This article originally appeared in the September 6th, 2020 edition of Allure Online
Hair removal is a personal choice — and it can feel like an especially personal choice when it comes to the bikini area. If you prefer the look of a hairless bikini line, you may choose to address it only when you’re wearing a swimsuit in public; or perhaps you prefer a year-round hair-free pubic area, regardless of who may or may not see you in your scanties (or less). But no matter how you time it, those who want to remove bikini-zone hair typically want the results to be stubble- and irritation-free immediately and for as long as possible.
There are a number of ways you can remove the hair from your groin and vulva, and each has its pros and cons. Some are easier to undertake at home, while others are best left to professionals; some can’t stop stubble for more than a few hours, while others require growing things out before enjoying a longer-lasting result. But for every method, there’d the great equalizer: the ultimate smoothness saboteur, ingrown hairs.
Regardless of your approach to bikini-area hair removal, board-certified dermatologist Marie Hayag has solid advice. “Do not extract ingrown hairs, as picking at them can cause infections. You can try an exfoliating lotion or cream with salicylic acid,” she tells Allure, recommending Terez & Honor Razor Bump Stopper. “If it is still bothersome, you may need to see your dermatologist for extractions or prescriptions for a steroid cream to calm down the irritation and/or a retinoid to increase cell turnover.”
But if your mind is set on a smooth bikini line, don’t let the threat of bumps stand in your way. We talked to the experts on how to get the best bikini-area results from four different types of hair removal, so stubble and ingrowns won’t stand between you and your most confident strut in a swimsuit, underwear, or absolutely nothing.
Shaving is the most affordable and accessible option, but just because it’s a common way to de-hair your bikini area doesn’t mean there aren’t best practices — many of which start before you even get a grip on your razor.
“If your hair is a little on the long side, you want to trim it first before you use a razor,” says Hayag, who recommends using a bikini trimmer, electric shaver, or even just a pair of scissors to do the shortening.
Your next prep step: Soak your skin with warm water in a bath or shower for at least five minutes. Hayag says this helps to hydrate both your skin and your hairs, making them easier to cut. “Once you fully hydrate, consider exfoliating the skin around your pubic area,” Hayag says. “Use a loofa or gentle scrub and lightly rub along your bikini line to remove any loose, dead skin and hairs.”
When it comes to choosing a razor, it’s not just the number of blades that matters; their spacing plays a major part in your results. Hayag says to look for a razor with five closely-spaced blades. “[It] prevents the skin from bulging up in-between the blades for a more comfortable shave on sensitive skin,” she explains. “More razor blades also typically cut the hairs at the surface in a single pass, which can result in fewer strokes, limiting chances of skin irritation.”
She recommends looking for razors with built-in moisture strips, practically eliminating the need for shaving cream, like the Gilette Venus Sensitive Extra Smooth Razor.
Using steady strokes, very lightly shave your bikini line in the direction of the hair growth. “You do not have to apply much pressure on your razor,” Hayag says. “In fact, if you have a sharp blade, it should do most of the work for you.”
Once you’re done, don’t jump right to moisturizer — Hayag says you’ll get your best results if you apply witch hazel first.
Waxing leaves your bikini area smoother longer than shaving since you’re pulling the hairs out instead of just chopping them off at the skin’s surface, but just because there are at-home options available doesn’t mean you should approach it as casually as you would shaving.
“There are many variables that can go awry with waxing at home, including managing the temperature of the wax, which requires heating, waxing off just the hair (and not the skin), and irritated reactions to components of the kits,” board-certified dermatologist Chris G. Adigun previously told Allure.
If you’re comfortable going to a professional who’s safely operating during the pandemic, that’s your best bet for great bikini-waxing results. However, while you may be leaving the actual waxing process in their hands, you can help improve the outcome by coming prepared.
