My obsession with hair removal started in Mrs. Bolin’s fifth-grade class. I was minding my own business at snack time, enjoying my fruit snacks, when John Richards came over and destroyed my peace. That prepubescent prick leaned over my desk, stared at my upper lip and announced to the class: “So it’s true, Tracy’s got more facial hair than anyone in our grade!”
I. Wanted. To. Die.
He wasn’t just mean; he was right. I had a shadow over my lip. It wasn’t hideous, but I’d been grateful that no one had pointed it out. When John Richards brought it to the attention of class, I immediately ran home and begged my mom to vanquish my facial hair.
Thus began my love-hate relationship with wax. After 19 years of waxing and plucking, I’ve never tried anything other method of hair removal. In fact, I always had a spa professional tend to my unwanted follicles until a friend convinced me to try doing it myself. Just last month, I bought my first at-home waxing hit and inflicted the pain with my own hand.
But can years of having your skin tugged, torn and pulled really be good for it? I’ve been doing it for nearly two decades and will probably do it for many more. With so many ways to remove unwanted facial hair, which one is safest, healthiest, and most effective? It all depends on your pain tolerance and color of hair.
Follow this guide to find the best hair removal method for you:
Waxing is the most common hair removal method, and it’s generally fairly straightforward: A technician (or yourself, if you’re doing it at home) spreads hot wax in the direction of your unwanted hair, covers with a cloth strip, and quickly pulls the hardening wax (along with your hair) off your skin. Some waxes are available that don’t require cloth strips, and some don’t require heating, but they all work by sticking to your hair follicle enough to lift it out from the root. The hair grows back slowly, but should slowly start to thin the more often you wax.
Salon waxing can include a tranquil setting, and professional application of the wax and post-wax products to reduce redness, swelling, or risk of infection. Professionals use different applicators for every client, so in theory, the environment is sterile and safe, but most salons use the same pot of wax for multiple customers, which can cause infection. (Although most waxes are hot, heating a wax to the melting point is not enough to kill potential bacteria that may have contaminated the wax from a previous client.)
The cost of salon waxing can add up. If you get your upper lip waxed once a month, at $12 a trip (a low estimate, for many cities), that’s $144 a year. At-home waxing is cheaper, and can be much safer (presumably, you won’t be sharing your wax with the family).
The biggest downsides to waxing are potential acne and wrinkles. Waxing easily opens up pores on your face and oftentimes, small breakouts can occur following a wax. Additionally, all of that pulling can wear down the skin of your upper lip. Over time, waxing makes the skin loose and can lead to premature wrinkles.
The mechanics are just like waxing, but instead of wax, sugaring uses an all-natural paste or gel made of sugar, water, and lemon juice. Sugaring enthusiasts insist that it is less painful than traditional waxing because the sugar wax does not adhere to the skin and the result is less irritation, but hair needs to be at least 1/4-inch long for sugaring, whereas waxing only requires about 1/16-inch growth.
It’s much easier to clean off unwanted sugar wax because of the water-soluble ingredients; all you need is a damp washcloth, where traditional waxes require oil (and a lot of scrubbing).
Sugaring typically costs the same a traditional waxing, but finding a professional sugaring salon can be difficult. Using an untrained technician is not advised; unsanitary conditions and equipment can cause skin infections or diseases. Make sure, at any waxing salon, that the room is clean, the professional is using gloves, a sanitary paper-sheet is placed on the waxing bed and no one is “double-dipping” the waxing wand.
Dating back to Ancient Egypt (yes, even the the Pharaohs like their ladies groomed), threading involves the use of a twisted pair of cotton strings to pluck away unwanted hair. Highly-skilled technicians use thin cotton threads to trap individual hairs by wrapping around the shaft of the hair and lifting it out from the follicle. It’s very sanitary because the only instrument touching the face is single-use thread, which is discarded after the removal.
Threading can last up to six weeks and is great for individuals with “trouble spots” thanks to it’s precision; it’s preferable to waxing for those with sensitive skin, because it doesn’t involve applying substances or chemicals to the skin. Over time, frequent threading can permanently damage hair follicles, preventing the hair from growing back…which could be a good thing. Threading is also incredibly fast; sometimes only two minutes are required to complete the job. Relatively painless (no worse than tweezing), threading your upper lip can cost anywhere from $6-$20.
If you can’t stand the pain of removing hair from the root, bleaching can be an alternative way to lessen the appearance of facial hair. Bleaching can easily be done at home or in a salon, but involves some serious risks and side effects.
To begin with, bleaching products often contain enough strong chemicals to make your eyes water (you can imagine that those chemicals aren’t doing fabulous things for your skin, either). Bleaching products also require anywhere between eight to fifteen minutes to rest on the area being bleached, which is long enough for the chemicals to cause skin discomfort, irritation and burning.
Finally, over-bleaching can permanently damage hair pigments and leave hairs white, or permanently destroy the follicle, which might be a plus for some people.