Getting rid of unsightly or unwanted body hair is something that most adults spend some time dealing with. Traditionally women have been more concerned with "unsightly" hair because it is generally considered unacceptable for a woman to have obvious facial hair, or significant growth anywhere on their bodies other than the obvious places.
While men are usually content to spend five or ten minutes every day shaving their facial hair, the situation for most women is quite different. Because of cultural expectations women find themselves much more preoccupied with the task of eliminating or at least temporarily dealing with unwanted hair.
Old fashioned shaving is a never ending ordeal for many women. It is time consuming, annoyingly temporary, and often quite uncomfortable - especially where nicks and cuts are involved. And there are some parts of the body where shaving just won't work for women - especially the facial areas.
That is why millions of women turn to alternatives such as depilatories, waxing, electrolysis and laser hair removal. What are these things, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
Using a depilatory cream involves applying a chemical treatment to the hair you want to remove. The most commonly used chemical is some variant of calcium thioglycolate. When applied to the skin it breaks down the disulfide bonds in keratin - a component of hair - and weakens the hair so it can be easily scraped off or pulled from the hair follicle.
While depilatory treatments are relatively inexpensive, and can be applied by oneself at home, they also have some serious disadvantages. For starters, they have a foul chemical smell and can result in serious skin irritation or allergic reactions. The treatments also do not last very long. Regrowth starts to appear within a couple of days. In some people - especially people with darker hair - a shadow is clearly visible beneath the surface of the skin.
Waxing is another common form of hair removal. The normal waxing procedure involves spreading a special wax mixture over the skin. A cloth or paper strip is then pressed on top of the wax and pulled off with a quick ripping motion.
As you can imagine, this can be a fairly painful experience, but the major advantage of waxing is that it does a thorough hair removal job that lasts for between two and eight weeks - much longer than shaving or depilatory creams. A major disadvantage is the relatively high cost - waxing is usually done by a licensed cosmetologist - especially in light of the fact it has to be done again every few weeks.
Waxing also commonly irritates the skin surface, sometimes causing ingrown hairs and red bumps in the skin. Even more annoying is the tendency for the ripping action to disturb the follicles causing the hair to grow in different directions and creating an unkempt, blotchy look.
Electrolysis is another commonly used hair removal technique. It involves a fairly delicate procedure in which a technician inserts a hair-thin metal probe into each individual hair follicle. When done properly the skin is not punctured. Electricity is then delivered for about a minute to the follicle through the probe with the result that the follicle is damaged so it will not generate new hair.
The major advantage of electrolysis is that it permanently eliminates hair growth from the treated follicles. Another advantage is that it can be used on people of all skin types and hair colors.
The most significant disadvantage of electrolysis is the time it takes. Even a small area can take hours of treatment. So that means doing an area of any size will take months of treatments, and that makes it a very expensive type of treatment.
Finally there is laser hair removal. Special laser devices eliminate hair growth by applying heat to hair follicles below the surface of the skin. The heat damages the follicle so it won't generate hair growth. That means laser hair removal offers permanent hair removal similar to electrolysis.
The laser method works by seeking out follicles based on the presence of melanin - the substance that gives both the hair and the follicle its darker color. That means the system works best on people with light skin and dark hair where the laser has an easier time zeroing in on follicles.
That also means it is less effective in treating blonde or reddish hair. But as new laser technology is developed and technicians acquire more skill and experience a broader range of skin and hair types are being treated by this hair removal process.
The major advantage of laser hair removal is that it provides a permanent hair removal solution that is much faster, much more convenient, much less painful, and much less costly than electrolysis. Laser hair removal treatments can be performed in minutes rather than in hours.
With laser hair removal facial hair can be removed in a ten or fifteen minute treatment. Other larger areas such as the legs or back can be treated in a few short sessions stretching over weeks rather than months as is the case with electrolysis. As a result laser hair removal has become the most popular type of procedure for people looking for a way to permanently eliminate unwanted hair growth.