January 21, 2009

Disguising the Fur: Shaving and Other Methods

Here's my last post on methods of hair removal that I've tried--at least for now. For those of you who've missed the others, you can read back or follow these links:

Laser hair removal: here and here
Plucking and trimming: here
Bleaching and chemical depilatories: here


As I've probably said before, I graduated from bleaching to shaving quite suddenly while on vacation with a friend's family. I tried to bleach in private that first day in the tiny little trailer bathroom and it inconvenienced others too much--and led to sharp, mocking comments later. I had been thinking of shaving for a while but had never had the guts. I finally found the courage--or desperation--as a teenager on summer vacation in a closet-sized loo in a gorgeous mountain park. All I had was my leg razor at the time and some fruit-scented shaving gel. It was quick, my skin felt smooth, the stubble was hard to see. I was hooked, but it was hard to believe at that time that I'd still be doing the same thing now.

What don't I love about shaving?

  • I find breakouts and ingrown hairs are more common with this method than any other.
  • As time has worn on, I've also got a permanent rash of bumps and pinkness from irritation.
  • A moment of carelessness may mean nicking those uneven spots and making it even worse (chins bleed like ankles--they never stop!)
  • Extreme dryness from the shave and possibly the gel have made applying makeup very difficult.
  • All that stretching of my skin to get the closest shave possible is something I know I'll be paying for in my 40's and 50's.

Over time my method has evolved as my skin and hair have changed. They discontinued the replacement cartridges for my old razor, and disposables became a cheaper solution (now, I can keep one for my face and one for legs and other areas). Soaking my face in warm water and regular (but not daily) exfoliation have become more important over time--as has moisturizing. I've experimented with the tautness of the skin and the direction of the blade relative to the direction of the hair growth. Some resources recommend leaving the gel on your skin for a few minutes before shaving to help condition the skin, but I have not found this to make a significant difference in any way. And I've tried different treatments after the shave. (Astringents are certainly not for me, I have found. )

Right now, I'm on a mission to find a shave gel I really like. I'm torn on this question: Is it better that it's designed for a woman, or designed for a man but for the face? I just feel really awkward sidling into the men's section of the hair removal aisle, and am worried I'll bring undue attention to what I'm buying by blurting, "It's, uh, for my boyfriend. Yeah. My boyfriend."

Overall, though, I'm stuck on shaving because I find it to be the most efficient solution to hiding stubble. I'm a busy girl and I have to be considerate of others in the house. But I can tell my skin is very tired of the process, so I've begun to designate a holiday for my face once a week. I stay hidden and do nothing but cleanse and moisturize my chin and jaw, and work from home. Resting my chin on a fist and getting unexpectedly prickled does tend to make me feel unfeminine, but a shave always feels best after a couple days of growth.

For the products I currently prefer to use, see this post.

Other Methods

Waxing/sugaring: I have never done this on my face, because I simply cannot wait for the hair to grow the required length. I have tried both hot and cold wax on my legs and stomach, and have found the do-it-yourself method to be pretty hit-or-miss. I would be willing to get used to the pain if the payoff were better, but I get plenty of irritation and am not terribly skilled at getting all the hairs in one or even two attempts. Plus, it's just messy. ;-p

Epilator: Something I might consider looking into. It gets such mixed reviews that I'm fairly sure I'll just have to try it for myself. I'm quite accustomed to the sensation of plucking on my face, so I might find this a more efficient and happy medium between tweezing and shaving.

Threading: Something else that piqued my interest the first time I heard about it--which has only been in the past year or so. I probably wouldn't go the old fashioned way, but I thought of trying something like the Epicare.

Electrolysis: Though I was aware of this process before I'd ever heard of laser treatment, the risks like scarring made this solution unappealing. And considering how mysterious the cause of my excess hair is, it's probably best I withhold from anymore expensive treatments until I discover what's behind all this.

D-I-Y Laser Treatment: I won't name any companies who offer these products, but I find the idea of putting anything similar to the professional process into the hands of the average joe to be very disconcerting, not to mention far-fetched. And I've read disappointing reviews which I'm inclined to believe.

Prescriptions: Apparently there are some oral and topical medications out there that are supposed to reduce hair growth. The dermatologist who referred me to the laser clinic mentioned the desire to have me test one such cream, but that didn't go any further than an offhand comment. I'll wait until the cause of my hypertrichosis has been named before I worry about these. Speaking of which, some hirsute women have found that a birth control pill works on the cause of their darker body hair. It's a good idea to make sure you know the reason behind your problem before you invest in certain methods (says I without a hint of irony).

For more information on hair removal methods, take a look at the HairTell forums. I often go there for information.

