Hair Removal at Home – the Ultimate Guide
Why Choose Hair Removal at Home?
There are several reasons why hair removal at home is becoming a more and more popular option.
Just the fact of being able to choose when to carry it out, at your own convenience and in the comfort of home, is enough to make it very attractive to many.
In addition, as with DIY of any description, there is always going to be a pretty substantial cost saving in comparison to professional treatments.
In the past, attending a salon would give the best results and peace of mind, and the options for home hair removal were more limited.
Nowadays, there are a plethora of products, devices, creams, potions and lotions specifically manufactured for the purpose of removing hair at home, the efficacy and safety of which are improving all the time.
Shaving is surely the most obvious, popular and versatile method of hair removal at home, albeit the most temporary one.
Safe, easy and at a cost to suit all pockets, shaving is quick and can be done almost anywhere!
Due to the fact that shaving cuts hair off at the surface of the skin, if you have very dark hair and light skin, it may be that you will always see a "shadow" in which case you may prefer to use other methods.
The other downside of shaving is that some people with sensitive skin may experience irritation and/or razor bumps. There are a number of ways to minimise this, as well as products that have been developed specifically to help.
Shaving is the most obvious choice for male facial and head hair removal, but is also a quick and easy method for removal of male and female underarm, arm and leg hair.
Also, a pretty good option for bikini line and genital areas (with caution!) but the regrowth can cause itching and irritation.
Although it can be used for chest and back, due to the temporary nature of this method, it may become rather tedious, and the regrowth appears stubbly.
There are so many shaving options that it can be quite mind boggling, but the first thing you need to decide is whether to go for razor shaving or electric (many of which may now be used wet or dry).
Choosing a Razor
If you decide to go for the razor shave, then the next option is which type? The two most popular options are doubled edged safety razors or the multi-blade cartridge type.
So how to decide? Well the two main considerations for most people are cost and efficacy:
The initial outlay for a new cartridge razor with blade refill can be anything from $10 upwards.
The Gillette Fusion Proglide for example, which is a best seller, currently retails at around $12 and includes 2 razor blade refills.
Compare this to the initial outlay of around $21 for the Merkur Long Handled safety razor, another best seller, and you can see that the cartridge razor would seem at first glance to be the cheapest.
Of course, the above is for illustrative purposes only, and there are hundreds of different razors of all types in varying price ranges, however, generally safety razors cost more initially, but over time will save money.
With their , 4 or 5 blade versions, cartridge razors are designed to be quick and require only one pass , whereas the safety razor's single blade will take longer and require more passes to achieve a nice, close shave.
The downside of this is that cartridge razors are much harsher on the skin, especially the 5 blader's, and are more likely to cause irritation, razor burn and ingrown hairs.
There are cartridge razors designed for sensitive skin, but our recommendation would definitely be to try a safety razor.
So - although either can achieve a nice close shave, using a cartridge razor will be quicker and a safety razor, more gentle on the skin.
Whilst the two options above are the most popular, the straight razor is the one which will give you the closest and best shave.
It will also require the most outlay and practice to learn the correct technique.
The relative merits of the straight razor vs the safety razor are discussed in a separate article on this site, together with product recommendations and more information.
We have also published a guide as to how to chose and shave with a straight razor.
Shaving with a cartridge razor is pretty simple nowadays and most have swivel heads that move with the contour of the skin.
They are very safe, with not too much exposed blade, so that you can push the head very gently to the skin to achieve a close shave.
There are just a few basic steps to follow:
- Wash thoroughly to remove dead skin cells and excess oil and soften hair to be shaved
- Apply suitable lather to damp area - shaving foam, gel, cream or soap
- Always shave "with the grain" i.e. in the direction of the hair's growth
- Hold the razor at about a 30 degree angle to the skin
- Do not apply pressure - it should not be necessary and may cause nicks or cuts
- Rinse razor after each pass, or at least when you can see a build up of hair between the blades
- Keep skin taut to create as flat a surface as possible
Shaving with a safety razor will take a little practice, as more of the blade is exposed and so the angle of the blade is a bit more crucial to avoid cuts, and as the the head is fixed, you need to control this yourself.
It is also important to not use any downwards pressure, but just glide the blade over the skin's surface.
We have published a separate article with in-depth information and advice about irritation free shaving.
Electric shavers have much improved over the years, and there are literally hundreds to choose from including those that can be used either wet or dry and include trimmers for longer hairs.
There are different versions for male and female use and range in cost from around $20 at the bottom end to $200 for an "all bells and whistles" shaver.
