Your Complete Guide to Body Hair Removal and Grooming
Last summer, Billie became the first women’s razor brand to show actual body hair in an advertisement. This year, grooming brand Flamingo launched its “Bush 2020” campaign to encourage women to embrace their pubic hair and groom (or not groom) it however they choose. Instagram accounts like @curatedbygirls and @girlgaze beautifully depict women with unshaven legs, bikini lines, and underarms.
“For decades, society has given two extremes: remove all your body hair to be considered feminine, or quit grooming altogether to be a real feminist,” says Allie Melnick, the general manager of Flamingo. “We think you should do whatever feels right for you.”
Women everywhere agree: It’s time we think less about rules and more about flaunting a look that’s uniquely our own. When it comes to body hair removal or grooming, you should do whatever you damn please.
“In my early 20s, I shaved every day because I was embarrassed by my body hair,” says hairstylist Beca McKay, 29. A few years ago, after a bad breakup, she was inspired to grow her hair out from time to time. Recently she stopped removing her underarm hair altogether and started showing it off. “I dye it pink and even add glitter when I go to concerts,” she says. “It’s part of my image now.” (Related: 10 Women Get Candid About Why They Stopped Shaving Their Body Hair)
Actor Sarah Mezzanotte, 26, also dyes her underarm hair. “I still shave my legs frequently, but I let my underarm hair grow,” she says. “When I’m riding the subway and someone looks at me and makes a face, it does bother me sometimes.” So she dyes it blue to signal that growing her body hair is a choice, rather than a product of laziness. For some, growth is a conscious decision. Others just don’t make hair removal a priority—and that’s OK too.
Illustrator Camila Buxeda, 30, is similarly selective about grooming. She started shaving her dark forearm hair at age 13. Now she embraces it. “I shave and wax the rest of my hair maybe once or twice a year, but never my forearms,” she says. “I like that body hair.”
On the other hand, body hair removal is just as empowering a statement. “I shave my underarms and legs every week, and I get a Brazilian wax monthly,” says marketing coordinator Jacquelyn Sparks, 26. “It makes me feel more put together, which helps me channel my best self.”
Whether or not you decide to get rid of your fuzz, what are your best options for grooming it or removing it today? Here, beauty experts dish in all things body hair care and body hair removal.
Caring for Body Hair
Embracing what you’ve got? Create a grooming routine that keeps hair–and underlying skin–healthy and happy. To soften body hair and calm skin, massage a few drops of Fur Oil (Buy It, $46, amazon.com), which contains a blend of jojoba, grapeseed, clary sage, and tea tree oils, onto skin. Then, apply a few spritzes of Flamingo's Mons Mist (Buy It, $12, shopflamingo.com) hydrate skin but also subtly exfoliate to prevent ingrown hairs. As for keeping hair neat and trimmed, turn to the Braun Silképil 9 Flex (Buy It, $180, amazon.com), an epilator with a fully flexible head that also exfoliates and massages.
If you decide to get rid of some or all of your body hair, picking the right razor style is key. For the most sensitive skin, go for a single blade. “Multiblade razors pull the hair and cut it below the surface of the skin, which for some can result in ingrown hairs,” says Karen Young, the founder of Oui the People. She suggests a safety razor (Buy It, $75, ouithepeople.com), which you can use with shave oil, cream, or gel. Be sure to hold the razor at a 30-degree angle from your skin to avoid nicks.
Plus, it’s a sustainable body hair removal choice: 2 billion disposable razors end up in landfills each year; this option lets you replace only the blade, which you should do every five to seven shaves. If you prefer a more traditional razor that’s easy to toss in your gym bag, try one with a flexible, refillable head, like the Joy Women’s Razor (Buy It, $14, amazon.com)
For longer-lasting body hair removal results without a huge price tag, waxing has never been more approachable—or less painful. Many technicians have switched to a hard wax, which is more sanitary and gentler on skin than other waxes; the pro can swiftly pull the hard wax off with her fingers. Find it at European Wax Center, which has locations nationwide. The brand also offers post-wax products, like Slow It Body Lotion (Buy It, $20, waxcenter.com) formulated with Narcissus Tazetta Bulb extract, which may help slow down regrowth so you can wax less often.
Laser Hair Removal
Laser technology for body hair removal has evolved a lot in recent years and is now (mostly) painless and safe for a broad range of skin tones and hair colors. Lasers seek out contrast, so in the past, dark hair against fair skin made it easy for the laser’s light to target the hair, heat the follicle, and destroy it. But anyone of a deeper shade ran the risk of burns or hyperpigmentation. “Updates mean that paradigm has thankfully shifted,” says dermatologist and Shape Brain Trust member Mona Gohara, M.D. (Related: I Was ~This Close~ to Lasering Off My Pubes for Life—Here's What Stopped Me)
“Now those with darker skin can be treated with a longer, slower wavelength that prevents melanin in the superficial layers of the skin from absorbing the laser energy meant for the hair follicle,” says dermatologist Chris G. Adigun, M.D. One of the newest lasers, Splendor X by Lumenis, uses both shorter (Alexandrite) and longer (ND:Yag) wavelengths. This lets technicians adjust the settings based on an individual’s needs, so they can treat a wide spectrum of hair and skin color combinations safely and effectively. Still, white and very blonde hair is too light to be picked up by the laser, says Dr. Adigun. (BTW, it'll run you about $2,500 for four sessions.)
To reduce pain, Splendor X blasts cold air that counteracts the heat from the laser. “It feels like tiny snaps—not bad at all,” says Dr. Gohara. There’s no need for numbing cream.
It usually takes six to eight quick sessions (spaced every four to six weeks) to substantially eliminate hair growth, but this can vary based on the wavelengths used, says Christian Karavolas, the owner of Romeo and Juliette Laser Hair Removal in New York. Darker skin may require extra sessions due to the slower, longer wavelengths needed, and areas that experience hormonal growth like the face and arms may take an additional session or two as well. But if you just want to thin out the hair, you should see a difference after just one session.
Shape Magazine, July/August 2020 issue