Hair, or lack therefore, has long been a symbol of beauty, hygiene and status. Fashionable women in the Middle Ages removed all their facial hair, including eyebrows and eyelashes. French aristocratic women in the 18th century shaved their heads bald so their elaborate powdered wigs would fit better. A 1915 Harper's Bazaar featured a model sporting hairless armpits -- the ensuing public frenzy over the starlet's smooth underarms helped launch the modern women's shaving industry.
Since then, the hair removal market has exploded, and now women have many options to get rid of unwanted fuzz, from waxing to electrolysis. Want to chuck your razor and tweezers? Try one of these popular, modern-day methods.
After shaving and plucking, waxing is the most common and least expensive form of hair removal used by women today. This ancient, temporary method is relatively fast and can be done at home or at a salon or spa. During the procedure, hot wax is applied to the skin and then cloth or paper strips are pressed onto the wax. The strips are removed quickly, taking hair with them.
Although the experience can be painful (for most, the burn lasts only a few seconds), waxing attracts devotees because of its convenience, affordability and speed. Klementsen, who waxes her eyebrows, says, "It's a lot faster than tweezers, and since I have hair to spare, time is of the essence."
The true benefit: Waxing keeps hair away for three to eight weeks. Home kits range in price from $10 to $50; professional treatments cost $10 to $100.
Laser hair removal
In 2005 Americans spent more than half a billion dollars on laser hair removal, a semi-permanent process made mainstream in the late 1990s. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports laser hair removal clinics perform more than 1.5 million of these hair-zapping procedures annually.
What's the big attraction? It offers a long-lasting reduction of hair growth. For many active women this more permanent form of hair removal is appealing because of the discomfort body hair can cause while training and competing.
Dermatologists say some of the most popular areas to be treated are the upper lip and chin, underarms and bikini area. Laser hair removal is fast -- a bikini line or underarm treatment takes 10 to 15 minutes. Before the procedure, patients don safety goggles and, because many women experience some pain, a topical anesthetic is applied. Then a handheld device delivers an intense, pulsating beam of light that penetrates the skin, heating and damaging hair follicles. The light inhibits hair growth and shrinks hair bulbs so they produce thinner, finer hairs.
To reduce hair growth successfully, more than one treatment is often required because the laser only works on hair in its active growing cycle, says Ronald Brancaccio, a dermatologist at the New York University School of Medicine. After three to six treatments, most patients can expect to see hair growth reduced for about a year.
For Jennifer Weiler, a 34-year-old from Memphis, Tenn., it took five treatments to remove the hairs around her bikini line. Weiler says that although it hurt, it was worth it. "No ingrown hairs, no re-growth and super smooth."
Laser hair removal's success varies by person and is not for everyone. The laser is attracted to melanin, the substance that gives skin and hair its color. The best laser hair removal candidates are those with light skin, which has low melanin levels, and dark hair, which contains true melanin. The laser targets the pure melanin in the hair rather than the skin.
Blond or red hair contains melanin that is part sulfur and iron, and gray hair, a result of aging melanocytes, has no melanin. Therefore, these types of hair don't attract the laser well. Also, "patients with darker skin types run a greater risk for blistering and pigment changes," says Robin Ashinoff, director of dermatology and laser surgery at New Jersey's Hackensack University Medical Center, because the laser is attracted to both their dark hair and their skin.
Be prepared for a hefty price tag. Costs can range from $50 to $150 per treatment for facial areas and $100 to $500 per treatment for body areas, with the national average at $355 per treatment. Some places charge a flat rate per area no matter how many treatments it takes to achieve the desired effect. Laser hair removal treatments are performed at specialty clinics, dermatologist offices and medical spas.
This method of hair removal, often used by women with skin and hair types unsuitable for lasers, is permanent. During the procedure, a handheld instrument with a fine, sterilized needle is inserted into hair follicles, one at a time, to deliver an electrical current that prevents future hair growth.
The lengthy procedure can be done on any area of the body, but is typically performed on small areas like the chin or upper lip. It can be painful, and, as in laser hair removal, a topical anesthetic is commonly applied to ease discomfort.
Misty Pilgrim, a 41-year-old teacher from Albuquerque, N.M., saw good results after undergoing electrolysis once a month for six months to eliminate stubborn facial hairs. "It's a bit uncomfortable, and there's some swelling afterwards," she says. "But it works."
Treatment for small facial areas usually takes less than 30 minutes, and body area treatments last about an hour. Electrologists charge $50 to $100 an hour, with shorter time increments available. Some clinics will offer a free 10- to 15-minute consultation, with trial treatment, to determine your threshold for pain prior to your appointment.
Genessa Poth is the former assistant editor of Her Sports + Fitness.
By Genessa Poth