*Every* Type of Hair Removal (and How to Pick the Best One for You)
Main image – Leandro Crespi Studio/Adobe
If you’re in the hair-free camp (and there’s definitely no beauty rule that says you have to be), you’ll likely have a firm preference when it comes to your hair removal method.
Perhaps you love the convenience of a quick shave. Or you enjoy the routine of going for a wax. Whatever it is, you’ll basically have the same end goal – smooth, fuzz-free skin!
But what if you’re thinking about looking beyond simply what you’re used to and want to consider your skin health, bank balance, and lifestyle to find the *perfect* type of hair removal for your individual goals?
We’re on hand to help and I’ve asked skincare expert Dr Jodi LoGerfo, board-certified dermatologist Dr Anthony Rossi, and aesthetician and waxing expert Stacey Laricchia the lowdown on the pros and cons of each type of hair removal technique – and how to pick the best one for you.
“Shaving is kind of like that fling you can’t quit – quick, easy but also a little irritating,” says Laricchia. And when you really think about it, taking a plastic implement loaded with blades and running it up your skin does seem a bit bonkers.
But it is considered the quickest – and often the most popular – form of hair removal, despite the effects only lasting a few days.
The pros: It’s brilliant if you’re in a hurry, it’s a hot day and your legs are unexpectedly on display. Smooth skin can be achieved within minutes and a razor won’t break the bank.
The cons: As well as smoothness not even lasting 24 hours, there’s the risk of injury if you’re careless. “It’s the stage five clinger of skin irritation,” warns Laricchia. “Shaving can lead to razor burn, nicks and the dreaded ingrown hairs that pop up like uninvited guests.”
How long it lasts: You can expect to feel stubble in around 24 hours after shaving and see visible regrowth in 1-3 days.
Guide price: Disposable razors can start from £1.50/$1.82.
Waxing pulls hair from the root in sections, the results of which can last for weeks. There’s soft wax, which is removed from the skin using waxing strips, and hard wax which hardens on the skin and can be removed by hand.
The pros: Not only does the smoothness last longer than shaving but, “waxing causes hair to grow back finer and less frequently,” says Laricchia. And apparently, hard waxing is best. “It’s the VIP of the waxing world as it adheres mainly to the hair and not so much the skin, making it less likely to cause irritation or lift a layer of skin,” she says.
The cons: Waxing is more painful than shaving and Dr Rossi explains it can also be irritating to skin. In fact, one 2019 study found that waxing can harm your skin barrier (the outer layer of your skin which protects it from toxins and infection), potentially lead to dry, flaky skin.
If you’re a waxing fan though, Laricchia explains the most skin-friendly type of wax is hard wax, since it mainly leaves the skin unaffected. She explains, “It’s a softie when it comes to the skin, adhering mainly to the hair and not so much to the skin, making it less likely to cause irritation or lift a layer of skin.”
How long it lasts: How long our wax lasts will depend on whether you’re a regular waxer (which slows hair growth) and your own body but you can expect it to last an average of 3-4 weeks.
Guide price: You can buy numerous home waxing kits for under the £20 or $25 mark. Professional waxing will cost a bit more, but it depends on what you’re having waxed.
This is similar to waxing only instead of wax, it uses a concoction of sugar, lemon and water which is heated together to form a syrup. Once cooled, it’s applied the opposite way to waxing – so, going against the direction of the hair growth and then removed going with the direction of the hair growth.
The pros: Not only is it much better for the environment because of its natural formula, like hard waxing, it only sticks to the hair, resulting in less trauma to the skin.
The cons: Like waxing though, there’s still risk of skin irritation with sugaring and not every salon will offer this service, meaning you’re more likely to have to do any upkeep from home. This may not be an issue for some, but for many the faff of handling your own hair removal can make it hard to stick to a regular hair removal schedule.
How long it lasts: Similar to waxing, you can expect sugaring to last around 3 weeks.
Guide price: This varies depending on which body part you’re treating and where you’re getting it done but when done professionally, it should all cost under £100 or $125.
Similar to both sugaring and waxing, in that it removes hair from the root, epilating involves using an ‘epilator’ (a machine with rows of tiny mechanical tweezers that pluck hairs out) to get a smooth finish.
The pros: Since you generally only have to buy an epilator once every 5 to 10 years, the price per use is generally less than waxing or lasers. You can also generally use an epilator on most parts of your body. Since the hair is removed from the root, you can expect smooth results for up to 4 weeks.
The cons: I speak from experience when I say that this one can really hurt, depending on your pain threshold. The 2019 study also found that epilating can damage your skin barrier, similarly to waxing.
How long it lasts: The results of epilating will generally last you between 3 and 4 weeks.
Guide price: You can find epilators from around £40 in the UK and from around $30 in the US.
Hair removal cream
The best option for those with a low pain threshold, this is just what it says on the tin. It’s a leave-on cream which, when left for a certain amount of time, loosens unwanted hairs. The cream is then washed off, along with the hairs.
Pros: It’s less abrasive on the skin than razors or waxing strips and it’s pain-free. It’s also fairly foolproof if you’re new to hair removal (just remember to always read the instructions and do a patch test too).
