Waxing and Other Hair Removal Options

depilatory (de-pil-a-tory) — Having the capability to remove hair.

Honestly, before I became an esthetician (the technical word for a skin care therapist, and often spelled aesthetician) I didn’t realize how much interest there is in hair removal, or that the interest is nearly always accompanied by frustration that most methods used to accomplish it are temporary.

Estheticians can make it appear that hair growth has slowed, because we use (mostly) waxing techniques to yank those little guys out by their roots — once they recover from the abuse, hairs have farther to travel in order to reach beyond the skin’s surface. It’s enough of a slowdown to keep you (somewhat) hair-free longer than methods that remove hair at at skin level, such as shaving and chemical depilatories.

Is waxing a good choice? Is another method better? Let’s look at some common hair removal methods.


We’re all familiar with shaving, either with an electric device or a razor blade (which reminds me — guys who shave every day get a perk from the process, exfoliated skin from the razor’s glide). Hair is sliced away close to the skin’s surface, and can either be felt or seen pretty quickly, depending on the location and speed of hair growth for each person.

Chemical Depilatories

Nair, GiGi, Surgi Cream and similar lotions are chemical depilatories. They basically melt the hair away (my term, not theirs). Chemical depilatories are available wherever you shop for groceries or drug items. They can be irritating, because the same chemicals that remove the hair also start working on the skin. New hair will be visible fairly quickly, although sometimes not so quickly as after shaving. Personally, I hate the slick, almost ‘glossy’ feel that my skin has after using these products. If you choose to give chemical products a try, be sure to test first and follow all instructions carefully.


You’ve no doubt used a pair of tweezers to remove one hair at a time. Tweezing is great for cleaning up random hairs, but tedious-to-unrealistic when there are lots of hairs to remove. A well-lit magnifying mirror will help you find those random facial hairs (and may be a little scary, since you’ll get an enlarged look at blackheads, whiteheads and other skin residents that you can’t see without magnification).  | Compare Prices of Tweezerman Tweezers |

EpilatorEpilating Devices

Epilators look like electric razors, but they do not cut hair — they pull it out. Designs have changed over the years, and many people who use current epilating devices say they are not as painful to use as the first versions. I purchased one of the first, back in the 1980s, but didn’t continue to use it because it was a painful process that left me with little welts for days. Users of today’s epilators say that pain diminishes with regular use — likely because fewer hairs will be attacked — not because it slows hair growth, but simply because you’ll be dealing with hairs in different stages of growth. | Compare Prices of Epilators |


Estheticians use a couple of different types of wax to remove hair from the body. Both are applied with disposable sticks of varying sizes, depending on the detail required in the area being waxed.

  • Hard wax. This wax is applied and allowed to cool and harden. It is then quickly yanked off of the skin with fingers. A quality hard wax does not stick to skin — only to hair — so can often be used on clients with sensitivity issues.
  • Soft wax, also called strip wax, is a product that becomes the consistency of honey when heated. It is spread very thinly across the skin, and covered with a muslin or non-woven strip. When the strip is removed, hair comes with it. Ingrown hairs can be a problem with soft wax, but it’s the most practical type of treatment for large areas, such as legs, arms and backs, where hard waxing would take forever to accomplish. Your skin care therapist will likely put a bit of powder on your skin before spreading the soft wax, to help keep the wax from grabbing skin when it hooks onto hairs.

Waxing may not be an option for your facial area if you use retinoids or alpha hydroxy acids — don’t forget to mention this to your esthetician, since I doubt you want to lose chunks of skin along with hair when wax is pulled away. If you do forget, your skin care therapist may be able to tell if you use those products, as they leave the skin with somewhat of a ‘shine.’ There are other skin and health conditions that may prevent you from being waxed — your skin care therapist will review your health history and discuss options with you.


Sugaring is sometimes regarded as a natural hair removal method. Sugar can be used to remove hair in a couple of different ways, and both formulas for sugar wax are concocted with water, lemon and sugar. For one method, the solution is fairly thin, the same consistency as strip wax, and it’s applied and removed in the same way.

Thicker sugar paste is used for the alternate method. The paste is applied with gloved fingers, pressed into the skin to grab hairs and then pulled away quickly. It’s similar to the hard wax method, but remains pliable enough to be repositioned and used again (on the same person, of course).

Sugaring has a few benefits when compared to waxing, including:

  • Sugar is used at a lower temperature, so less risk of burning or irritating the skin
  • It will grab hairs that are somewhat shorter than (typical) waxes
  • Sugar is easier to clean off the skin (clothes, etc.) than waxes
  • Sugar does not stick as readily to the skin as (some) waxes do, creating less trauma


Threading is a centuries-old technique that uses a strand of knotted cotton thread to grab hairs and pull them out — think of it as a very fast, mass production version of tweezing that’s most often used for eyebrows and other facial areas. Threading does not cause trauma to the skin, so it is a safe method for people who cannot (or do not want to) wax.

Threading is easier to understand when you see a practitioner in action — this threading video offers an excellent preview (although some practitioners use a different method to hold and move the thread). Threading is growing in popularity and is on my own ‘methods to learn’ list.

Laser Hair Removal

There are different types of laser hair removal methods, and each comes with its own set of pros and cons. States differ as to the licenses required to use laser devices for hair removal, so talk with someone licensed for that procedure in you area and ask questions, lots of questions. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery offers a quick look at laser hair removal, and so does the American Academy of Dermatology.

What Can Be Waxed?

Any area of the body can be waxed, but that doesn’t mean that every area should be waxed.

Women have fine vellus hair on some parts of their faces, and on their backs and chest, and although some people want those hairs to be removed, it’s generally best to leave them alone. Men have more coarse hair in those areas, so waxing is more common.

Areas most commonly waxed include eyebrows, upper lip, chin, underarms, forearms, upper arms if necessary, legs and toes — and of course the bikini area. A service that’s called a bikini wax preps you for a hair-free look in a bathing suit, while a Brazilian bikini wax removes every bit of hair from those body parts — in the front and in the back.

Most skin care therapists perform bikini waxes, but not everyone offers Brazilians, and those who do may or may not offer the service to men. That choice has less to do with modesty than with safety — during a Brazilian wax the therapist must work with very sensitive skin tissue, and that increases the chances for skin tears. Always do your homework and choose an experienced waxing pro if you desire a Brazilian bikini wax. Get recommendations from friends if possible, and ask questions about the person’s experience when you call for an appointment.

©2012, Janet Wickell
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