Hair Removal Methods: What Works and What Doesn’t

August 21, 2001

© 2001, Andrea James

Generally considered a “cosmetic” issue, hair removal can be a medical necessity for skin graft preparation, ingrown eyelashes, and various other problems. Changes in hair-growth patterns are sometimes a symptom of serious conditions such as hormonal imbalances or glucose intolerance.

Many cultures have an aesthetic “ideal” amount of hair for males and females. For some of us, unwanted hair that exceeds this arbitrary standard can cause real or perceived problems with social acceptance. Thus managing or removing unwanted hair can go beyond being a simple “cosmetic” problem.

The information I’ve compiled would fill a book, so if you’re researching a specific method, you can go right to that topic. For a more thorough review, I recommend reading the pages in order.

Note: This series of articles is under construction.
The topics will be posted and linked below as they are completed.

Background Information

Temporary Methods

Hair removal can be achieved through depilation (removing part of the hair above the skin’s surface) or epilation (removing the entire hair). For many consumers, temporary methods at regular intervals are acceptable.

  • Depilation lasting several hours to several days can be achieved by:
    • Shaving or trimming (manually or with electric shavers)
    • Depilatories (creams or “shaving powders” which chemically dissolve hair)
    • Friction (rough surfaces used to buff away hair)
  • Epilation lasting several days to several weeks can be achieved by:
    • Tweezing
    • Waxing (a hot or cold layer is applied and then removed with porous strips)
    • Sugaring (similar to waxing, but with a sticky paste)
    • Threading (or khite, in which a twisted thread catches hairs as it’s rolled across the skin)
    • Rotary epilators (devices which rapidly grasp hairs and pull them out by the root)

“Permanent” Methods

If you’re seeking permanent hair removal, you have several imperfect options. A number of methods have been developed that use chemicals, energy of varying types, or a combination to target the areas that regulate hair growth. Permanently destroying these areas while sparing surrounding tissue is a difficult challenge. I recommend relying on a body of published, peer-reviewed scientific evidence to ensure the effectiveness of a method.

  • Permanent hair removal for most
    • Electrolysis
  • Permanent hair reduction for some
  • Lasting hair inhibition for many (requires continuous use)
  • Restricted methods
    • X-ray (banned in the United States)
    • Photodynamic therapy (experimental)
  • Doubtful methods
    • Electric tweezers
    • Transdermal or transcutaneous hair removal
    • Photoepilators
    • Microwaves
    • Dietary supplements
    • Nonprescription topical preparations


Ms. James is a Chicago-based writer and consumer activist who owns

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This page was posted on August 21, 2001.