Your Complete Guide to Epilation with Epilators

The use of epilators for hair removal has increased in popularity as the technology has advanced and new design features have made them more efficient and easier to use.

​This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to epilators, including how they work, hints and tips to get the best results and how to choose the right epilator for you.

​Epilation - Definition

The literal definition of epilation is the removal of hair by the roots, and is derived from the French word épiler and the Latin word pilus. 

Therefore, although it has widely become associated with epilators, the term epilation actually relates to any form of hair removal involving action to the roots e.g. tweezing, waxing, sugaring and electrolysis etc.

This differs from depilation, which refers to hair removal from above the skin i.e. shaving and depilatory creams.

What is an Epilator?​

An epilator is basically an electrical device for simultaneously plucking multiple hairs, in much the same way as a pair of tweezers can be used to remove individual hairs.

How do Epilators Work?​

There are 3 types of epilator, all working on the same basic principal but utilising a spring coil, rotating discs or metal plates in the device head.

Spring​

​The original epilator, Epilady, brought out in the mid-80's, uses a coil spring in the head, held in a curved position.  This obviously causes the edges on one side of the coil to be opened out, whilst on the opposite side they are closed tightly together.

The electrical motor is used to continuously rotate the spring as the device is moved across the skin. The hair is trapped in the closed side of the coil, pulled out and released as the coil re-opens.​

​One disadvantage of this type of epilator is that eventually the tension in the coil lessens and its effectiveness decreases.  It therefore becomes necessary to purchase a replacement spring.

In addition, it is more likely to experience pinching when using the electric spring type epilator than the newer, tweezer type devices.

This type of epilator has become outdated and largely replaced by the newer models, although there are manual epilators such as Bellabe, that are sold for use on facial hair.​

These manual epilators consist of a coil spring with a handle at each end.  The spring is bent into a curve to splay it open on one side and placed against the skin.  The handles are then turned in opposite directions, whilst moving gently across the skin, causing the coil to rotate and "pluck" the hair in a similar way as the electric epilator works.​

Disc​

Following the success of the Epilady, rival epilators were developed and brought to market. These used a series of rotating metal discs to perform the same function as the spring coil of the Epilady.

As with the spring, when the edges of the rotating discs are together, they grasp the hair and pull it out at the root, then release the hair as the edges rotate to an open position.​

Tweezer​

​This is the newest and most refined type of epilator.  The head consists of a series of metal plates which have a "tweezer" action as it rotates, continuously moving together and then apart.

As with the earlier models, the hair is caught between the closed plates, pulled out at the root and then released as the plates part.​

Parts of the Body​

​Epilators can be used on all parts of the body, but there are a few things to bear in mind when choosing which one to buy, if you wish to do so with one, multi-purpose device:

  • Recommended usage - ensure to check carefully to see that the epilator is recommended for use on each of the areas that you wish to treat
  • Attachments included - different parts of the body require different attachments e.g. facial cap or sensitive area cap
  • Speed settings - most epilators have 2 speed settings, but do check this so that the correct setting can be used for each body part

Features

With so many different epilators on the market, it can be very difficult to choose which is the best for you.

Given that epilators range in cost from a budget version at around $35 ​up to $130+ the first thing you should decide is how much you wish to spend, bearing in mind that it will be a one-off investment.

​This will narrow down the options, after which it will be a case of working out which features you require as a "must have", which are desirable if within budget and which you could live without.

To help with this, we have listed below all the features we could find across all makes and models, with a brief outline of the advantages of each (if not obvious):

  • Wet/dry option - essential if you want to use in the shower or bath
  • Ceramic textured plates - to effectively capture very fine hair
  • Hypo-allergenic discs - for sensitive skin
  • Cordless operation - convenient and easy to use
  • Rechargeable batteries - no need to purchase expensive replacement batteries
  • Dual speed - so speed can be altered depending on body part and preference
  • Hair lifter - to raise the hair up making it easier for the plates to grasp and less likely to miss any hairs
  • Massage attachment - to reduce pain for more gentle epilation
  • Underarm cap - specifically for underarm use where skin is sensitive
  • Trimmer cap - to trim hair to optimum length prior to epilating
  • Ice cap - to reduce pain and soothe the skin
  • Shaver head - can be used to shave certain areas for multi-function usage
  • Trimming Comb - for trimming hair prior to epilating
  • Light inbuilt - helps to pick out finer hairs to avoid missing any
  • Cleaning Brush
  • Cooling glove - use to cool skin prior to epilating and soothe it afterwards
  • Storage pouch - great when travelling

How to Use

Obviously, as with any electrical device, it is important to read carefully and follow all the manufacturers instructions.

We have outlined a broad guide, including hints and tips, on how to use an epilator and best practices before and after use for optimum results and to reduce pain and side effects.​

Preparation​

To prepare your skin for dry use, you should ensure that it is clean, dry and free from any chemicals, oils or creams.