There are two distinct types of head on electric razors; rotary or foil.
We have put together a more in-depth article; What's the Best Electric Shaver for Men in which we describe the relative merits in more detail and make some recommendations for purchase.
In brief, a rotary shaver is best for those with coarse, thick hair which grows in different directions, or those who do not shave every day.
Conversely, foil shavers suit those with fine, straight hair wishing for a precise, close shave on a daily basis. They tend to be gentler for use on sensitive skin.
Lady shavers use foil heads and are rounded to adapt to the contours of the body.
They will often include a trimmer feature for bikini trimming and the best are cordless and suitable for wet or dry use, so that you can shave in the shower.
Pros of Shaving
- Quick and Easy - very little practice required to become an expert shaver
- Versatile - just about every area of the body can be shaved!
- Priced to Suit All - electric shavers, shaving sets, creams, razors etc. can all be found at bargain basement prices right on up to the luxury end of the market
- Easily Portable - travel with your razor/shaver, no problem
- No Pain - just about the only method of hair removal with absolutely no pain involved
Cons of Shaving
- Very temporary - need to repeat process regularly - in some areas e.g. beard, daily
- Hair Regrowth - the appearance of stubble prior to shaving can be unsightly
- Risk of Razor Bumps
Tweezing is a quick and easy way to remove individual hairs by pulling them out or "plucking" them from the root with a pair of tweezers.
It is a relatively inexpensive method, and can be used in conjunction with other methods of hair removal.
Due to the fact that the hair is removed from the root, it has a longer lasting result than shaving, and over time can cause sufficient damage to the hair's follicle to produce lighter, finer regrowth or in some cases, even permanent removal.
Tweezing is absolutely the best for eyebrow shaping, where precision is of paramount importance.
It is also useful for odd stray hairs left behind after waxing, or for any area where a few hairs need to be removed e.g. female chin, or from moles.
Tweezers have different tips, the main 3 being slanted, pointed or pointed slants. These are fully explained, with their recommended uses, in our ultimate guide to tweezing hair removal.
In a nutshell, the most popular for eyebrow shaping and general purpose use is the slanted tip type.
The other main considerations are:
- Alignment - the tips need to be perfectly aligned to meet all the way along the edge, so that hairs can be grasped consistently
- Tips - these need to be nice and sharp, so that when the hair is grabbed it keeps firmly hold and there is no slipping
- Tension - the arms need to be carefully calibrated to provide a gentle resistance when they are squeezed together
In addition to these three main elements there are other special features that you need to think about:
- Grip - there are various designs out there, some with special wide grips to make it easier for those with difficulties such as arthritis or weakness in the finger to use
- Finish - there are a wide range of finishes available - from colours and coatings to embossed designs and even animal print or gemstones. Some of these serve a purpose, to enhance the feel and grip, as well as just looking good!
- Size - size varies from mini, pocket sized tweezers to some that are quite bulky. It is important to choose a size that you are comfortable with and is fit for purpose
- Cost - always an important consideration with any purchase, but do bear in mind that a good quality, well cared-for pair of tweezers should give many years of service, so it is worth buying the best you can afford.
- Sets - there are various set combinations on the market, which can be a cost effective way to perhaps have, for example, a slant tipped and a point tipped pair.
The following are the steps to take for effective tweezing, to minimise pain and reduce the risk of infection and ingrown hairs:
- Clean thoroughly and exfoliate area to remove dead skin cells and bacteria
- Open pores - either by showering or using a warm flannel or towel against the area for a few minutes
- Ensure you have good light and a magnifying mirror
- Sanitize tweezers prior to use (a rubbing alcohol is good for this)
- Hold skin taut with one hand, holding tweezers in the other
- Grasp hair firmly as close to base of hair as possible without pressing into skin
- Pull firmly in the direction of the hair's growth
- If required, you can apply a calming lotion such as Aloe to the area
- Sanitize after use and store safely
Avoid dropping your tweezers as it can damage the tips and cause them to come out of alignment
Pros of Tweezing
- Precise - as hairs are removed individually
- Convenient - can be done "as and when"
- Easy - little time required to perfect method
- Highly Portable
- No Mess
- Cost Effective
- Lasting - can last for several weeks, much longer than shaving
Cons of Tweezing
- Pain - there will obviously be some pain, but it is highly bearable and totally in your control - as hairs are removed one at a time
- Ingrown Hairs - there is a risk of ingrown hairs
- Time Consuming
- Not for Large Areas
What About Threading?
