Hair Removal: For Men Only

Is your body hair growing out of control? Hair removal experts discuss the best solutions for men.

From the WebMD Archives

It used to be that hair removal was strictly a female thing. Unless you were a bodybuilder, cyclist, swimmer, or male exotic dancer, chances are your body hair remained untouched.

Not so anymore. Experts report that more and more men are opting for the same grooming rights as women - including smooth body skin.

"Most men don't necessarily want it all removed, but increasingly they do want it thinned out, on their back and chest, for example," says dermatologist David Goldberg, MD, who regularly performs laser hair removal on men.

Hair waxing specialist Michelle Serniuk says men seeking hair removal now make up a good portion of her clientele.

"We get a lot of men who want waxing on their eyebrows - they want to take away that unibrow look and they want a shaping -- plus they want the area around their ears or the back of the neck cleaned up as well," says Serniuk, a waxing specialist at Beyond Day Spa at the Hackensack University Medical Center.

At the same time, various media reports suggest that many men are now opting for that longtime staple of female grooming - the bikini wax.

"We have definitely had men requesting this," says Serniuk.

But unlike women, for whom hair removal is second nature by junior high school, men often find themselves at a loss for how to deal with excess body hair.

For those men, here's the lowdown on the most common hair removal options available today.

Hair Removal Option No. 1: Laser Hair Removal Treatments

What It Does : Using laser light energy to penetrate the hair shaft, it actually kills the hair root. This doesn't kill the follicle (the place where hair growth starts). So technically, another hair can grow in its place, but it's difficult. That means results of laser hair removal last a fairly long time.

How Long It Takes : Roughly 30 minutes per treatment, up to eight treatments needed.

Best For : Removing or reducing hair on back, chest, stomach, shoulders, and genital area. Works best on light skin with dark hair; not suitable for blond or white hair. Black skin responds well to only one type of laser, the Nd: YAG.

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Cost : $400-500 per treatment.

Lasting Result : After all laser hair removal treatments are completed, results could be almost permanent, with touch-up treatments annually or biannually to maintain results.

Expert Comments : "Most men utilize laser hair removal for the back, upper arms, and chest and most want it thinned out, not removed -- something which lasers can easily accomplish," says Goldberg. In fact, other than electrolysis, laser hair removal is the only hair removal treatment that allows for thinning, rather than complete removal. While the average man needs five to seven sessions, as men age, more hair grows, especially on their backs, says Goldberg. As such, touch-up laser hair removal treatments are usually needed on average once a year.

Hair Removal Option No. 2: Waxing

What It Does : Gone are the sticky, gooey, honey-based waxes of the past. In their place are soy waxes, a creamy lotion that's applied to skin, but adheres only to the hair. Strips of specially prepared cloth are layered over the cream. When the mixture dries, in just a few minutes, the cloths are removed (think of pulling off a bandage) and poof! The hair is gone.

How Long It Takes : Anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more, depending on what's being waxed.

Best For : Eyebrow shaping, unibrow, hair on ears and neck, legs, underarms, and arms. While waxing can easily be done in the genital area, it is painful, so you might want to try it on other parts of your body first so you know what you're in for.

Cost: From $10 to $70 depending on what you need done.

Lasting Result : About four to six weeks.

Expert Comments : "If you've never had a waxing before, it's best to have it done professionally, though it's important to check with the salon first if you're looking for a full-body waxing - some do, some don't," says Serniuk. And since waxing can lead to skin infections, it's important to follow advice on aftercare, which should include use of an antibacterial skin lotion for several days, she says. Interestingly, one study showed that men who had areas of their back waxed before undergoing laser treatment had better results from the laser treatment.

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Hair Removal Option No. 3: Electrolysis

What It Does : Using an ultra-slim needle to penetrate each individual hair shaft, this system delivers tiny shocks of electricity to the hair follicle, killing the cells that actually make hair. Once a cell is gone, it's gone, so no hair will grow there again.

