The Best Ways to Get Hairless At Home (If That's a Thing You Want to Do)

You have more options than you might think.
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Photo: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

Photo: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

Ah, it's that time of year. The birds are singing, flowers are blooming, New Yorkers are wearing short sleeves even though it's only 50 degrees out. And the internet is beginning its showdown of the Bikini Body ideologies: Lose 50 Pounds This Week So You Don't Shame Yourself On The Beach! Magically Stop Caring What People Think About You, Because That's a Thing! Fix Your Unsightly Winter Skin by Layering All 63 of These Self-Tanners At Once! Your Tan Is Offensive And Probably Kills Coral Or Something! Arduously Remove Every Follicle of Body Hair Or You'll Never Find Love! The MRAs Win If You Shave Your Legs!

We're not here to get into that. Your body, your body hair, your business. So if you want to grow your armpit hair out and dye it purple, that's exactly what you should do. But if you might prefer to clean up the edges of your bikini line, cut down on that leg stubble or go full-on hairless, we're here to help. And if you want to do all of that without having to drop a ton of cash at the salon, try one of these at-home methods of hair removal.

Shaving

Lasts: 1-3 days

Best for: Legs, underarms, bikini

Pain level (1 to 10): 1

Kicking things off with a classic. Shaving, perhaps you've heard, is a process that uses blades, or sometimes clippers, to cut hair off at the level of the skin's surface, giving it a short-term feel and appearance of hairlessness. Unlike some other methods, shaving is safe for all skin and hair types.

There are two basic options when it comes to shaving: manual razors and electric versions. On the pro side, traditional razors, like the one probably sitting in your shower right now, are simple to use and readily available. Unfortunately, most traditional razors also require replacement blades, which can make them more expensive in the long run. And, because they get so up close and personal, it can also affect that smooth skin underneath.

For the closest razor shave, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City Joshua Zeichner recommends only shaving after the hair has had a chance to soften, like after a warm shower, and always using a shaving gel or oil to lubricate the skin. "When you shave, you should be using single strokes in the direction of the hair growth and cleaning the razor every two to three strokes to avoid accumulation of hair in between the blades," he explains. "After you shave make sure that you apply a moisturizer to the skin to help prevent the development of razor burn."

Electric razors, on the other hand, use speedy oscillating blades covered by perforated steel guards that let hair (but not skin) get through. Unlike traditional razors, which work best on damp hair to prevent pulling and painful bumps, electric shavers can be used on dry hair as well, and while they don't provide quite as close a shave as a blade (meaning you'll have to use them more often to achieve the same results) they’re also virtually cut-proof, making them perfect for tricky spot or those with shaky hands.

While it's typically a pain-free hair removal method, cutting the hair down at skin level can lead to ingrowns, particularly for those with naturally curly hair. To fight back, use a gentle exfoliant on the area in the days after shaving to keep any wayward dead skin cells from snagging on new hair growth. As for those middle school rumors you used to hear about shaving making your hair grow in thicker? A total myth, according to Zeichner. "You're just cutting a hair on a blunt angle, so as it continues to grow, it looks thick and dark."

Options to try:

Epilation

Lasts: 2-4 weeks

Best for: Legs, arms

Pain level (1 to 10): 6

Epilation is like tweezing, with the volume turned way up. Using either a spring or a series of disks to grab at hairs, these electric tools work by grabbing at multiple hairs and plucking them all out at once.

Pulling hair out at the root means a longer period of silky-smoothness, which can make it a good choice for the maintenance averse, but just as with tweezing, expect a pretty steady level of small, stinging pains. Though it's slower than waxing, the design makes them more effective at grabbing the thin, fine hairs that tend to escape wax sessions and allows you to get rid of hair more quickly than trying to pluck individually. The only trick? "Epilators only work if they have hair shaft to grab on to," says Zeichner. "So make sure that you have at least one to two millimeters of hair growth above the surface of the skin before attempting to use an epilator device."

And just as with electric razors, cleanliness is next to godliness again here. "With epilation, tweezing or threading, there's always the risk of irritation or allergic contact dermatitis reaction, says Neil Sadick, clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Medical College at Cornell. The small abrasions sometimes left in the skin by plucking can be more susceptible to these kinds of reactions, so make sure that anything you're using for that job would make your doc proud. 

Options to try:

Depilatory Cream

Lasts: 2-7 days

Best for: Legs, underarms, bikini, face

Pain level (1 to 10): 1

Have you even really lived if you've never stunk up your bathroom with the stench of fake vanilla and melting hair, softly singing "Who wears short shorts?" to yourself and staring at your depilatory cream covered legs? In case you managed to miss this formative moment in your youth, depilatory creams are lotion-like products that, when applied to your body or face, develop a chemical reaction that breaks down visible hair so that you can them wipe it away, leaving smooth, hairless skin behind.