Threading essentially removes hair in the same way as tweezing i.e. by plucking it out from the root, but can remove several hairs at a time.
Although cheap, simply utilising a length of thread, and can be done at home, the technique does require some skill and practice to become efficient.
Often offered in salons, it is quicker than tweezing, but unless you have time to master it, is probably best left to the professionals.
Waxing is a very popular form of hair removal for both men and women, and is relatively easy to do at home, depending on the area being waxed (rather difficult to wax your own back, for example!)
It removes large areas of hair from the root simultaneously, so it is relatively quick, but also pretty painful, especially the first time.
There are two types of wax; hot or cold, and each has its advantages.
Hot wax is melted before applying to the skin, then a strip is pressed onto the wax pulled away, taking the hair with it.
This method can be a bit messy and the technique requires a bit of practice to master.
Although more painful than the cold wax option, the process only needs to be done once at each application.
The wax is just warmed with the hands and is on the pulling strip prior to application.
This is an easier and less messy method, but the wax does not adhere to the hair as well as with hot wax and needs to be repeatedly applied to achieve best results.
Sugaring works in a very similar way to waxing but uses natural ingredients. The main differences are listed below:
Artificial fragrances, resin
and other chemicals
All natural ingredients
In the direction of hair
Against the direction of
Opposite direction to
In the direction of hair
Yes - high level
Yes - much less
Removes live skin cells
Only dead skin cells
Difficult - need to use
wax remover or baby oil
Easy - with plain water
Could burn skin if over-
Very low risk
Waxing is very best used on large areas such as back, chest, legs etc.
The most common areas are as follows:
- Bikini Line
- Back and Shoulders
- Upper Arms
- Pubic Area
Waxing is not the most accurate method for precise hair removal, so tweezers can be used to remove any stray hairs remaining after waxing.
It is always best to read the instructions provided thoroughly prior to use, but here are the key steps:
- Sanitize skin and apply baby powder to minimise wax adhering to the skin
- Apply wax in the direction of the hairs' growth
- Smooth strip on it in the same direction
- Grasp strip tightly and pull firmly and quickly in the opposite direction to hair growth
- Repeat until the whole area is smooth and hairless
- Any stray hairs can be removed with tweezers
- After wax lotion should be applied to remove any remaining wax and prevent the skin from irritation or infection
If you find waxing too painful to bear, you can take painkillers or apply a numbing cream to the area prior to treatment, following instructions.
Pros of Waxing
- Versatile - safe to use for most areas of the body
- Covers Large Areas - great for large areas, to remove multiple hairs at a time quickly
- Cost Effective
- Lasting Results - can be anything from 3 - 6 weeks between treatments
- Easy to do - with just a little practice
- No Black Stubble - regrowth tends to be lighter and finer than with shaving
Cons of Waxing
- Pain - one of the more painful methods
- Need for Visible Hair - hair has to be fairly long in order to rer to remove it effectively with wax
- Risk of Ingrown Hairs
- Risk of Burns - care needs to be taken with hot wax
- Can be Messy
Essentially an epilator is a device for simultaneously plucking multiple hairs.
There are manual epilators, such as the Bellabe, that are for use on facial hair, which use a coil spring with a handle at each end.
The spring is bent into a curve so that it is splayed open on one side and then placed against the skin.
When the handles are turned in opposing directions, the coil rotates to trap hair between the closing edges and pluck the hair from the root.
The first electric epilators used a coil spring in much the same way as described, but with a motor to rotate the coil.
As technology has improved, these have been replaced with first disc, and then tweezer type epilators. The relative pros and cons of each are discussed in detail in our complete guide to epilation with epilators.
There are a large range of epilators on the market from $35 up to $130+ depending on what features are included and many have a wet or dry use option.
When considering the outlay, do remember that it will be a one-off purchase which should last for many years.
Epilators can be used on all parts of the body, but do check carefully if you wish to use one device for multi-purposes that it is recommended for use on each area that you wish to treat.
This is because you will need different attachments e.g. facial cap or sensitive area cap and at least 2 speed settings, depending on what you will be using it for.
