Shaving? Wax? At home laser? Experts share the best way to remove your hair for the summer

With hotter weather often comes more skin showing—and for many that means increased sense of pressure to get rid of body hair.

Diet culture already makes summer a tricky time, with advertisements and headlines about celebrities emphasizing the importance of a “bikini body.” Adding a social expectation to remove hair from legs, underarms and bikini area can make it the season of body consciousness.

If you want that hair gone, there are a lot of options to address the hair: laser, at home devices, waxing, creams and shaving, said Dr. Deirdre Hooper, cofounder of Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans. While they are all generally safe, she noted that there are some things to consider if you choose to use one of these methods.

Laser hair removal

The most effective way to get rid of hair in an area long-term is to get laser hair removal procedures in a practitioner’s office, said Dr. Suzanne Kilmer, the founder and director of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of Northern California and clinical professor at the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Davis, California.

“A laser is the most effective way to remove hair because it uses a particular wavelength of light that’s going to perfectly target your hair based on your hair color and your skin color,” Hooper said.

Laser hair removal treatments are offered both at dermatologists’ offices and places like medical spas. The safest bet is to have the procedure one in the office – especially for darker skin tones, Hopper said.

“The darker your skin type, the more you really need to vet who is doing the treatments,” Kilmer said.

Only certain wavelengths can be used on darker skin types, and a cooling system is important to get effective hair removal without burn, she added.

“If you have dark skin, don’t even try going to (an inexpensive medical spa) because I get all the burns from those places,” Kilmer said.

At home devices

You might have seen advertisements all over your social media pop up for devices marketed to be like at home laser hair removal.

These tools aren’t new however, Hooper said. They have been around for more than a decade, and they aren’t really laser treatment, she said.

Whereas lasers are a targeted beam, at home devices use an intense pulsed light (IPL) of a wide range of wavelengths to work on different hair types and skin types, Hooper added.

At home devices are much less expensive than office treatments, generally safe and usually do reduce the hair in that area, she said.

“You’re going to get good results with an at home IPL – probably 60% to 75% of what you could get with an in-office laser procedure – and it’s done at your convenience at a lower cost,” she said.

However, you may be spending your money on the device only to realize that you want a more effective treatment, Kilmer said.

“They may get temporary hair removal, but it’s very difficult to get good permanent hair removal,” she said.

There is also a big safety caveat, Hooper added. The IPL devices target pigment, not hair necessarily. If you have darker toned skin or have a tan, you are at a greater risk for the device burning your skin, she added.

“I have treated three of these (burns) this spring already in my office,” Hooper said.

Hooper suggests consulting with your dermatologist about if your skin is a good candidate for IPL devices, using them when you haven’t had recent sun exposure, testing on small areas first, and keeping in mind that different parts of your body will have different levels of pigment.

Waxing, creams and shaving

Waxing and shaving are time honored methods of hair removal, Hooper said.

The thing to keep in mind if you go the waxing route with your hair removal is that as hair grows back and tries to pop through the skin, those with coarser and curlier hair are more likely to get in grown hairs, she added.

Using a cream dissolves the hair, leaving it less stubby and not quite as noticeable, Kilmer said. But they can be irritating for the skin.

Like waxing and creams, shaving isn’t going to stop your hair from growing back – but contrary to a popular myth, it doesn’t make you grow more hair either, Hooper said.

It is common for skin to get more irritated in the summer if you are shaving more frequently, she added.

No matter what body parts you are shaving, Hooper recommends doing it at the end of your shower or bath when the hair and skin have had some time to be exposed to water. And a razor with few blades is better, because there is less of a chance of micro nicks in your skin.

“Actually, some of the less snazzy razors that only have two or three blades are less irritating,” she said.

Immediately after, you can use lotion to moisturize the skin. Just be sure it doesn’t have fragrance, which can be irritating, Hooper said.

If you do get irritation when the hair starts to come back, use aloe vera for redness and over the counter cortisol cream to calm the irritation, she said.

But if you are looking for less hair, less ingrown hair and less maintenance, your best bet is going to be laser hair removal first with the at home devices as a runner up, Hooper said.

“Try to find a way to see someone who can do a laser on you who is safe and knows about the risks associated with laser – ideally a board-certified dermatologist,” she added.

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