During Eurovision, someone tweeted Healthista editor Anna Magee saying ‘Is that you singing for Austria?’ Conchita Wurst is naturally hairier than most men and has battled face and body hair for a lifetime. So while we applaud anyone who wants to do a Conchita and grow their facial hair, for anyone still wanting to remove it, we bring you the ultimate guide to hair removal and what works where
On the night of Eurovision, a friend tweeted me saying ‘Is that you singing for Austria?’
Another added: ‘I just feel moved that @AnnaMagee can be the beautiful bearded lady of her true and happy destiny.
I am hairy you see. And thanks to my Greek/Egyptian background, I was born in a relentlessly hirsute body that grows thick, coarse black hair everywhere including on my stomach, chin, nostrils and back.
Were I to let it all grow out I would not only give Conchita a run for her follicular money but I could be the subject of a Horizon documentary.
Consequently, I am also a depilation addict. Ever since I was a monobrowed teenager I’ve been plucking, waxing, threading, epilating, depilating, lasering and sugaring virtually every part of myself.
There have been disasters. Running out of a City brow bar with half an eyebrow, attending a job interview with my face covered in an angry red waxing rash and an ingrown hair that turned into a boil on my lower back and had to be medically extracted.
There have been successes too. The at-home laser that finally cured my pre-menopausal chin stubble and the full facial threading that made me look like I’d had a facelift.
But despite what wax-wielding beauty therapists might tell you, I’ve realised there’s no one method of hair removal that suits every part of the body.
In fact, for some areas high-tech laser treatments for example might be best but for others they might be unsafe or ineffective and a £20 set of tweezers better. Here’s my 30 years-in-research guide to exactly what depilation methods work where.
Thread Done with an even tension it gives brows a polished, clean look, says Vaishaly Patel who threads the eyebrows of Nigella Lawson and Gwyneth Paltrow. ‘But untrained staff vary the tension and that breaks the hair instead of removing it at the root. This hurts and causes little lumps and spikes on the skin.‘ Ask the threader to draw in the shape beforehand to ensure you’re happy with it.
Pluck ‘For older women whose skin around the eyebrows is sagging, plucking is better as threading can sometimes catch sagging skin and cause bruising,’ says says Debra Morris, director of Education at British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (BABTAC). At home I use Eylure Eyebrow Stencils which come in shapes based on celebrities’ brows called Jennifer, Catherine etc. You stick one on, draw in, and pluck around. The only tweezers I can use – my husband calls them ‘The Jaws of Life’ – are Tweezerman Wide Grip Tweezer Stainless Steel £20
New ‘Ice’ laser Most hair removal lasers are not fine enough to be done near the eyebrows. But new Soprano Ice has a tiny, fine point that works on localised areas such as eyebrows, nostrils and even ears, says Dr Robin Stone, a consultant NHS dermatologist and medical director of Courthouse Clinics. Most lasers can only be used on pale skin with dark hair as they target the melanin – pigment – in both skin and hair in order to kill hair at its follicle so can burn and damage darker skin. ‘The Soprano uses invisible light and can be used on all dark olive, Asian and black skin.’ A course for brows at Courthouse Clinics costs £225.
Wax This causes a shadow of spiky black hairs to grow in as little as a week after waxing and a higher likelihood of ingrown hairs can leave you with a lumpy surface, says Patel.
Thread After my first cheek threading I looked like a newly scrubbed doll and younger too, like my cheeks had been given a new glow minus the shadow from little black hairs that grew downwards from my brows (I kid you not). Threaded hair grows back finer than any other non-permanent hair removal form for the face, Patel says.
Get it checked if it’s thick ‘Black, coarse hair on the cheeks and chin along with nipples and abdomen is a symptom of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome,’ says Dr Gabrielle Downey (she is a font of info on gynae issues and so is her website), a consultant gynaecologist at The BMI Priority Hospital. If it’s severe, you may be entitled to hair removal treatment on the NHS. Your doctor can also prescribe a cream called Vaniqa which slows down hair growth by blocking an enzyme – ornithine decaroxylase – in hair follicles.
Wax ‘I don’t agree with waxing on the face,’ says Debra Morris. ‘Removing downy fine hair with wax can lead to more blood supply to the area and trigger stronger, thicker hair to grow.’
Bleach The sight of a dark haired woman with blond hair on her face always reminds me of a Lebanese (female) maths teacher I once had whose blond beard and moe were the subject of great hilarity for us as cruel sixth-graders. Don’t do it.
Soprano Ice laser (see eyebrows)
Nose trimmer I use Remington NE3350 Angled Hygienic Trimmer £10.20 a battery operated gadget you can use in the shower which trims the hair using a fast spinning blade. It’s a tickly kind of painful but nasal hair grows slowly so I only have to do mine about once a month.
