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6 ways to remove unwanted hair

Dermatologists offer treatment for unwanted hair

Dermatologists offer laser hair removal treatments, which can permanently remove hair, except for on a woman’s face.

woman undergoing hair removal procedure

When it comes to removing unwanted hair, you have options. With so much misinformation available about these options, it can be difficult to know which one(s) is best for you. To help you make an informed decision, here are the basic facts that dermatologists share with their patients about 6 popular ways to remove unwanted hair.


When you shave, the razor cuts the hairs at the surface of your skin so that you cannot see the hairs.

Fast facts: Here are the long and short of shaving:

  • You can shave any area of the body.

  • You can quickly learn how to shave.

  • Shaving is painless (unless you cut yourself), unlike waxing or laser hair removal.

  • The results are short-lived, so you may need to shave daily or every few days to maintain your results.

  • Frequent shaving can irritate your skin.

  • Injuries, such as cuts, nicks, and razor burns, happen.

  • Some people who shave develop ingrown hairs.

How to get the best results: The following tips from dermatologists can help you reduce injuries and get a close, comfortable shave.


You apply wax (hot or cold) to your skin and then quickly remove it, which pulls out the hairs.

Fast facts: Here are the cold facts about this option:

  • The results can last a few weeks or longer.

  • You can wax any area of your body, including large areas, such as your legs, and delicate areas, such as the skin above your upper lip.

  • Waxing takes practice to learn.

  • Removing the wax can be painful.

  • Your newly waxed skin can be red and irritated for a short while after you wax.

  • If the wax is too hot, it can burn your skin.

How to get the best results: These dermatologists’ tips can help you keep it safe and effective:

  1. Waxing is not recommended if you are currently:

    • Taking isotretinoin (a prescription medication approved to treat severe acne) or have taken it within the past 6 months.
    • Using an antibiotic
    • Applying tretinoin (also known as retinoic acid) to your skin.

    These medications thin your skin. When the wax is removed, your skin could tear.

  2. If you wax at home, be sure to see what dermatologists recommend by watching this short video, Hair removal: How to wax.
  3. If you go to a salon for a wax, make sure the estheticians:

    • Use wooden sticks rather than a metal spatula to apply the hot wax.

    • Dip an unused wooden stick into the wax each time they apply wax to your skin.

    Dipping the stick into the wax more than once is called double dipping. This unsanitary practice can transfer bacteria and other germs from previous clients to you. Heated wax is not hot enough to kill bacteria and other germs.


You apply a cream, lotion, or gel to the skin, which can dissolve unwanted hair.

Fast facts: The following can help wash away any misconceptions about using a depilatory:

  • The results tend to last longer than when you shave.

  • It’s quick and easy to use at home. You simply apply, wait, and rinse off the product at the time stated in the instructions.

  • These products can irritate your skin, so dermatologists recommend that you test them. (To find out how to test a depilatory, watch the video below).

  • Some people can use a product for months or years before it starts to irritate their skin.

  • Some people dislike the odor of these products.

How to get the best results from a depilatory: Always, test first. Before using a depilatory for the first time or using it on a different part of your body, here’s how to test the product:

  • Apply a small amount to an area on which you want to use it.

  • Keep it on your skin for the time stated in the instructions (or until your skin starts to burn or sting).

  • Rinse it off immediately and thoroughly at the time stated or at the first sign of burning or stinging.

  • If you experience burning or stinging, don’t use the product. Find another depilatory to test.

  • If within 24 hours of applying the product you don’t have a skin reaction, you can use the product in that area.

How to remove unwanted hair using a cream, lotion, or gel

When it comes to hair removal, there are options besides shaving or waxing. According to board-certified dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology, people can dissolve unwanted hair using products called depilatories. These are creams, lotions, and gels that are applied to the skin, and the results can last longer than shaving.

To use a hair-removal cream, lotion, or gel, follow these tips from board-certified dermatologists.


This option involves rolling two twisted cotton threads over the unwanted hairs, which rips them out.

Fast facts: To help you thread your way through the pros and cons of this option, here are the key facts:

  • Since threading removes only the unwanted hair, it’s an option for areas, such as your eyebrows, where you want to keep some hair.

