regrowth happens quickly, and since hair is cut off at the surface, regrown hair is blunt, not tapered, so it can appear thicker. Razor burn, nicks, and cuts are possibilities, and those who shave regularly can also become prone to ingrown hairs.
Average Cost: Razors and shaving cream can be inexpensively purchased at any grocery or drugstore.
Tips: For those who can’t quit their shaving habit, “growth reduction” products promise to help inhibit hair regrowth, thus reducing the frequency of shaving required. Pomegranate-scented Whish Body Shave Savior Hair Inhibiting Gel Swipes are individually packaged towelettes that not only soothe and replenish the skin after shaving (or waxing, or even laser hair removal), but actually help slow hair growth and reduce the density of hair with regular use. Similarly, Completely Bare Don’t Grow There moisturizes the skin and helps inhibit regrowth.

Depilatory Creams
How It Works: Hair removal creams use chemicals to weaken the hair follicle so you can effectively wipe it away.
Best For: Those who want quick, easy, relatively painless at-home results. Depilatories are most popular for facial hair, bikini lines, and underarms.
Pros: Can be done at home, and removes hair just below the surface of the skin, ensuring slower and less coarse regrowth than shaving.
Cons: Chemicals in these products can irritate sensitive skin, particularly in more delicate areas. These creams are infamous for their odor, and can also lead to ingrown hairs.
Average Cost: Around $6-12 for a tube of cream or spray-on depilatory lotion.
Tips: Choose a cream suited for the specific area you’re treating—and maybe light some scented candles in the bathroom to mask the strong smell most of these products tend to have! Veet In-Shower Hair Removal Cream has a water-resistant formula that’s great for legs and underarms, while most popular brands, such as Nair, do bikini line or facial-specific formulas.

Laser Hair Removal
How It Works: Laser penetrates the skin to target the hair shaft and inhibit hair growth. It essentially destroys the follicle, meaning it can achieve permanent removal. Typically, the hair in treated areas falls out within 2-3 weeks.
Best For: People with hair darker than their skin—while professional dermatologists can vary the type of laser used, laser targets the melanin in the hair, so it’s not suited for people with dark skin or pale hair. The laser needs to be able to lock on to the dark pigment in order to differentiate the dark hair from the skin.
Pros: Great for long-term hair removal in all areas. “It causes no damage to the dermis, so even the most sensitive skin can be treated,” says New York dermatologist Dr. Ariel Ostad.
Cons: Laser hair removal can be painful, with most people describing it as a “snapping” sensation against the skin, as well as a sensation of heat from the laser. Also, it requires numerous visits to a dermatologist for best results. “It is important to go to a dermatologist who can offer different lasers which are customized to the patient’s skin color and hair color,” says Ostad.
Average Cost: $95 to $250 per treatment, with an average of six sessions recommended, depending on the area being treated. Several cycles of treatment are usually recommended to capture the hair follicles at different stages of the growth cycle. Some people require touch-up treatments to maintain, especially on larger areas.
Tips: While it may seem expensive, in the long run, many consider laser removal to be an investment that can pay off. “It is the most effective and cost-effective treatment, considering how much one can spend over a lifetime with options such as waxing or electrolysis,” says Ostad.

Electrolysis
How It Works: Electrolysis uses a fine, needle-shaped electrode to apply an electrical current to the hair follicle.
Best For: Small areas such as the eyebrows, upper lip, and underarms, as it treats each hair and follicle individually, which is time-consuming and can get expensive.
Pros: Can permanently remove hair and is suitable for very fine and light-colored hair, unlike laser, which works best on darker hair.
Cons: When improperly done, electrolysis can lead to scarring or skin discoloration. Treatments can be uncomfortable and cause a “stinging” or “pricking” sensation, and as with laser hair removal, permanent results require multiple sessions.
Average Cost: Around $45-65 for a 30-minute session.
Tips: Dehydrated follicles can be more difficult to treat, so be sure to drink plenty of water the day before, the day of, and the day after your treatment.

Read more from Daily Makeover: Shaving Cream Alternatives for Smoother Skin

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