Pluck It’s torturous.
At-home laser After years of plucking and depilating (see arms) my upper lip had begun to grow spiky, blunt hairs that always caught me unawares in flouro-lit mirrors. Earlier this year I Tria Hair Removal Laser 4X in Limited-Edition Graphite £375. You place the gun-like contraption on the skin and it beeps as it zaps each hair follicle with a quick, hot burn before you move onto the next hair follicle and the next. Being dark olive, I had been warned in the past that my skin is too dark for laser (the optimum is dark hair with pale skin). But this has a sensor that you place on the skin to gauge whether your skin tone qualifies. I used mine for 12 weeks with two weeks in between and now four months later I have a hairless upper lip. You have to shave in between sessions but as the laser disables the hair follicle’s growth potential, the hair grows back finer after each session until it stops growing.
Thread This works a treat if you don’t mind going back every few weeks. Make sure it’s not too painful as this signals the hair is breaking and not coming out at the root, says Vaishaly Patel.
Electrolysis If you have grey, red or blonde hair or hair that is now grey, no laser treatment will work, says Debra Morris. But electrolysis will. An electric current is applied to a fine needle shaped electrode or metal probe into each hair follicle to destroy the root. Hair grows in different stages: growing, resting and shedding and on the face this cycle takes four weeks. ‘You have to do electrolysis in the hair’s growth stage,’ says Morris. Upper lip takes around four treatments with four weeks in between. All electrolysis comes with potential for scarring so see someone experienced. Sterex are the most highly regarded brand so look for a therapist with Sterex qualifications and machines, says Morris.
Wax or bleach (see cheeks)
At home laser Nothing prepared me for the forest of black whiskers that would sprout overnight on my chin post-40. In the years leading up to menopause, hair growth like this is normal, says Dr Downey. ‘Increased testosterone in your body post-40 leads to hair sprouting in areas more associated with male hair growth such as chin and upper lip,’ she explains. Last October I began trying the Tria Hair Removal Laser 4X in Limited-Edition Graphite (see Upper Lip) on my chin every two weeks. The hot little zap in each follicle causes a deep, sharp pain but it’s over quickly and worth it. There were no hairs growing on my chin by the end of January.
Thread or Electrolysis (See Upper Lip)
Pluck I watched my mum plucking hers as a kid and like her, plucked mine until the middle of last year when I tried the Tria (above). The hair grew spiky and whisker-like as plucking triggers blood supply to the area making the hair grow stronger.
BACK and STOMACH
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) High intensity pulsed light (not laser) pushes the hair from a growing to a resting phase and inhibits hair growth and feels like an elastic band flicking on the skin. The treatments are done in salon every 2-4 weeks for about four months after which the odd maintenance treatment may be required every six months. The risks of in-salon IPL and lasers are high in unqualified hands, says Dr Stone. They include severe burns, permanent scarring and skin discolouration. In October 2010, the government deregulated the use of laser hair removal which means more practitioners can set up laser clinics without medical qualifications. The government is currently looking at reforming this in line with recommendations from the report into the aesthetic industry released in April last year by the chief medical officer Sir Bruce Keogh. Until then, Dr Stone recommends checking the clinic is registered with the Care Quality Commission who ensures clinics are set up for medical emergencies.
Shave, thread or wax Shaving will make the hair grow back thicker and spikier. Threading is too painful and according to Patel, rarely done on the body outside of India and waxing will cause ingrown hairs as the hair is too fine and may get caught under the skin as it grows.
Pluck I get about six thick, wiry black hairs every couple of months. Plucking my nipples hurts but it doesn’t have to be done often as the hair grows back slowly as the cycle of hair growth on body areas takes around 8-12 weeks to complete compared to four weeks on the face.
Laser or electrolysis The skin around the nipples is too sensitive and the pain – I have tried both – is near unbearable. Plus there are few studies proving it’s safe to run an electric current or beam of infra-red light into the breast area.
Shave I am avoiding permanent options. First, I once grew them for a story and instead of being put off my husband huskily commented ‘Oooh, how European.’ Second, I never know when the hair might be needed for a political statement. Armpits4August began in 2012 as a group of women growing their pits to raise awareness of PCOS and is now being hailed as the new Movember. Shaving is easy and fast whether I do it dry or using lather in the shower. I use the Gillette Mach 3 Manual Razor Blades 8 pack as the blades cover the whole razor head giving you more control (any more blades are superfluous).
Wax The pain is unbearable and the ingrown hair potential staggering. Indeed, most women I know who wax their pits shave in between anyway.