  • It’s as precise as plucking but much faster. You can remove many hairs at once.

  • The results can last 4 to 5 weeks.

  • It causes little irritation, so it’s an option for sensitive or acne-prone skin.

  • Threading is not suitable for large areas.

How to get the best results: Ask people you trust for salon referrals. Threading takes time to learn. In inexperienced hands, it can cause your eyebrows to look uneven or even cause ingrown hairs.

Laser hair removal

The laser emits a beam of light, which the pigment (color) in your hair absorbs. Over time, this can destroy the hair follicle, so the hair cannot grow back. While it takes about 6 treatments from a dermatologist to destroy a follicle, the hair will grow back thinner and finer after each treatment.

If you use at-home laser hair removal, you will need to use the device for a lot longer to see results. You’ll also need to use it periodically to maintain results.

Fast facts: The following can help shed light on whether this may be an option for you:

  • After 6 or more treatments to an area, laser hair removal is permanent, except for on a woman’s face.

  • People of all skin tones can safely have laser hair removal, but the person performing your procedure should have experience performing laser hair removal on your skin tone. Always ask if the person has this experience.

  • There’s no downtime.

  • Men who have constant razor burn or ingrown hairs due to shaving can permanently eliminate their beard with laser hair removal. Once you’re no longer shaving, you won’t be bothered by razor burn or ingrown hairs.

  • Laser hair removal won’t work on blonde, white, gray, or red hair because lasers cannot effectively target light-colored hair.

  • You’ll need to keep the treated area covered and out of the sun until the skin heals.

  • If you have a tan, you must wait for the tan to fade completely before it’s safe to have laser hair removal.

How to get the best results: Your results depend largely on the experience and knowledge of the person performing your procedure, so it’s essential to:

  • Have an experienced doctor perform laser hair removal. While laser hair removal may look easy to perform, it can injure your skin if the person performing your treatment is inexperienced. Possible injuries include burns, blisters, infection, or dark spots.

  • Find out if this is a safe and effective option for you. A board-certified dermatologist can tell you if you’re a good candidate for laser hair removal. Not everyone is.

  • See your dermatologist before using an at-home laser. These at-home devices are not for everyone. There are many at-home devices from which to choose, so it can be difficult to know which one to buy.


This method sends an electrical current through a hair follicle, which will damage the follicle and prevent hair from growing. Because hair grows in cycles, it takes several sessions to get permanent hair removal.

You’ll also find kits that allow you to perform electrolysis at home. Unlike professional electrolysis, kits don’t involve inserting probes into your hair follicles.

Fast facts: If this sounds appealing, you may find the following facts electrifying:

  • Electrolysis can permanently remove unwanted hair.

  • Once your hair is gone, you won’t need maintenance treatments.

  • It works on all hair types, including light-colored hairs, which lasers cannot remove.

  • There’s no downtime.

  • If your operator uses unsterile probes, it can cause a skin or blood infection.

  • In inexperienced hands, electrolysis can cause scarring and burns.

  • People with darker skin tones can develop a type of raised scar called a keloid.

  • Some people say electrolysis feels uncomfortable or painful because each time a hair is treated, you feel a stinging sensation.

How to get the best results: Have a board-certified dermatologist or board-certified electrologist perform your electrolysis.

How a dermatologist can help

If hair removal is causing a skin problem or you suddenly have a lot more unwanted hair, a board-certified dermatologist can explain what’s happening and recommend an option that’s right for you.

Getty Images

American Academy of Dermatology. “Hair today, gone tomorrow: Dermatologists debunk common misconceptions about laser hair removal.” News release issued November 26, 2018. Last accessed May 29, 2019.

Kunin A. “Hair removal: Many painless options.” In: Kunin A, The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual. Simon & Schuster, USA, 2005. 332-8.

Lin LY, Chiou SC. “Influence of facial threading on various physiological parameters of the skin: non-randomized trial involving adult women in Taiwan.” An Bras Dermatol. 2018;93:659-664.

Xia Y, Cho S, et al. “Topical eflornithine hydrochloride improves the effectiveness of standard laser hair removal for treating pseudofolliculitis barbae: A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012;67:694-9.

Last updated: 9/7/23