Unwanted hair seems to be a universal beauty challenge. There are a number of ways to get rid of it, but some of them are not so skin-friendly. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most skin-friendly, we’ve ranked the top four most popular hair removal methods.
Skin-Friendliness Ranking: 2
Waxing may be the most physically brutal hair removal method on your skin. Waxing works by applying hot wax to the treatment area. This already introduces a risk to skin health as overheated wax can cause burns. (This is especially true for the delicate skin around brows and lips.) Fabric strips are then laid over the wax. In just seconds, the fabric adheres to the wax and is quickly ripped away. The wax takes the hairs—ripped from the roots—with it.
Waxing sounds painful because it usually is painful. It’s also very skin irritating. Waxing leaves skin in the treatment area inflamed—red, sensitive and more vulnerable to infection. Repeatedly pulling hairs out from the roots can also damage the hair bulb, resulting in hair growing back more finely, which may present a hair removal challenge should you want to try something less painful, like shaving or tweezing.
Skin-Friendliness Ranking: 3
Hair removal creams are also a less-than-skin-friendly method of removing unwanted hair. Depilatory creams work by dissolving the hair at the skin’s surface, so there is no visible hair. The problem is that the creams may also dissolve keratinocytes—the (dead) skin cells that make up the uppermost layer of skin. While that sounds like exfoliation in action, more often, the dissolved skin cells clog pores, leading to ingrown hairs, which can result in localized infection of the hair follicle.
Another drawback: because the hair is only removed at surface-level, the part that resurfaces is blunt. That makes the hair look and feel courser and thicker…probably not the look you’re aiming for.
Skin Friendliness Ranking: 6
Current research suggests that laser hair removal is neutral when it comes to skin-friendliness. The laser frequencies used are intended to target the hair follicle in the dermis, a deeper layer of skin tissue, deadening it to result in permanent hair removal. The epidermis above where hair follicles reside are largely unaffected. However, over the course of treatment needed to achieve total hair removal (on average, at least 10 sessions), laser exposure can cause scarring, redness and/or discoloration.
Skin-Friendliness Ranking: 8
Although shaving is notoriously inconvenient and time consuming, it may actually be one of the best hair removal treatments for your skin. Shaving manually removes hair at the skin’s surface, taking with it the uppermost layer of skin. Unlike hair removal creams, the dead skin cells are actually sloughed away, so they do not clog pores or encourage ingrown hairs. The abrasive action of razor edge against skin also stimulates collagen production. In fact, regular shaving has been theorized as one of the reasons that men often appear to age more slowly than women.
For any hair removal treatment, the care with which the product or process is applied will make a difference. If you do opt for waxing or laser hair removal, for instance, research the spa and/or practitioner to make sure you get effective results with the least discomfort and/or risk of skin health issues.