Epilate If there were a definition of ‘This hurts!’ epilator gadgets are it. A handheld, electrically powered device, one end features thousands of tiny tweezers that spin at high speed to remove hair one by one while you have a near death experience. For arms it’s easy and fast and the finish is smooth without any spots or shadows (you might get some redness for around 12 hours). But it’s important to exfoliate the area as arm hair is fine and can get ingrown after epilating. I use St. Ives Apricot Exfoliator and Palmer’s Cocoa Butter with Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (both from chemists) which peels away the top layer of skin. I use the Braun Silk-epil 7 Skin Spa Wet and Dry Cordless Epilator and Sonic Exfoliation Brush £169.99 which comes with heads for shaving, pubic hair trimming and exfoliating.
Shave The hair will grow back stubbly and give you a shadow and spiky texture.
Sugar My Greek/Egyptian grandmother used to make a sugaring solution and come at me with it when I was a hairy teen so I am still terrified of sugaring. Now there’s Nad’s in chemists, a sugaring solution at chemists made of sugar and water. There’s no heating you spread it on, cover with a sheet of paper and rip it off. But for me it wasn’t strong enough to remove the hair and left me with sticky, hairy arms.
Hot wax New dedicated waxing salons sprouting all over the capital offer no-appointment needed wax jobs where you can have your bikini line waxed into a Brazilian (flight strip), Hollywood (all off) or even a heart shape. They always use hot wax. ‘Hot wax removes the hair evenly and from the root,’ says Marjorie Cusack, owner of the latest to open, Wax in the City, on the King’s Road. ‘It can also be used on the same surface multiple times which means we can keep going over an area until all the hair is gone – this isn’t recommended with strip wax as it irritates the skin.’ Exfoliate the area (see bikini line) and use seam-free knickers to avoid ingrown hairs.
Laser IPL, Alexandrite or ND-Yag lasers will work on this area but only on skin tones that are pale with dark hair and they hurt. On the other hand, the new Soprano laser is less painful because it uses a massage heating action instead of the series of hundreds of single beams the older lasers use and can also be used on dark olive, Asian and black skin. You’ll need around eight treatments – costing £570 – with six weeks in between but even then testers report some hair remains so top up sessions might be needed.
Strip wax ‘Strip wax goes on thinly and then is ripped off with a cloth or piece of paper,’ says Cusack. ‘This takes off the top layer of skin and often breaks the hair which can lead to irritation and varying lengths or regrowth.’
Hot wax (see bikini line) Use a thick moisturiser all over the skin to so top layers stay soft enough to stop ingrowns. DIPROBASE EMOLLIENT CREAM WITH PUMP DISPENSER -500G is free from lanolin and other chemicals that can cause hair follicles to get inflamed. If you get ingrown hairs Thalgo’s Biodepyl 3.1 solution contains glycolic acid and has a peeling effect to oblige hair to grow out from under the skin.
Laser (see bikini line)
Home laser hair removal For the last four months I have been using the Tria Hair Removal Laser 4X in Limited-Edition Graphite £375 on my legs. Though the literature states that you can be hair-free in 12 weeks using it every two weeks, I have done this and remain around 50 per cent hairy. However, I think that with another 12 weeks’ use I will be hair free, the advantage being I can do the treatment at home during The Voice. It does take hours though. The gun-like device has to be pointed, beamed and activated on every single hair follicle and for each leg, this is about 6-700 beams which takes about 45 minutes a leg. It comes in heat levels 1-5, the higher you go the quicker your results over time and you’ll need to shave beforehand as laser can burn hair above the skin.
Shave It’s still the preferred body hair removal option for most UK women, BABTAC figures reveal. Before I began my laser treatment last October I was shaving my entire leg and now between my at-home laser sessions, still do. Along with my preferred Mac 3 Sensitive razor, I also use a lathering cold cream such as Avene Cold Cream Gel -Ultra Rich Cleansing Gel for Dry and Very Dry Sensitive Skin 250ml for face and body which contains no drying detergents. I use it with a natural bristle men’s shaving brush in the bath such as Edwin Jagger Black Plastic Handled Pure Badger Hair Shaving Brush 89p16 £18. The lathering action and the hot bath water open up the pores and prime the skin to be shaved. Afterwards, I love Dermalogica Post Shave Balm 1.7oz £14.63. Though aimed at men it’s great for calming irritation and minimising ingrown hairs.
Strip wax (see bikini line)
Epilate (see arms) I have been epilating my toes for years and now the hair is so fine and invisible I usually forget to do them.
At home hot wax A small at home pot of hot wax from the chemist such as Nair’s Microwavable Wax Pot is a cheap way of keeping small areas such as toes and fingers hair free.
Shave It can cause a stubble and shadow and thicker hair growth in the area.
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