Cons: One 2021 study found that hair removal creams can cause irritation and may even increase the number of hair follicles where it’s applied (sort of the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve). Many hair removal creams are also (to say the least) slightly whiffy, thanks to the chemical reaction between the cream and your hair.
How long it lasts: Hair removal cream will last you slightly longer than shaving but significantly less time than waxing and between 3 and 5 days. Since you haven’t cut the hair off with a sharp blade though, you can expect the regrowth to be less prickly than with shaving.
Guide price: The average cost of hair removal cream from the chemist is around the £10 or $15 mark.
The most hi-tech (and expensive) of them all, laser hair removal is particularly effective for those with dark hairs as it works with your melanin (the dark brown pigment in hair and skin). “It emits a light at a precise wavelength, pulse duration and fluence, which causes thermal injury to the target (in this case hair) while protecting the skin,” explains Dr LoGerfo.
Pros: The only damage caused by laser is to the hair and not the skin, thanks to the precise direction of the beam. Also, “you do not have to shave, wax or pluck as much which can all be irritating [to the skin],” says Dr Rossi. “Over time laser helps decrease the density and growth of the hair too.”
Cons: Since lasers target melanin, they are most effective on darker hair and lighter skin tones. Some types of laser are able to remove hair on darker skin tones though too.
Some people experience redness, swelling and soreness but this is usually only temporary. Also, it’s not as permanent as you might think. “It’s a bit of an investment and requires multiple appointments to achieve the desired results,” says Laricchia.
Take advice from your technician but usually laser appointments should be booked 4-6 weeks apart. You’re advised not to wax or pluck before a laser treatment so if this doesn’t work for you, laser hair removal may not be the best choice.
How long it lasts: This will very much depend on how many sessions you’ve had. I noticed that my hair didn’t grow back for a good 2 weeks after my first session and then took significantly longer each time after that. Once you’ve completed your laser hair removal course, you might be hair-free for anywhere from 6 months to 5 years.
Guide price: This varies depending on what you’re getting lasered and where you’re getting it done, but it can be anything from £60 for a single underarm laser session in the UK and from $75 in the US. You’ll typically need a minimum of 6-8 sessions per area to remove every hair, and maintenance sessions every 2-3 months to keep it from growing back.
The only permanent form of hair removal, electrolysis involves a technician inserting a thin wire into the hair follicle before an electrical current moves down the wire to the bottom of the follicle, destroying the hair.
The pros: Since electrolysis is permanent, once your treatment is finished you should never have to deal with unwanted hair, ingrown hairs, or post-shave itching again.
The cons: Electrolysis is renowned for being painful, with many reporting a stinging or snapping sensation; although how much pain you’ll feel will vary from person to person.
You’ll also need multiple sessions to fully remove hair (around 10-14 per area), and since your technician will be treating each hair follicle individually, each session can be really time consuming (from 15 minutes for your chin to several hours for your lower legs).
Permanent hair removal can also have its downsides, and while not everyone will miss their hair, some may find they do (especially if you’ve gone for a high fashion design on your bikini area, for example, and then the trend changes).
Finally, electrolysis is expensive – and you’ll need multiple sessions. In fact, one 2022 study found that electrolysis was more expensive, more painful and more time-consuming than laser treatment.
How long it lasts: Electrolysis removes hair permanently.
Guide price: You can expect to pay anywhere from £4,000 in the UK for full leg hair removal using electrolysis and from $2,000 to $10,000 in the US
And the winner is?
It’s the billion-dollar question and the answer basically comes down to your own goals, according to the experts.
To quote Laricchia, “It’s complicated. For those who are in a rush and need a quick-smooth situation, shaving might be the best option,” she says. “But remember, it’s not the best long-term hair removal method for the skin.”
Meanwhile, Dr LoGerfo and Dr Rossi agree that if long-lasting results and the health of your skin are your priority, lasers are best. And since some lasers are now available for darker skin tones too, this is a hair removal method most people can benefit from. It isn’t the cheapest option though.
For a compromise between price, length of results, and caring for your skin, hard wax may be the best option.
Finally, if you’re new to hair removal, using a depilatory cream is generally fuss-free, affordable and offers fast results. Just make sure to always follow the instructions carefully and to do a patch test first (no one wants an allergic reaction instead of smooth, glowing skin).
Look at hair removal from both a short-term and long-term perspective. Is your preferred method giving you everything you need in the skin health, budget, and hair removal department?
We’ve learned that there are pros and cons to each one. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference, but giving one of the other methods a go next time might just get you to your hair removal goals a little faster.
Meet the experts
Dr Jodi LoGerfo is a skincare expert, Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Family Nurse Practitioner certified in Family Medicine and Dermatology.
Dr Anthony Rossi is a board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. One of the most sought-after surgeons and laser experts in the field of dermatology, he is internationally recognised for his pioneering research and clinical work.
Stacey Laricchia is a renowned aesthetician with more than 25 years of experience and is the founder and Chief Creative Director of The Birthday Suit, the award-winning US-based waxing franchise bringing affordable luxury across the states.