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Stopping Stubble

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When it comes to hair, men and women alike are caught in a game of "Society Says." Full head of hair, ideal. Moustaches and beards, okay. But never, ever on a woman! And heaven forbid that females have (gasp) armpit or leg stubble.

When it comes to hair, men and women alike are caught in a game of "Society Says." Full head of hair, ideal. Moustaches and beards, okay. But never, ever on a woman! And heaven forbid that females have (gasp) armpit or leg stubble. Enter the wonders of modern-day hair removal. Although they have their classic applications, the old standbys shaving, tweezing and using scissors don't seem to cut it anymore. What's more, there are health and environmental factors to consider.

Laser

At the height of modern popularity is laser treatment, a high-tech option for hair removal. With this method, the skin around the treatment area is sprayed with a coolant. Then a finely controlled heat ray is aimed at the hair follicle and root. Depending on your pain threshold, you can request additional topical anesthetic. This treatment is effective on hair roots in the growth phase, but as hair grows in cycles, a minimum of three treatments is required to prevent hair regrowth. In addition, laser therapy is less effective on darker, coarser hairs.

If you're considering laser treatments, it's very important to check the training of the technician. Cases have been recorded of burns resulting from unskilled application of the laser, as well as lesions and discoloration lasting several months. Existing skin conditions must also be evaluated by a skin specialist prior to treatment. As this relatively new technology undergoes further research, it will no doubt become more sophisticated and the results more predictable. As it stands, there is limited data available.

Electrology

The science of hair removal using electricity is called electrology. This method has been available for many years, and the technique is practised worldwide. Permanent removal of hair can be accomplished with one electrolysis treatment. A fine, sterile needle is inserted into the hair follicle. The needle is connected to an electrical current, and a very small amount of energy is pulsed into the hair follicle.

Three types of electrical hair removal come under the general umbrella of electrology. Electrolysis uses direct current (AC). Thermolysis uses alternating current (DC), and the method called "dual modality" uses both AC and DC currents. Thicker coarse hairs usually take more than one treatment to prevent regrowth. Sensitivity to this treatment varies considerably, but some tingling will be felt. If the treatment is in a sensitive area, the intensity of the electric current can be adjusted. Risks include changes in pigmentation (associated with those possessing darker complexions) and high frequency blowout, characterized by a popping and crackling sound during treatment. This can cause pitted scarring.

Waxing

Just one little word to make many people cringe: wax. One benefit of the hot or warm wax technique, however, is that it's easy to apply at home. Waxing is most effective on hair that's about one-quarter-inch long. Warmed wax is "painted" on the desired area. Strips of cotton are pressed onto the cooling wax, then quickly pulled away in the direction of the hair growth.

Health Canada has recently recalled hot-wax products that use a roll-on applicator. It was discovered that when the roll-on dispenser was heated in the microwave, the wax inside became overheated and reached temperatures that caused skin to burn as it was rolled on. So, if you choose this procedure, take care to test the temperature of the wax before applying it.

Sugaring

There are sugaring solutions that are applied similarly to wax and can be found at many health food stores. One advantage over wax: any remaining sugar solution accidentally left on the skin can be easily washed off. Also, the cotton strips supplied are typically washable and reuseable. Aloe vera, vitamin E, chamomile and other healing herbs are often included in the mixture.

It takes a little practice to become proficient in this method. At first, it may seem messy, but with patience, good results can be achieved. For environmental reasons, sugaring is a particularly good choice.

Classic Standby: Razor

In the past, razors have been fashioned out of shells, flints and sharp blades. Now, the most common forms are the electric razor and the safety razor. Little skill is required, and depending on your choice of razor, you may have to put up with the occasional knick or cut. The disadvantage with this method is that hair regrowth appears within a day or so. Also, refillable razors and razor blades take up space in many a landfill.

Chemical Depilatories

Depilatories are chemical formulas that dissolve the hair root. A depilatory lotion or cream is applied to the skin and then removed within minutes by washing with warm water, taking with it any surface hairs. Before choosing this method, check out the ingredients on the label or on the manufacturer's Web site. Bear in mind that the chemicals required to dissolve hair in such a short time are also being absorbed by the skin, which could, at the very least, give rise to a skin reaction not to mention the contamination of water supplies once they are washed off.

Points to Consider

There are several important points to consider when selecting a hair removal treatment.

Cost: a single salon treatment for lower leg waxing starts at about $25, while laser surgery for the same area can cost up to several hundred dollars, although it might be more cost-effective in the long run.

Convenience: home treatments can easily fit into a busy schedule; you don't have to book an appointment.

Pain threshold: each treatment varies with the amount of discomfort to expect.

Health: Examine the human and environmental health risks associated with each option.

There are pros and cons for each method. In the end, hair removal is as individual as it is personal.

History of Hair Removal

Detailed cave paintings dating back to 30,000 BC show hair removal for decorative reasons. Drawings illustrate bodies with hair removed and artistic patterns cut into the remaining hair. Depilatory creams did not appear until about 3,000 BC when women made their own concoctions from ingredients such as quicklime.

By Roman times, homemade depilatories included white wine and bat's blood. Egyptian tombs often contained a razor with a beautifully carved handle and depilatory ingredients. Since then, fashions have waxed and waned as to where hair is proudly displayed or removed. One fashion in India was to have a beard neatly trimmed but to remove all chest hair. It was not until 1895 that the Gillette razor first appeared and, six years later, the safety razor.

The Threading Phenomenon

One ancient hair removal technique is raising and shaping eyebrows these days: threading. Called "khite" in Arabic, this procedure has traditionally been used on facial hair, although most areas of the body are now fair game. How it works: the esthetician holds one end of a cotton thread in his/her teeth and the other end in the hand. A loop is made in the middle of the thread, through which unwanted hair is trapped and tugged. It's quick, cheap and doesn't create a mess. Results are similar to those of plucking. Major disadvantage: it can be hard to find a well-trained threader outside of large cities. Possible side-effects include itching, redness and puffiness.

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