It is a good idea to exfoliate to remove any residual bacteria and dead skin.  This also causes the hair to stand up, making it easier for the epilator to grab them.

A baby powder can be rubbed into the skin to further aid the hair to stand up.​

For wet use, sit in a warm bath or stand under a warm shower for several minutes to allow the hair to relax and pores to open.

​You may use a foam or gel with the epilator if you wish.

Optimum length of hair is usually 0.5mm.  The longer the hair, the more painful it tends to be.​

Using the Epilator

It is very important to hold the skin taut with one hand, whilst holding the epilator at a 90​ degree angle to the skin.

Do not use pressure to push down on the epilator

​Run the epilator very slowly in straight lines, in a direction opposite to the way the hair is growing.

You will need to go slowly and most likely cover the same area more than once, to ensure all the hairs are "caught".

​Some hairs may break, leaving a faint stubble effect, although not as evident as with shaving, as most hair will have been plucked.  These can be shaved later, and then captured with the epilator next time.

If your hair is prone to breaking a lot, it is advisable not to use it wet, but to use the dry method as water tends to soften the hair.​

After-care

When you have finished, you should exfoliate very gently with a loofah or exfoliating glove.

Dry skin carefully by patting, and apply a soothing, antiseptic lotion.  Avoid using deodorant and anything harsh or perfumed.​

If you have used the epilator dry, clean with the cleaning brush provided, or if wet, rinse thoroughly under the tap and dry carefully.​

In either case, disinfect with a suitable alcohol based cleaner to avoid causing infections.​

Pain

Pain is, of course, subjective and each individual will have a different pain tolerance level. 

However, it is inevitable that when hair is torn out by the root there will be pain.  How much pain largely depends upon the area of the body and the sensitivity of the skin.

Epilators can be very painful the first time you use  them, but it is universally accepted that, if you can grit your teeth and persevere, your skin will gradually become more tolerant and the pain will  reduce dramatically over time.

Side Effects​

There should be no serious or long-lasting side effects from using an epilator.

That said there are some common, transient side effects that usually last only a few hours:

  • Redness/irritation of the skin
  • Appearance of tiny red blood spots on the skin
  • An open pore look to the skin, giving it a similar appearance to that of a plucked bird

​These side effects are likely to become less and less over time, as your skin becomes accustomed to the epilator and the hair to be removed becomes finer and less dense.

An example of an ingrown hair causing skin irritation

We would advise you to use the epilator at night, before going to bed so that the effects have time to ​pass, before having to go out.  Also, rough or tight clothing may cause further irritation, immediately following treatment.

Using a natural, antiseptic lotion such as 100% tea tree or witchazel ​will help to soothe the skin and prevent any infection.

​A further, more troublesome side effect of using an epilator can be ingrown hairs.  However, with careful preparation and after care, as explained in the "how to use" section above, the risk can be minimised.

Cost

​As previously stated, there is a vast range of epilators on the market at a wide range of prices up to $100 and more.  

Whilst expensive does not necessarily mean good, it would make sense to look at the various features available and push your budget as far as you can to get everything that you want.

Bear in mind that, whatever the cost, over time it will work out to be far less than expensive waxing sessions in a salon.   Even waxing at home and shaving involve ongoing outlay, wheras an epilator is a one-off purchase requiring no replacement parts and should last you for many, many years.​

Pros and Cons

Pros of Epilator Hair Removal

  • Low cost - just initial outlay, no replacement parts needed
  • Convenient - for use at home and can easily be taken with you on your travels
  • Relatively long lasting - anything up to 3 - 4 weeks, longer over time
  • Can treat very short hairs - from 0.5mm - no need for unsightly regrowth between use
  • Finer, less regrowth - with regular use, over time, regrowth is widely reported to become finer and lighter
  • No mess - unlike waxing 
  • Safe - with only transient side effects which lessen with continual use
  • No skin damage - unlike waxing, epilators remove hair without removing the top layer of skin
  • Wet or Dry - wet or dry device can be used in the shower or bath

Cons of Epilator Hair Removal

  • Painful - as with all removal methods which pull out hair out by the root, it can be painful (will lessen with continual use)
  • Not permanent -  the hair will grow back.
  • Risk of ingrown hairs - in common with many hair removal methods (including waxing).  
  • Risk of infection - epilated skin is more at risk immediately afterwards as the hair follicles are opened.  Can be minimised with good after care regime.
  • Time - slower than shaving or depilatory creams

Summary​

To summarize, epilators are a reliable, cost effective and convenient method of hair removal offering a versatile and relatively long-lasting solution.

If you can stand a bit of pain, but do not want the mess of home-waxing or hassle and cost of regularly attending a salon, this could be a great choice for you.​

Sue
 

For the past 12 months, I have been testing and playing with all sorts of hair removal products for Hair Free Life. My goal is to provide the most accurate and up-to-date hair removal consumer information on the internet. When I'm not photographing, reviewing and researching hair removal products I play the drums in a samba band and am a volunteer for the Swindon Lions! Got any questions? Write to us below: