Totally BS Hair Removal Myths

We've all had our troubles when it comes to the battle against body hair — and we may even have taken some extreme measures at times (We're looking at you, Caroline Manzo!) — but knowing fact from fiction regarding hair removal can make the whole business smoother.

To help you win the war against body hair, experts reveal the truth behind fuzz- busting techniques.

Myth: Shaving body hair makes it grow back coarser.

Reality: Untouched body hair is tapered and lies flat, making it feel soft and thin. Shaving the hair blunts its ends and makes it stand up. "This makes it feel thicker, but the hair itself is not changed," explains Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, the codirector of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, D.C.

Imagine you're cutting a drinking straw with scissors on a diagonal rather than straight across. "It will simply appear thicker when cut on an angle," says Francesca Fusco, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

For a smoother shave, make sure to exfoliate the skin before you reach for the razor. Exfoliating removes dead skin cells, which can block the razor blade and make for a bumpier result.

Myth: Laser hair removal eliminates unwanted hair forever.

Reality: Laser hair removal involves zapping hair follicles with a laser that targets the dark pigment (melanin) in the hair. The laser's heat kills the follicles, and the hair falls out 10 to 14 days later. "During the course of treatments, the laser works to disable only actively growing hairs, which make up about 25 percent of the total area," explains Dr. Fusco. "It doesn't work on the hairs that are in a resting phase, which is why it's important to complete at least six treatments, so you treat all of the hair." But even so, some follicles will continue to grow if they're not completely destroyed. To get rid of these holdouts, you need a touch-up session once or twice a year.

So while it's true that laser hair removal and electrolysis are the two best options for long-term results, the laser beam is somewhat limited in what it can do for dark-haired women. (Fair-haired women won't see results because their hair doesn't have enough pigment for the laser to target, explains hair removal expert Cindy Barshop, owner of the Completely Bare spas in New York.)

Myth: You risk an infection if your technician double-dips the wax stick.

Reality: If you go for a waxing treatment and notice that the technician is about to use a stick that she used on the last client, head for the door. Despite a popular belief that the heat of the wax will kill bacteria on a double-dipped wax stick, it doesn't. "Hot wax isn't enough to kill the wart virus, for instance" says Dr. Tanzi.

"While it's rare," she adds, "certain fungi and viruses can be transferred from person to person." So be sure to ask the technician to use a fresh wax stick.

Myth: It's okay to leave a depilatory on longer if you have thicker hair.

Reality: False! "Never leave a depilatory on longer than the recommended time," says Fusco. The ingredients in depilatories can cause severe inflammation and a red, itchy rash if they're not removed after the prescribed amount of time. "What you could develop is called an irritant contact dermatitis," says Tanzi. So stick to the suggested time on the box for optimum results — and to dodge a nasty skin emergency.

In addition, check with your doctor before using a depilatory on your face — some ingredients used in skin care products, like retinol, can make your skin too sensitive to tolerate a depilatory for any length of time.

Myth: Waxing always hurts.

Reality: Short of being tranquilized, there is no way to completely eliminate the pain associated with waxing (or laser hair removal or tweezing), but thankfully, there are ways to dull it. Schedule your appointment two weeks after your period, when your hormones won't make you as sensitive to pain, and use a numbing agent on your skin before the treatment.

Noemi Grupenmager, founder and CEO of Uni K Wax, also suggests that you avoid eating or drinking anything stimulating. "Alcohol and other stimulants, such as caffeine, tighten pores, which can make removing the hairs more painful," she explains.

Another trick is distraction. "We have a patient hold a vibrating toy, or a fan, or squeeze a ball during an uncomfortable procedure," says Fusco. "It somehow interrupts pain pathways."

Myth: At-home treatments give the same results as in-office ones.

Reality: The answer is yes and no. At-home treatments are a good way to supplement professional services, but DIY options alone usually aren't as thorough as pro treatments, says Tanzi. For example, you may be able to extend the effects of laser hair removal between treatments with an at-home laser device. "Some of these devices use a window that you use to test your skin color with the machine," says Fusco, "so you know it's safe for you."

Or you might eliminate stray strands that sprout between waxing sessions with an at-home waxing kit. But before you even think about applying the wax, warns Grupenmager, "thoroughly cleanse the area you're going to wax with a natural antiseptic lotion to remove all excess oil and bacteria from the skin."

Myth: Pluck a gray hair and three more will grow back in its place.

Reality: There's no gray area here — this is completely false. "This myth started because gray hairs seem to multiply quickly," says Grupenmager. But, explains Fusco, "when you pluck a gray hair, all that will happen is that one will grow in its place."

Instead, disguise gray hairs with an at-home cover-up kit.

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