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beauty lessons:

fuzz-free
in a flash

A (re-)education in hair removal, just in time for swimsuit season.
Written By Fiorella Valdesolo
In a perfect world, all of us would be genetically blessed with smooth, hairless limbs. Next-best scenario, we would have planned ahead and booked out five months’ worth of laser appointments to ensure a stubble-free future (see our Fuzz-Free Forever story). But if, like many of us, you have procrastinated on calling up the laser specialist, or you simply don’t relish the thought of getting your follicles perma-zapped, don’t despair. 
Below, we’ve enlisted the experts, from doctors to star waxers, to break down the ins and outs of quick-fix hair-removal strategies. What you learn might surprise you...
The longest of the short-term solutions, waxing is designed to grab and pull out each hair at the root for a clean, lasting finish. Traditionally, there are two different types of wax: hard, which peels off like putty; and soft and creamy, designed to be removed with a cotton muslin strip. The choice of hard vs. soft wax generally depends on the targeted area of your body. “The blue hard wax is specially formulated with certain polymers to wrap around the hair and really hold it tight, so it’s not sticking to the skin as much as it’s sticking to the hair,” says Paz Stark, founder of L.A.’s Stark Waxing Studio.

TARGET AREA: “Hard wax is ideal for really coarse hair in smaller, sensitive parts of the body, like the underarm and bikini,” Stark explains. “For larger areas—like the back, arms, shoulders, and legs—we use a soft cream- or honey-based wax.”
STAYING POWER
While hair-growth rates vary from individual to individual (and by season!), a good estimate for waxing appointments is every 3 to 5 weeks. “Four weeks for areas like lower legs and bikini, and two to three for underarms,” says Mariola Barczewska, an esthetician at the perpetually packed Haven in New York’s Soho. “Since upper leg hairs tend to grow slower than lower leg, you can get away with waxing your full leg every other visit.” 
PAIN LEVEL
That waxing’s pain potential has been pop culture fodder (see Sex and the City’s infamous episode of Carrie’s first Brazilian) is no surprise; after all, the act (hot wax, bare flesh) can sound primitive to the uninitiated. Wax selection is really a question of lesser evils, but “hard wax is generally the least painful option [for bikini],” says Barczewska. To avoid the potential for increased ouch factor, avoid waxing three days before, and during, your period.
PREP
For waxing to go, well, smoothly, hair needs to be a certain length. “About a quarter inch or as long as a grain of rice,” says Tracey Garcia, a specialist at Spruce & Bond. If you are prone to ingrowns, she advises exfoliating the area the day before with a gentle scrub, a mitt, or salicylic acid–based chemical exfoliant. “That helps kill the bacteria so you’re not having issues with the inflamed follicle,” she explains. Another oft-overlooked factor to consider pre-waxing, according to Stark, is what you’ve put on or in your body during the prior week. “Antibiotics can make you more sensitive, and even something like drinking the night before can cause your body to react differently to the wax because you are dehydrated.” 
POST-TREATMENT
A few absolute no-nos right after waxing: SoulCycling (or any other workout, for that matter), skinny jeans, and exfoliating, all of which can lead to irritation and, in the worst cases, infection. (Ideally, give skin 24 hours to calm down before skinny dipping to avoid stinging, Stark advises.) The next day you can use Completely Bare’s Bikini Bump Blaster or Malin + Goetz’s Ingrown Hair Cream—both have a combo of salicylic and glycolic acids to prevent bumps—or slather on Dr. Alkaitis Organic Soothing Gel, which has a calming and cooling effect. Exfoliating two or three days later (Stark favors a loosely woven mitt, used dry in a circular wax-on, wax-off motion on dry skin) will optimize your results. “You’re allowing those baby hairs to grow out without getting trapped,” explains Stark.
WHERE TO WAX
Stark Waxing Studio: 8701 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA 90069; (310) 855-1150
Haven Spa: 250 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10012; (212) 343-3515 
Spruce & Bond764 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10065; (646) 360-1440
  • ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALISON HUTCHISON
The drugstore aisles may have been stacked with them for decades, but the newest depilatories have vastly improved on that once stomach-turning scent (with pleasantly fragranced and unscented varieties) and added more hydrating, skin-friendly ingredients. As D.C. dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi (a specialist in hair removal) explains, these creams work by dissolving hair.

