Hair removal for the bikini area is one of those love-hate situations, right? You love slipping on a bathing suit and not having to worry about an awkward situation, but you hate the (often painful) process of getting rid of that unwanted hair.
If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Many women seem to be removing all of their hair in the bikini area these days, which can be particularly painful, says Shilpi Agarwal, MD, a family medicine and integrative physician in Los Angeles. "I've seen more patients going completely bare down there than ever before, and as a result, I've also seen more infections and ingrown hairs," Agarwal says.
After all, the hair removal trend may be to get rid of it all, but it's important to remember that pubic hair does have an anatomical function, says Agarwal. "It can prevent bacterial entry into the genital area and onto the skin," she says. "So if you are able to spare some hair, do keep pubic hair near the vaginal canal and opening."
Whether you're going for the full Brazilian or just want to do minimal bikini-line grooming, here are your options, as well as some tips and tricks that'll help make the experience—and results—positive. "When done properly, all methods can be safe," Agarwal says.
Quite possibly the easiest technique, a simple razor and shaving gel or cream are all you need to get your lower half ready for bathing suit season. If you're worried about shaving because you've heard it'll make your hair grow back thicker or faster, experts say you can put those fears aside. We all have a set number of hair follicles, and new ones aren't created after you shave. Also, hair grows at a set rate. If it seems to be growing faster after shaving, it's likely because you're noticing the changes more. However, if you're planning on grooming more than your inner thighs, Agarwal says shaving does come with some downsides. "Shaving tends to leave behind the base of the hair or follicle, which increases ingrown hairs and the possibility of infection," Agarwal says. If you are going to shave your bikini area, be sure to shave only after the area has been submerged in warm water (say, after a bath), which softens the hair follicles and makes hair removal easier. And don't skimp on your razor. Use a sharp razor for best results.
This is one of the more popular methods for the bikini area, the experts say. Warm wax is applied to the hair and skin, followed by a strip of paper or cloth that is quickly removed. This special paper or cloth removes hair from its root, leaving behind smooth, hairless skin. While most women like the results, Agarwal warns that this method can cause some skin irritation and even infection. "Infection can occur because along with the hair, the surface layer of skin is also removed," she says. "This creates an easy entry point for bacteria and fungus." One other concern: If the wax is too hot, it can burn your skin. So, be sure to test a patch if you're waxing at home or ask your esthetician to do the same. "Also, I always tell my patients to avoid getting any type of waxing service one week before their period," says Agarwal. "During this time, the genital area can be more sensitive and our pain threshold is slightly decreased."
Jodi Shays, owner and founder of the Queen Bee salons in Los Angeles, says there are other things to keep in mind before a waxing appointment. "Do come freshly showered and if you're not, bring a packet of your favorite wet wipes to use before your appointment," she says. Shays also recommends you exfoliate your bikini area gently the day of your wax appointment, as it makes it easier to lift the hair out and leads to better results. "You can also pop a pain reliever or two 20 minutes before your appointment, and if you don't like that method, then practice your yogi breathing," she says. "If your body is tense, your nerve endings will also be tense, creating a much more uncomfortable hair removal experience."
Depilatory creams, such as Nair, work by breaking down the protein structure in hair, making the hair easily removed when rubbed off. It's the chemicals in these creams that cause this reaction with your hair—chemicals that can also cause a burn if left on your skin for too long, Agarwal says. "If you get a chemical burn from a depilatory cream, your skin may look like it's been chapped or scabbed, and swelling, burning, and even itching can occur," she says. "That's why it's important to test a cream on a small patch of skin before slathering it on a larger area. Many patients are also allergic to depilatories and don't realize it until it's too late."
Laser hair removal
According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, this has become one of the most common cosmetic procedures. It works by using highly concentrated beams of light to penetrate the melanin pigment in the hair follicle and destroy it, preventing new hair from growing. Depending on the laser being used (there are various types) as well as your skin color and the color and thickness of your hair, it can take multiple sessions—often spread four to eight weeks apart—to achieve permanent results, says David Bank, a board-certified dermatologist and author of Beautiful Skin: Every Woman's Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age. "Laser hair removal is my favorite method because it's highly effective and very safe," says Bank. "The risks are minimal with an experienced aesthetician who is trained in how to properly use a laser." Agarwal agrees: "It tends to be most effective, but be sure you make an appointment with a licensed professional," she says. "The settings of a laser need to be tailored to your skin type, so going to an inexperienced practitioner can be very dangerous, with burns being a nasty potential side effect." Other possible downsides include pain, blisters, skin pigmentation, and even scarring.
In addition to seeing an experienced practitioner, Bank recommends having laser hair removal done when your skin isn't tanned, as the laser may take the pigment out of your skin. Also, avoid anti-inflammatory drugs, aspirin, and herbal supplements before laser hair removal, because they might increase your risk of bleeding. You'll also want to avoid sun exposure for at least one week after your appointment, so this method definitely requires more planning than the others. It is also the most expensive option, with fees ranging anywhere from $350 to $500 for each bikini area procedure.
This procedure involves a licensed practitioner using a wand that emits an electrical current to destroy the growth center of the hair follicle, which prevents future hair growth. While electrolysis does lead to permanent hair removal, the amount of hair being removed—as well as your hair's coarseness—can lead to varied results, meaning you'll likely have to have multiple treatments. Keep in mind that your practitioner will probe every single hair, one by one, with the electrolysis needle. That means treating the entire bikini area won't be possible in one session. While electrolysis is typically less expensive than laser hair removal, it's still costly, especially considering that multiple appointments are often necessary.