The definitive guide to pain-free hair removal
by Megan McIntyre
There are few things on our beauty to-do list that we loathe more than body hair removal. Whether you shave it or wax it, those annoying stubs of hair seem to re-grow almost as quickly as we can get rid of them. As if the whole removal process wasn’t enough of a mental pain, we’re regularly subjected to the actual pain of razor burn, red bumps, and ingrown hairs that can follow.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a bit of insider know-how, you can tame your body fuzz without aggravating your temperamental skin. We spoke with the body hair experts (including Rosie’s personal waxing maven, Jodi Shays of Queen Bee Salon & Spa) to find out how you can prevent and treat them.
Prevention should be your weapon of choice.
In order to fight these pesky irritations, you need to understand exactly what they are and why they happen. You’re essentially damaging your skin in order to remove hair, be it by slicing it off or yanking it out. Sounds kind of medieval when you put it like that, huh? There are three main types of irritation caused by hair removal: razor burn, waxing bumps, and ingrown hairs.
“When we shave off hair, the blade inevitably shaves off a bit of skin, as well,” explains Kenneth Howe, MD, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in NYC. And, if you aren’t careful, you take off too much of that skin, leading to the stinging, red, rash-y patches of irritation we call razor burn.
In the case of waxing, the majority of the damage is not to the skin, but rather the hair follicle. Says Dr. Howe, “Embedded in the wax, the hair is torn out by the root—hair shafts can shatter as they are ripped free, leaving debris in the follicle.” But debris isn’t the only thing that gets stuck and causes problems. Bacteria is another big instigator. Our skin is covered in it, specifically staphylococcal, aka staph. Sounds gross, but it’s mostly harmless—unless it gets trapped in one of those recently damaged follicles and then all hell breaks loose in the form of swollen, red, painful, and even pus-filled bumps.
Another form of ouch-inducing bumps, ingrown hairs are exactly what they sound like — hairs that grow into the skin instead of out of it. “Although it’s our own hair,” notes Dr. Howe, “the growing hair tip is not meant to be present below the skin surface, and so our body reacts to the ingrown the same way it would to a splinter.” Read: inflammation and swelling.
While it might seem like your best bet is confronting these issues as they crop up, wax master Shays says that in this case, prevention should be your weapon of choice. After all, it’s easier to stop something before it happens, rather than try to fix it after it’s all gone downhill. Fortunately, there are some pretty easy ways to prep and avoid having to do some kind of Back To The Future situation for botched hair removal.
Clean Like A Doctor
As Shays mentioned, that bacteria invading your hair follicle is going to cause all kinds of trouble, so instead of trying to tiptoe around it, just get rid of it completely. “Use an antibacterial wash before you shave or wax to clean it all away,” she says. Her favorite also happens to be the preferred choice of doctors to sterilize their hands pre-surgery. “Hibiclens isn’t sexy, but it literally kills anything on your skin,” she raves. And if your skin is clean, it can’t harbor the bacteria that can potentially get into hair follicles and wreak havoc.
Dissolve The Situation
Both Dr. Howe and Shays stress that in addition to cleansing, you’ll also want to exfoliate before hair removal to get rid of dead skin cells, oil, and any lingering debris that can clog up newly vacated hair follicles. Shays’s favorite is a glycolic/salicylic acid combo called Buzz Off Bumps that dissolves and clears away all of the above. Bonus: They can also be used to both prevent and treat ingrown hairs.
Don’t Go Dry
We’ve all experienced the harsh sting that follows an ill-advised dry shave. I’ll just do a quick swipe to take care of that stubble, you think to yourself. Five seconds later, you find yourself hopping around your bathroom, fanning the rapidly reddening skin to try and ease the unbearable burning sensation. A shaving gel or cream is essential for a non-irritating shave because it creates a barrier between your skin and the blade, allowing the razor to glide over the skin, rather than tugging or dragging across the surface. This blood orange and jasmine cream from Oui Shave is amazing.
Take It Slow and Stay Sharp
We’d like to think this one is common sense, but just in case: Don’t rush through a shave session. There’s no situation where haphazardly whisking a wonky razor over your bits and pieces is going to end well. And while we’re on the subject of potential knife-fight wounds, do yourself a solid and replace your razor blades regularly. “As soon as you start to feel tugging or pulling during the shave, that means the blade is dull and it’s time to change your refill cartridge,” explains Eric Kaplan, senior program manager at Edgewell Personal Care (the company behind Schick razors). This will happen at different times for everyone, depending on the razor you use and how often you use it.
Upgrade Your Blade
Technology has come a long way, so there’s really no excuse for using that same disposable single-blade razor your grandma was swiping up her legs in 1965. Our newest discovery is the Schick Intuition f.a.b. (which stands for forwards and backwards), thanks to its mind-bogglingly cool design. “It contains bi-directional blades that let you shave in both directions without having to lift the razor from your skin,” Kaplan says. Translation: You can move this baby in any direction without lifting it off your skin and it will cut the hair. No more drag, swipe, repeat monotony.
In Case Of Emergency…
That said, even the most dedicated of careful shavers and waxers can fall prey to inflammation. Thankfully, if you do sense the start of inflammation, there are some effective and easy ways to immediately calm the skin. Shays swears by a makeshift cold compress she creates by soaking a cotton square in an anti-inflammatory witch-hazel-and-rosewater solution and pressing it firmly against the irritated skin. If rose isn’t really your thing (Shays notes that some of her clients are allergic to it), she also likes Epicuren’s Aloe Vera Calming Gel. “It’s best aloe vera on the market — it’s anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and extremely moisturizing,” she says.
While hair removal doesn’t have to be pleasant, it also doesn’t have to be a form of inhumane torture. Well, unless you’re a Brazilian fan—in which case, good luck and godspeed.