What Is An Epilator and How to Use One? – Top Tips
What is an Epilator?
The literal definition of the word epilation is "the removal of hair by the roots".
Therefore, it could be said that any such method of hair removal e.g. waxing, tweezing, threading etc. is in fact, an epilator.
However, over the years, since the inception of the original Epilady back in the 80's, the term epilator has come to be synonymous with electrical devices that remove hairs by pulling them out.
What Does it Do?
In a nutshell, an epilator simply consists of a series of mechanical tweezers that can pluck multiple hairs from the face or body simultaneously.
How Does it Work?
There are different types of epilators, each of which are explained fully in our Complete Guide to Epilation with Epilators.
Most commonly nowadays, epilators have a series of discs or plates set in a revolving wheel that alternately open and close together to give a "tweezing" action .
As the device is slowly glided across the skin, the hair is picked up by the open "tweezers" and grasped as the wheel rotates and closes them, to pull them out at the root.
Pros and Cons of Using an Epilator for Hair Removal
- No Ongoing Costs - unlike most other methods of hair removal e.g. waxing, shaving, depilatory creams etc., after the initial outlay, there are no ongoing costs. Epilators range in price from around $30 for a basic, corded model to upwards of $100 for an "all singing, all dancing" model. Rule of thumb - purchase the best that you can afford, bearing in mind that a well looked-after device should last for many years. To help you decide we have published guide to choosing the best epilator for you.
- Results - the results last longer than with shaving or creams, and once you are used to epilating, with regular use time between treatments can be anything from a few days to a few weeks (depending on area and individual growth rates). Additionally, as with other methods involving pulling hair from the root, the appearance of regrowth becomes lighter and finer over time.
- Removes Very Short Hairs - epilators can remove hair as short as 0.5mm so there is less need for unsightly regrowth than with waxing. In fact, it is recommended that longer hairs be trimmed to the optimum 2 - 3 mm length prior to epilating.
- Convenience - epilators are easy to use, at home, at your own convenience. There is none of the mess associated with waxing and creams and maintenance required to keep the device in good condition is minimal. Some are corded for dry use only, whilst others are rechargeable and can be used wet, whilst in the shower or bath.
- Safe - generally there are few side effects from using epilators and they are transient and tend to lessen with regular use, as the skin becomes used to the process. Unlike waxing, which removes the top layer of skin, or creams, which utilise harsh chemicals, epilators only affect the hairs that they are removing. However, there are certain conditions under which you should seek medical advice prior to use and so it is very important that you always check the manufacturers precautions.
- Painful - using an epilator is painful, especially for the first few times, however it is generally agreed that with regular use over time it is considerable reduced. There are ways to minimise the pain, which we have outlined in our tips below.
- Risk of Ingrown Hairs or Infection - in common with a lot of hair removal methods, there is a risk of ingrown hairs. This can be minimized by regular exfoliation and using the correct method, as described later. The skin is also more prone to infection immediately after treatment as the pores are open, but a good aftercare regime will help.
- Time - epilators take time, as you need to move them slowly across the treatment area to avoid broken hairs and to clear the area fully. It may take around 30 minutes to effectively treat both legs, so rather more time consuming than shaving or waxing. Bear in mind, though, that this should reduce over time, as regrowth becomes lighter and less dense.
Where Can I Use an Epilator?
Epilators can be used on most parts of the body, but are not suitable for use near the eyes or eyebrows, scalp or genitals.
They are also not suitable for use on broken skin, moles or warts and you should seek medical advice if you have any type of skin complaint, diabetes or immune deficiency, or if you are in any doubt after reading the manufacturer's precautionary advice.
You do need to bear in mind that there are epilators which are specifically designed for use on certain parts of the body e.g. just legs, or just body (and not face), so bear this in mind and check carefully before purchasing that you are choosing a device to suit your purpose.
The importance of regular exfoliation cannot be too highly stressed.
Exfoliating removes the dead skin cells and bacteria from the surface of the skin, to help prevent hairs becoming "trapped" below the surface.
It also helps to release ingrown hairs from just below the skin's surface.
If you are using wet, then bathe or shower for about 10 minutes before epilating and you can use your usual cream, foam or gel with the epilator.
Best Way to Use
It is very important to hold the skin as taut as possible with your spare hand, to avoid pulling and possible pinching. This is especially important when treating areas such as underarms or bikini-line where skin tends to be "looser" and more sensitive.
There are usually 2 speed settings, the slower one is gentler for more sensitive areas, and the faster one is for efficiency and speed. If you are using for the first time it is best to start with the slower speed until you get used to the sensation.
Make sure that the hair is at the optimum length (2 - 4mm, or at least 0.5mm). If it is longer, either shave and wait a few days for regrowth to appear, or trim down. The longer the hair the more painful epilating will be, and if too long, it will be less effective.
Gentle exfoliation prior to using an epilator helps to remove any traces of oils, chemicals, creams or other products to leave the skin perfectly clean. It also helps to make the hair stand up.
Have a warm bath or shower prior to dry use, and make sure that your skin is perfectly dry before epilating.
You can use a baby powder to help with this, and to help the hairs stand up ready for your epilator.
Another method is to use a warm towel, straight from the airing cupboard or tumble dryer to dry the skin whilst rubbing in the direction against hair growth.
Hold the epilator at a 90 degree angle to the skin (some epilators come with an angle guide attachment to help with this).
Glide the device slowly across the skin, without exerting pressure, in small circular movements against the natural direction of the hair's growth.
Work in small areas, clearing it first, before moving onto the next. It may take several passes to achieve this.
The picture above shows the Philips Satinelle Advanced Wet & Dry Epilator.
After epilating avoid using anything harsh or perfumed and do not apply deodorant.
You can use a natural, antiseptic lotion such as 100% tea tree or witchazel to soothe the skin and prevent any infection.
Avoid wearing tight or rough clothing against the area immediately after epilating - it is a good idea to epilate in the evening before going to bed, at least for the first few times until you can see what the effects are on your skin.
Looking After Your Epilator
Your epilator will come with instructions for cleaning and storage.
As a general rule, if you have used the epilator dry, you can clean by brushing with the cleaning brush provided. If it has a detachable head, it can often be rinsed under water, but do check the instructions first.
If used wet, the device can be cleaned by rinsing under running water.
Always make sure the device is thoroughly dry before re-assembling and storing, and disinfect using a suitable rubbing alcohol or the like, on a cotton pad which is dampened but not soaked with the liquid.
We have compiled a series of other articles providing information about epilators and available products:
How to Choose the Best Epilator for You