Obviously it is important to follow the instructions provided with the device, but we have listed below a few basic good practice guidelines:
- The optimum length of hair for effective use of an epilator is 0.5 mm (if longer, it is likely to be more painful)
- For dry use, ensure that the skin is clean and dry - wash and exfoliate prior to use to remove traces of dirt or grease, bacteria and dead skin cells
- You can rub in some baby powder to help the hairs stand up
- For wet use, take a warm shower or bath and get or foam can be used if you wish
- Hole the skin taut with one hand, holding the epilator at a 90 degree angle to the skin - do not use pressure, simply glide across the skin
- Move the epilator slowly in the opposite direction to the the hairs' growth, in straight lines - you will need to do this more than once to ensure that you have caught all the hairs
- After epilating, exfoliate gently with a loofah or exfoliating glove, and pat dry carefully
- Use a soothing antiseptic lotion on the area and avoid deodorants or perfumed products
- Clean and disinfect your epilator ready for next time
Pros of Epilating
- Low cost - although initial outlay may be high, there are no ongoing costs
- No mess - unlike waxing and shaving
- Safe - there are minor, transient side effects if any, and skin is not damaged (unlike with waxing, the epilator only affects the hair itself)
- Wet or dry use
- Lasts - 3 - 4 weeks between treatments
Cons of Epilating
- Pain - one of the more painful methods of hair removal, although tolerance will build up over time
- Risk of ingrown hairs
- Risk of infection - should not be a problem with good aftercare regime
- Slower than shaving, waxing and depilatory creams
Hair removal creams have come a long way over the years, as manufacturers have worked to improve their performance and the overpowering unpleasant chemical odours of the past.
They are still, however, made up of strong chemicals which work to break down the protein in the hair to dissolve it, for removal at just below the skin's surface.
For this reason, they are not suitable for everyone, and allergic reactions are experienced by some.
Although some creams are suitable for both male and female use, generally there a different products for each, as male hair tends to be thicker and coarser, requiring a stronger mix of chemicals.
They also score well for larger areas, such as legs, arms, male chest and back and products are usually tailored to suit a particular area, so do check the recommended uses on the box prior to purchase.
Depilatory creams for facial hair are abundant, but are not suitable for use round the eye or brow area, or for ear or nose hair, where they could cause severe damage.
Pros of Depilatories
- Pain Free - providing you are not allergic to any of the ingredients
- Quick and Easy - anything from 4 - 10 minutes maximum, and no skill required
- Relatively Inexpensive - there are products available to suit all pockets
- Versatile - can be used on all skin tones and hair colours
Cons of Depilatories
- Chemical Odour - some are pretty good, but they do vary
- Possible Allergic Reactions - you may develop a reaction even after years of use, so testing before each treatment is recommended
- Frequency of Treatments - results short-lived in comparison to some other methods
- Need Several Types - you need to purchase different depilatory creams for specific areas of the body
Essentially, IPL (intense pulsed light) and laser hair removal devices work similarly in that they both use light rays to target the dark pigment in hair and around the follicle, to create heat energy which damages the follicle and causes the hair to fall out.
There is a difference in the underlying technology, which is explained in detail in our article; How does Laser Hair Removal differ from IPL?, but for the purposes of this article, we will refer to all as IPL.
Whilst home IPL devices are not as powerful as those used by professionals in a clinic and therefore not as effective, advances in technology mean that it is now possible to achieve pretty good results in the comfort of your own home.
Permanent hair reduction can be achieved using IPL, with patience and perseverance. It is worth taking note that it will take some time to achieve good results and you should be prepared for this.
One good thing is that you can continue to shave whilst using IPL devices, so there is no need to suffer unsightly regrowth between treatments.
You should not use any method that involves removing hair from the root in conjunction with IPL as the hair needs to be actively growing within the follicle for it to be effective.
IPL hair removal is great for most areas of the male and female body, but the downside is that it is not suitable for anyone with a darker skin tone or light, grey or red hair.
The machine should have an inbuilt skin tone sensor to test the skin prior to use. If the tone is too dark, the machine will stay "locked" and you will not be able to use it. This is for safety purposes, as use on inappropriate skin tones could potentially cause severe burns and side effects.
Some may be used for female facial hair, but not anywhere near the eye area, so not for brows.
These devices should be approved for general retail by the FDA (US Federation for Drug Administration) who are the body responsible for the protection of public health, and you should check this prior to purchase.
Pros of IPL
- Cost effective - once initial high outlay paid
- Easy to Use
- Quick - depending on size of flash head
- Various Strength Settings - some have up to 5 settings, to enable you to choose the best and most comfortable for each area you are treating
- Skin Sensor - for safety
- Cordless/rechargeable options - on some models
- FDA Regulated - peace of mind
Cons of IPL
- Time - results take time to achieve
- Cost - high initial cost of machine
- Limitations - best for those with light skin and dark hair