There will be no updates until February 11. I'm off on vacation to a much sunnier part of the world, where I intend to wear shorts, skirts and v-neck shirts, and dare I add bikinis... sharing a hotel room with a member of my family who I do not trust with my little secret. But nothing's going to stop me from having my fun, I promise.

Take care of yourselves, lovelies!

January 14, 2009

Disguising the Fur: Bleaching and Chemical Depilatories

Any woman who has felt the chafing of freshly shaved legs on a treadmill would agree with me that women aren't meant to remove their hair. Ouch. (I'm trying some lidocaine. I'll be doing a lot of walking on my trip.)

But it has become the expectation to be smooth and hairless, and so to help us particularly endowed ladies to fit in with the norm, on with the show.


Still too afraid to take a real blade to my face, I tried a bleach specially designed for facial hair. You can often see this particular brand on the hair removal shelves of any drugstore (it also comes in the "sensitive skin" variety, which I preferred even though I noticed no difference to my skin or its performance). I have always been happy enough with what it does that I've never tried a different brand.

After washing the area with soap and cold water, you mix one part of the powder with two parts of the cream, and cover the hair to be bleached with the mixture. Wait ten minutes, and if it isn't lightened to your satisfaction, keep it on for another five to ten minutes. You can also reuse the mixture on other areas--I often mixed enough for my chin, then reapplied it to one side and then the other of my jaw. Of course, this meant a ritual of almost an hour every morning. And try doing that outside the safety of your own home and not getting asked questions about it. It's certainly not the most convenient method when camping. Other cons:

  • Slight pinkness of the skin sitting under the bleach, even using the sensitive skin formula. It wasn't painful and went away quickly, but considering the incriminating beard shape, it was something I found I needed to disguise if going out in a hurry.
  • The darker and coarser my hair got over time, the harder it was to bleach in one go. On my stomach, for instance, they went a sort of orange in twenty minutes, rather than blond.
  • Also because of the progressive darkening and thickening of hair, I began to find I could no longer bleach right to the skin, so there was a tiny bit of pigment still visible right at skin level.
  • Although the hair is lighter after bleaching, it is still there, and just as long or wiry. Try bleaching in conjunction with trimming or plucking and see if that creates a happy medium for you.
The nice thing about bleaching was it was less painstaking than plucking, and did not irritate my skin as much as plucking or shaving. Plus, no ingrown hairs!

Chemical Depilatories

Never had a fantastic experience with these on my legs--what do you do to kill time when you can't even sit or walk while the cream reacts to the hair? And no matter how gentle it claims to be on the tube, I always get the same irritation and ingrown hairs as I would had I simply used a razor. So you can imagine my hesitance when a family member gave me a facial depilatory cream from Avon. I hadn't realized she knew.

But I tried it. I did the allergy test. I even forewent shaving the day before and hid in the my room to get some extra hair growth going. It smelled like all depilatory creams do, which may bother some, but to me it's a necessary evil. You leave it on for three minutes, and if that doesn't yield a satisfactory result, it's only recommended you give it an extra five minutes. Aside from the lack of irritation, I was disappointed. Cons:

  • It reacts with the hair, but not close enough to my skin's surface to avoid the visible stubble of my thicker hair.

It's quick, not irritating (for me, anyway), but the results on my face certainly weren't as smooth as shaving. However, I have just started using it on hair that is not so coarse but might still benefit from a gentler solution, and it is working nicely. (As nicely as can be said when hair seems to grow so fast that noticable stubble is an every day battle.) Keep in mind that even though it is designed for your face, it should still not be used near eyes, on nipples, in noses, ears, or on genital areas.

More next week. Again, reader experiences are welcome.

January 7, 2009

Disguising the Fur: Plucking and Trimming

Since some of you may have made a resolve to try something new this year, I'm going to start going over some of the hair removal methods I've tried. The usefulness may be limited, however, because every woman has different kinds of skin, different kinds of hair, different rates of growth, different sensitivities. (For my entries on laser hair removal, see here and here.) I just hope that in some small way, it will help some of you make an informed decision on what to try next--or what to stick with.

I always like to try new things. Feeling like I'm doing something about my unwanted hair gives me a rush of positivity, even if it does all end in disappointment. After the early years of panic as the onset of hair on my body increased and darkened, I've learned to be prepared for things to work out less perfectly than I'd hope. And when that happens, it's important to see the progress made and the possibilities ahead.


The only equipment you need for this is a good old fashioned pair of tweezers you can find in any drugstore. It took me some practice to find the most grippy spot that would grasp hairs the most readily--and I had to relearn it when the tweezers had to be replaced. Be patient; it's a learned skill. This was the first type of hair removal I tried as the hair on my chin began to get dark.