“The hair should be between an eighth- and a quarter-inch long,” Hannah Naranjo, an aesthetician with New York City’s Haven Spa, tells Allure. Any shorter and there may not be enough for the wax to attach to. And even if you’re the most avid body-lotion user, try to resist on the day you’re waxing, she says. “Make sure your skin is clean.” Hayag concurs, telling Allure that a person’s skin should be free of products such as lotions, gels, or oils because having products on the skin may prevent wax from properly adhering to the hair.
Plan to avoid exfoliation both before and after your wax appointment. Naranjo says you’re more likely to remove skin during the wax if you do some day-of sloughing. But once you’ve waited a couple of days after the appointment, go ahead and start some gentle scrubbing. “Regular exfoliation reduces the likelihood of ingrowns,” she says, adding that a softening moisturizer should also be part of your daily post-wax routine.
Hayag also recommends exfoliating between appointments, and not only because it can reduce ingrown hairs. “Exfoliating also helps skin look healthy and encourages hair to point up, growing in the correct direction,” she explains. If you feel you absolutely must exfoliate before a wax appointment, she says it’s best to do it the night before.
As for the type of wax you should request from your professional, let them decide what will work best for you as long as your aesthetician is an experienced and trusted one. “Good quality wax removes the hair well if the technique used is performed well,” Naranjo says. “Hard wax or strip wax are both equally effective.”
The preparation for sugaring in which hair is removed with a sugar-and-water paste that acts a lot like wax — is very similar to that of waxing. “We suggest that you refrain from exfoliating two to three days prior to sugaring and that you sugar on clean, dry skin, sans any oils or lotions,” Courtney Claghorn, founder of Sugared + Bronzed salons, tells Allure. “We also recommend waiting 14 days since your last shave, or one month from your last sugaring or waxing session. Hair needs to be at least a quarter-inch long for the sugar paste to extract the hair.”
For the best results, in addition to not exfoliating for a couple of days after your sugaring appointment, Claghorn recommends avoiding exposure to the sun, hot tubs, pools, or cosmetic products with potentially irritating fragrance for 48 hours post-treatment. “Skin will be more susceptible to UV rays and bacteria during this time,” she says. Also: Avoid sweating for 24 hours. “Perspiring could potentially clog the hair follicles and cause those pesky bumps.” Hayag agrees, adding that sweating could even lead to breakouts in the area.
That said, Claghorn says bumps are actually less likely with sugaring. “Unlike shaving or waxing, sugaring removes hair in the natural direction of hair growth, which helps to prevent ingrown hairs,” she says, and that’s especially true if you’re being consistent with your sugaring appointments. “Initially, it may take two to three sessions to work out ingrowns lying beneath the surface of the skin. Regular monthly maintenance will ensure smooth skin free of bumps — and hair.”
If regularly doing anything to achieve and maintain a smooth bikini area is annoying to you, it may be time to trade in your razor and say sayonara to your waxing and sugaring pros to visit a dermatologist for laser hair removal.
“Lasers commonly used [for bikini-area hair removal] are the diode laser, alexandrite laser, and Nd:Yag laser. IPL (intense pulsed light) can also be used, but on lighter skin types,” Hayag says. “For darker skin types the Nd:Yag is safest because it has a relatively lower rate of melanin absorption, making it safer on the surface of the skin.”
Although Hayag says you should shave longer hairs at least 24 hours before treatment, other types of hair-removal are a big no-no when before or between laser hair-removal sessions. “Do not wax or tweeze the hair between laser treatments,” she explains. “The laser target is the follicle — the root of the hair — so it must be present for the laser to be effective.”
Although lasers promise the most permanent option for a smooth bikini area, it doesn’t come without risks. Hayag lists redness, swelling, pain during the procedure, burning or stinging sensations afterward, pigment changes, superficial skin infections, folliculitis from ingrown hairs, burning, blistering, scabbing, or crusting, textural changes, scarring as possible side effects.
The risk for burning is higher in patients who have tanned prior to treatment because the additional melanin “competes for the laser energy,” she says, reiterating that Nd:Yag devices are the safer option for darker skin tones.
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Marie V. Hayag, M.D.
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