Should You Shave, Wax, or Laser Away Unwanted Hair? A Breakdown of All Your Hair Removal Options
For anyone hoping to get rid of unwelcome body hair here and there, it's never quite as easy as it should be. There are pros and cons to every removal option out there, and what you choose to use will depend on your skin and hair type, budget, time, and personal preference. (And what your best friend does for a smooth bikini line might be your worst nightmare.)
Finding your ideal hair removal method for different kinds of unwanted hair is usually a trial and error process, but here are some of the typical upsides and downsides to shaving, waxing, laser removal, and depilatory cream—plus other random tips and facts to know before you try.
RELATED: Facial Hair Removal Tactics
Best for: Your legs and underarms.
Keeps you hairless for: Usually one or two days, depending on how fast your hair grows.
Best practices: With a sharp, recently replaced razor (replace the blades every three to five uses, or if you feel any drag), gently shave against the grain for legs and underarms. That means to shave in the opposite direction of hair growth: For your legs, you'll shave upwards, and for underarms, you'll shave in a few directions (underarm hair grows up, down, and sideways). Some people prefer to shave their bikini line too—if this sounds like you, be very careful down there (to help reduce the likelihood of in-grown hairs, shave with the grain, or in the same direction as the hair grows). Always make sure the blades are new and sharp; dull blades don’t glide cleanly over skin making cuts and nicks more likely.
Potential cons (and solutions): Cut yourself? Gently apply pressure with a tissue or cloth until it stops bleeding, cover it with Aquaphor or Neosporin and a Band-Aid. For razor burn or other inflammation, apply a one percent hydrocortisone cream ($8; amazon.com) immediately after shaving. You can also dab it with witch hazel, a natural, gentle astringent, using a cotton swab ($12; amazon.com).
Best for: The bikini area and upper lip.
Keeps you hairless for: Two to six weeks. Waxing removes each hair from deep down in the follicle, giving you a longer, smoother grown-back period. Also, waxed hairs naturally grow back in with tapered ends, making them feel finer and softer than the blunt ends of shaved hair.
Best practices: Wait until the hair you want to wax is at least one-quarter inch long, otherwise the wax will have nothing to grip and won't remove hairs as effectively (if at all). To make the process a little more manageable and help prevent ingrowns, get rid of dead skin on the surface by exfoliating the area with a gentle scrub 24 hours before waxing (fine table salt and a little coconut oil are really all you need). Consider seeing a professional who uses hard wax (it's easier to heat and doesn’t require extra tools or muslin strips).
Potential cons (and solutions): Waxing can be painful and uncomfortable (you are getting hairs pulled out from very sensitive skin). If you’re particularly sensitive, avoid waxing just before or at the start of your period—that's when it'll hurt the most. Take aspirin or acetaminophen before a wax to reduce pain.
Another con: Waxing can get pricey, with sessions costing anywhere from $20 to $100 depending your pro and where you go.
Best for: Medium to fine hair on the upper lip, bikini line, happy trail, arms, legs, and toes.
Keeps you hairless for: Two to six days. Although hair removal creams don’t get quite as deep as waxing does, skin will still feel smoother for longer than shaving since it dissolves skin below surface level.
Best practices: Smooth the product on and follow the directions for how long to let it sit and how to remove. Be very careful not to exceed the maximum time, as the active ingredients can be irritating to the skin.
Potential problems: The product might not remove absolutely every hair—but don’t reapply product since it’ll be too aggravating. Use tweezers or a small razor to make the finishing touches.
Laser Hair Removal
Best for: Anyone prone to painful ingrown hairs or with dark, coarse hair.
Keeps you hairless for: It depends. Lasers work by targeting the dark pigment in your hair follicles and stunting the growth mechanism instead of actually uprooting hairs. Most people need to return for a touch-up session every couple of months before seeing a real reduction in hair growth. After anywhere from three to five visits, many see anywhere from 70 to 90 percent less hair. Laser removal results may or may not be permanent.
Best practices: The nail salon isn't the answer here—visit a hair removal facility or see a dermatologist. (Some at-home devices are pretty good too, but probably require more uses to see the same results as a pro treatment.) Afterward, avoid taking a hot shower (go with lukewarm water to reduce irritation), and stay out of direct sunlight for a couple of days.
Potential problems: Professional laser hair removal sessions are expensive (anywhere from $100 to $1,000), and can be pretty uncomfortable (think of a repeated pricking sensation).Take ibuprofen prior to each session to ease the feeling. And remember that in the long run, laser hair removal could end up being a good investment by saving you time, money, and worrying about unwanted hair.