Many people turn to depilatory creams for their painlessness — just slap on a layer, wait 10 to 20 minutes, wipe it back off again and you're good to go for anywhere from a few days to a week. That shorter smoothness window comes courtesy of the fact that depilatories work at the surface level of skin, breaking down the parts of the hair that you can see, but not the shaft or root underneath.

"Depilatory creams essentially destroy the bonds that hold together the hair strands themselves," says Zeichner. They also have a far more minor reaction on the skin itself, working similarly to a chemical exfoliant, which can be helpful for those who are prone to ingrown hairs. If melting down your body hair sounds vaguely terrifying in a sci-fi kind of way, don't worry, depilatory creams are generally very safe. Though some people have been known to have allergic reactions to the creams, the main concern is for those who are naturally prone to redness or irritation, or those using skin products like retinols that can increase skin sensitivity.

Depilatory creams have improved a lot in recent years, now promising to be more effective, longer lasting and less smelly. Some versions have even evolved their methods, like easy-to-use stick or in-shower products that let you multitask by getting clean while you wait for the creams to do their thing.

The key to good depilatory use is following the directions. That means no dabbing the extra bit of leg cream onto your upper lip (the formula will be more potent and more likely to irritate your sensitive facial skin), no leaving it on for a few extra minutes (again, redness, irritation, and the general opposite of the smooth lovely skin you're aiming for) and no putting it on over abrasions or using it numerous days in a row (why would you do that to yourself?).

Options to try:

Waxing

Lasts: 2-4 weeks

Best for: Legs, underarms, arms, bikini, face

Pain level (1 to 10): 8

We're not going to lie to you: No matter how many salons and spas have touted "pain-free" waxing over the years, there's simply no such thing. It's going to hurt, sorry.

The good news is that when it comes to long-lasting, completely hairless results, wax is queen. It's effective on nearly any area of the body, works well for most skin types, lasts for weeks and can be pulled off (pun intended) at home with minimal fuss.

There are three main wax formulas on the market. Sugaring is a mixture of sugar, honey, water and/or lemon juice that's heated to a thick consistency; proponents like it for its all-natural approach and some swear that it's less painful than other waxes. Soft wax, aka strip wax, is most commonly used on large areas, like the legs and arms. It spreads easily and stays soft, being removed after a paper or muslin strip is applied to the back of it and swiftly peeled away. Hard wax, on the other hand, is applied in a thick layer and allowed to cool, forming its own strip; it's ideal for small patches of thicker hair, like the bikini or underarms and generally considered less painful than its soft brethren.

As with epilation, you want to make sure that the hair shaft is long enough for the wax to grip and that your skin is clean and unbroken and that you're not in a state to be more prone to sensitivity. "You want to be sure you're not using something irritating on your skin, like Retin-A or an alpha hydroxy acid, before hair removal because your skin could be sensitive in that setting," advises Sadick. "Also, be careful going in the sun before or after the treatment." And just like in a salon or spa, keeping your wax clean and free of bacteria is vital, so no double-dipping!

Options to try:

Laser and IPL

Lasts: Permanent (after treatments are completed)

Best for: Legs, underarms, arms, bikini, face

Pain level (1 to 10): 6-9

Permanent home hair removal has been the Holy Grail of the beauty industry for years. We're not exactly there, yet — the best option for serious laser hair removal is still your dermatologist's office — but at-home devices are now more effective and designed for a wider variety of skin tones than ever before.

Both laser and IPL work by targeting the melanin in hair follicles and zapping them with wavelengths of light. For that reason, for years, IPL and laser worked best on people with pale skin and dark hair and could even risk burning those with darker skin. Technology has improved significantly in the past few years, though, and now there's even a device on the market (the Iluminage Precise Touch) that's FDA-approved for all skin types. Pain levels can vary (some describe the sensation like a rubber band snap; others describe an intense burning sensation) but either way, don't expect this to be like shining a flashlight on your skin. You're also getting a significant level of technology here, and the price point will match, making this easily the most expensive of your hair removal options. 

Step one to reaching at-home laser/IPL bliss is having realistic expectations. Despite the visions of eternal freedom from shaving that "permanent hair removal" conjures, neither laser nor IPL (at-home or professional versions) are truly designed to remove 100 percent of the hair on your chosen area. Rather, they're meant to significantly reduce the amount of hair that grows there, in some cases by as much to 80 to 90 percent. Nothing to sneeze at, but don't pack away your other removers just yet. In the case of at-home devices, you can expect that effect to be somewhat reduced, since they simply aren't allowed to pack the same kind of power as the ones at your doctor's office. "They are designed to be extremely safe, but to accomplish this their energy levels are much weaker than what you can get in the office," explains Zeichner.

That doesn't mean they're not effective."For people who aren't interested in professional treatments because of cost or because they are time-consuming, at-home laser hair removal devices may be a great option to try," says Zeichner. "They are also very effective at helping to maintain your improvement during active treatment from your dermatologist." Sadick agrees, adding that it's particularly well suited to maintaining small areas like the underarms, rather than large-scale real estate like the legs. 

Options to try:

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