University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Mary Stone, MD
Associate Professor of Dermatology and Pathology
First Published: November 2000
Last Revised: August 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Shaving may be the most common way to remove unwanted hair, but it
also may give you some undesirable side effects, such as irritated
and dry skin. Waxing and bleaching, two other hair removal methods,
also have advantages and disadvantages, says Dr. Mary Stone,
associate professor of dermatology and pathology at the University of
Iowa College of Medicine.
Foams, creams, and gels wet and soften the hair to make shaving
easier and more comfortable, but dry skin can result from using these
products, she says. Shaving with an electric razor is the most
efficient and least irritating when the hair is dry, stiff, and free
of perspiration and excess oil, Stone adds.
Some people develop folliculitis, infected hair follicles. A
follicle is the tissue surrounding the root of a hair. The infection
is spread by shaving over the inflamed area. "You can help prevent
folliculitis by using an antibacterial soap during bathing and
shaving, and by using a clean razor. In severe cases of folliculitis,
oral antibiotics may be needed to treat the infection."
Ingrown hairs are another problem associated with shaving,
especially for people with curly hair. "After shaving, the hair may
have a tendency to curve back as it grows and re-enter the skin.
Ingrown hairs also occur when the hair is clipped below the skin
surface and it grows into the skin inside the hair follicle," Stone
All shavers experience razor burn at one time or another. It
occurs when the blade nicks the skin and the area is then shaved
again before it has healed. The best way to avoid razor burn is to
use a shaving lubricant, like creams, lotions, or soap.
"Whether you're a man or a woman, shaving does not make the hair
coarser or grow in thicker. When hair initially grows out, it feels
thicker and looks darker. But as it gets longer, the hair begins to
feel softer," Stone says. A product is avaliable as a prescription to
slow the growth of unwanted facial hair in women. The trade name is
Vaniqa and it is applied twice daily.
Waxing is a good hair removal method for the upper lip and bikini
area because once waxed, hair takes several weeks to begin growing
back. Melted paraffin and a layer of cheesecloth-like fabric is
applied to the skin. Once the wax hardens, it is stripped off the
skin. Several applications of wax may be needed to completely remove
the hair. Because the hair must be long enough for waxing to be
repeated, some people may experience unwanted stubble until the area
can be re-waxed.
Chemical depilatories, which work by dissolving the hair shafts,
can be very irritating to the skin. Follow the directions on the
package carefully, Stone says.
"Bleaching is a popular way to conceal unwanted hair, especially
for women who notice increased facial hair. Bleaching is a simple and
inexpensive way to make hair less noticeable for people with fair
complexions," Stone says.
Permanent hair removal requires electrolysis or laser treatments.
If you have any questions about hair removal, talk to your
dermatologist or physician.