The little twinge as I pulled out each hair was discouraging at first--not a big fan of pain, me--but I quickly got used to it. Soaking your skin for a few minutes with warm water really does help with the sensation and the ease of plucking. So removing any discomfort from the equation, the cons I found with plucking were:
  • It was time consuming. As I began to have to remove hair from all along my jaw, I would have to set aside more than half an hour every morning to sit in front of the mirror and pluck like mad. I used to get such cramps in my neck, too.
  • Depending on the speed at which your hair grows, you may always have new hair cycling in that you have to pluck each morning.
  • Having to stretch my skin taut at times to get at all the little shafts of hair, it often led to breakouts where I put my fingers. Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide couldn't fight it all.
  • If the lighting is uneven or otherwise not great, I'm likely to miss some hairs.
  • Plucking other parts of your body may yield different results than your face. While ingrown hairs were not a big problem from me along my jaw, I invariably get them in huge volumes if I pluck any hairs on my chest.

Other than that, however, it is still one of my preferred methods and I often wish I had the time to go back to it. This is because it is precise, gives less irritation than shaving, and completely removes the hair shaft, so you don't have to worry about five o'clock shadow.


My mother bought a hair trimmer for me when I was a teenager tired of tweezing. She'd found it at a liquidation place for a very low price--I can hardly recall now, but it must have been under $10. It was very similar to this one here: Cricket Micro Hair Trimmer

I think she expected this to provide a trim so close that it would virtually remove any hair from the surface. I did not find that to be true. Grazing the trimmer over any coarse dark hair left visible stubble on the surface. However, I still have it and use it regularly on lighter, vellous hair. You may be able to feel the cut edge of the hair as a tiny pit prickly, but it reduces its presence considerably. I'll use it sometimes on my knuckles or the very light hair on my lip when I decide that it bothers me.

So the cons for this method I found were:

  • It did not completely erase the visible presence of any dark hair.
  • It has a very small head, which would make it time consuming to use on larger areas like arms or legs.
  • If you're big on secrecy, keep in mind that the one I have sounds very much like an electric toothbrush. No one's ever asked me about it if they've heard it, but the little motor does make a soft noise if that's a concern for you.

But as I mentioned, it works nicely and quickly on lighter, thinner hair. And it's completely painless and easy to use. I've stuck it up my nose with no problems. I've even bought one for a friend. Remember to clean it with the brush after use!

More next week. And hey, if anyone feels like sharing a plucking or trimming story or a product or method you've found that works for you, I'd love it, and I'm sure any other readers would, as well.

January 1, 2009

A Resolve to Endure and Be Happy

December has to be the month with the highest peaks and lows of emotion. The pressure of the holidays and all that comes with them, from maintaining peace among family to staying on budget, and in my corner of the world driving in very inclement weather, can get the best of people. Even those who don't celebrate the season are inundated by it, and feel the desire to be with those they love, and sense the coming end of a year and a chance for a fresh start.

The fact that the most popular resolution for the new year is always "Lose Weight" tells us that we are so prone to focus on our dissatisfaction of our selves. Sure, goals are meant to improve our habits and benefit us in the long run, but if people were really devoted to them, authorities would report a higher success rate than 12%. It saddens me to think that so many people this time of year are self-deprecating, all at once, all over the world.

It's hard for us furry folk, as well. Among the challenges we share with others like losing weight or gaining weight, we have the additional bodily detail that makes us feel socially unacceptable. If you're like me, you know there's very little to be done about it than try to prevent it from getting you down, day after day after day. No wonder some of us feel like giving up. This time of year, especially, my heart goes out to you all.

I do have a question, though. Those men and women who resolved to drop those extra ten pounds for 2009, what kept them from realizing it sooner? I bet that extra slice of cake now and then, or ignoring the treadmill one night in favor of putting up their feet to watch a TV movie made them happy at the time. Now is the time of crash diets and mass deprivation. That's not fun. There's got to be a balance. We've gone most of the year liking ourselves enough to get by.

It's good to look forward, but not in despair of what we already are. I'd rather look back, on the simple pleasures that had no relation to the extra half hour I spend every morning shaving my face with the knowledge that it's something a woman shouldn't need to do. I remember successfully landing my first client this year. Enjoying my last college reading week and the luxury of sleeping in even for just a couple of hours. Trying on elaborate gowns with a member of the family who would soon be graduating high school. Emitting a girlish squeal every time an Amazon package arrived in the mail. Finding the time to curl up in the computer chair with a cup of tea and just write long into the dark. Plucking up the courage to try teeth whitening and being very gratified with the results. Receiving a degree I've been working for five years to get. Touching sting rays. Trying kayaking for the first time.

And so I find my optimism for the future. For example, I have plans to try parasailing in the immediate future, and revisit the experience of swimming with dolphins, something I haven't done for well over a decade. Yes, both activities and the entire setting of this vacation will require the wearing of bathing suits, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. We simply cannot let our fears about our looks prevent us from doing the things we want to do.