How Long It Takes : Each electrolysis treatment is relatively short - from 10 to 20 minutes - but if you want a lot of hair removed, it could take up to a year of weekly treatments. Since each hair is treated one at a time, take a glance at the thickness of your "fur" and you'll have an idea of how long a commitment it will require.

Best For : While electrolysis works for hair removal equally well on all areas, because of the time-consuming nature of the treatment, small areas are often a good place to start, such as brows and neck. If used for genital hair removal, a local anesthetic can help, though many men find treatment in this area to be very painful.

Cost : About $40 per treatment.

Lasting Result: Permanent

Expert Comments : "The most common electrolysis treatment for young men is the unibrow, but as men get older, many become concerned with excess in the area around the collar and ears, and around the nose," says Patsy Kirby, president of the American Electrolysis Association in Bodega Bay, Calif. But she doesn't discourage men from going for larger areas of clearing: "The length of treatments usually shorten as your time goes on with the electrologist. ... While the first treatment may take 20 to 30 minutes, subsequent treatments may take just 5 or 10 minutes, so it's a long-term commitment, but it's not time-consuming."

Hair Removal Option No. 4: Back Shavers

What It Does : With blades as wide as an inch and a half, and hinged handles as long as a foot, these specialty straight razors allow you to literally shave your back and shoulders, in much the way you use a back scrub brush during a shower.

Best For: Any area of the back, shoulders, or buttocks. Shaving the genital area is possible, but not recommended since a cut in this region could have serious complications.

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How Long It Takes: Anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

Cost : Under $40, plus additional blades and shaving creams.

Lasting Result : A few days, at most.

Expert Comments : Dermatologist Bruce Katz, MD, reminds us that while shaving is fast and easy, it can increase the risk of ingrown hairs, which occur when cut hairs curl back into the skin instead of growing outward. This can be a particular problem for African-American men, who are more likely to develop infections caused the by ingrown hairs. To help avoid problems, Katz says, make sure that the hair you will be shaving is wet - you might want to try back shaving in the shower. He also recommends shaving in the direction the hair grows, and lathering up beforehand to make hair removal easier. Contrary to popular opinion, shaving does not cause hair to grow back thicker or coarser.

Hair Removal Option No. 5: Depilatories/cream hair removers

What It Does : A chemical compound suspended in a gel or cream base, it attacks the proteins in hair and dissolves them. This causes the hair to loosen and fall out instantly.

Best For : Back, chest, arms, and legs. Skin around the brow and the genitals may be too sensitive for this hair removal treatment.

How Long It Takes : 30 to 60 minutes, though the compounds sit on the skin about 5 minutes.

Cost : $10-$20 with a home kit; $25-$50 or more for a salon treatment.

Lasting Result : A week to several weeks.

Expert Comments : Because some chemicals used in depilatories can be extremely harsh, particularly on sensitive genital skin, Janet Fairley, MD, professor of dermatology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, suggests always doing a patch test on a small area of skin. If you have any type of reaction - burning, redness, blisters, or itching - wipe it off immediately and don't use it. Since every formulation is slightly different, you may want to try a different brand before giving up on this method.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Norman Levine, MD on January 01, 2007

Sources

SOURCES: Trotter, M. Anatomical Record, December 1928; vol 37: pp 372-379. Lemar, M.S., Dermatologic Surgery, February 2003; vol 29: pp 118-123. American Academy of Dermatology. Medical College of Wisconsin web site. Emedicine.com: "Non Laser Hair Removal Techniques." David Goldberg, MD, director, Skin and Laser Surgery of New York and New Jersey. Patsy Kirby, MA, CPE, executive director, American Electrology Association, Bodega Bay, Calif. Michelle Serniuk, Beyond Day Spa, Hackensack University Medical Center, New Jersey. Bruce Katz, MD, director, Juva Laser and Skin Spa, New York.

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