TARGET AREA: While you can use them on any part of the body, they are the most effective means for eliminating peach fuzz or the vellus hair on forearms. Another factor working in depilatories’ favor: they dissolve the hair’s protein structure, so they result in fewer ingrowns.
STAYING POWER
You’re just dissolving hair at the surface (not grabbing it from the root), so you will have to use depilatory creams with more frequency, about on par with shaving. How long their effects last will depend on the coarseness of hair—expect what’s in your bikini area to resurface faster than your baby-fine arm hair.
PAIN LEVEL
Zero. “Sometimes people have an immediate allergy to the chemicals, but that’s not common,” says Tanzi. If you tend to react to your products, try a test patch before going all in.
PREP
Depilatories are safe—when used as directed. That means setting an iPhone timer is key. “You have to be paying attention,” says NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe. “If you leave it on for less than the suggested amount of time, you may end up with a gooey residue on the hair; leave it on for a few minutes too long and you can actually get a chemical burn.” Avoid using these products on any broken skin to prevent potential irritation. 
POST-APPLICATION
Wash hands thoroughly, and be gentle to the treated area (retire that aggressive body brush for a few days). Steer clear of heavily fragranced moisturizers to prevent potential irritation.
To use a gardening metaphor: If waxing is like weeding (pulling up hairs by the root), shaving, says Stark, is akin to mowing the lawn because you lop off just the top layer of growth. Despite the fact that its results are short-lived, the trusty razor remains the most popular hair-removal tool in town. That said, Bowe believes most women are actually shaving the wrong way.

TARGET AREA: Legs and underarms. Most specialists caution against shaving the bikini line—it’s tantamount to begging for ingrowns.
STAYING POWER
Short, although grow-back time varies wildly from individual to individual (from a few days to, if you’re lucky, a week) and body part to body part. Hair on the lower legs, for example, grows faster than that on the thighs.
PAIN LEVEL
Low to none, occasional nicks notwithstanding. Discomfort from ingrown hair and razor burn (both side effects of improper shaving) are the most widely reported pitfalls.
PREP
First, says Tanzi, choose a high-quality razor (at least a triple blade), change it every few times you use it, and never, ever wield it dry. “The best way to shave is five minutes after hopping in the shower. Being in a warm, wet environment for a few minutes gives your skin and hair some time to soften,” adds Bowe. Tanzi recommends using an unscented shaving cream with a soothing ingredient like oatmeal.
DURING
According to Bowe, when it comes to legs, you’ve likely been shaving incorrectly since junior high. “First shave down with the grain, and then shave up against the grain,” she explains. “If you shave against the grain you are cutting the hair in such a way that the tip is in the shape of a rectangle, so it looks thicker and denser and feels coarser to the touch. But if you shave first in the direction of the grain and then against it, the hair actually grows back as a triangle so it looks thinner and feels smoother.”
POST-SHAVE
Don’t wait, hydrate. Bowe advises moisturizing with sunflower, coconut, or bio oil—or Cetaphil cream—immediately after shaving. Should a razor bump develop, put on a little cortisone to decrease the inflammation, and if a hair is trapped beneath the surface use an exfoliating scrub (occasionally) to see if it will pierce the surface. “If it does get puffy or painful, you should see your derm, because they can get infected,” Bowe warns. “I tell my patients to wait a full day after shaving to hop into the pool,” she adds. “They carry viruses like molluscum, and if you have open areas on the skin, like razor or wax burn, you have an increased risk of catching one of these germs!”

MAKE IT
PERMANENT

If you’re in the market for long-lasting hair removal, brush up on the best options here.