Best for bikini areas and underarms
The newest versions smell better, don't drip and typically rinse off in the shower in three minutes (up to 10 minutes if you have coarse hair). Because they dissolve hair just below the skin's surface, you stay smoother for a longer period than you would by shaving. Depilatories are also less likely to trigger ingrown hairs or irritate than shaving and waxing, according to Marina Peredo, MD, a dermatologist in Smithtown, NY. She suggests Veet In-Shower Hair Removal Cream ($7.09 at AmericaRx.com).
Before you use a depilatory, keep these tips in mind:
- Apply the substance thickly and evenly. If your hair is coarse, give it a couple of extra minutes before removing.
- Don't give yourself a Brazilian. The chemicals in depilatories are powerful and could be incredibly irritating on delicate tissue.
- When you're ready to remove, gently but firmly wipe off the depilatory with a damp washcloth to help sweep away hair, and rinse thoroughly. Blot dry, then moisturize.
- Slow hair growth by adding a hair inhibitor. The gold standard is the prescription-only Vaniqa ($62.99 at DrugStore.com, which blocks the enzyme necessary for hair growth. This product is FDA-approved for the face, but many derms recommend it for the body, too.
Best for bikini areas and legs
The upside of waxing is longer-lasting smoothness—from a few days for dark, coarse hair to three weeks for finer, light hair, says Cindy Barshop—but the downside is it's messy and tricky if you're doing it yourself, pricey if you're not, and painful either way. You risk ingrown hairs and scarring, especially if you have dark skin. If you're a beginner, try wax strips, like Parissa Quick & Easy Wax Strips Legs & Body ($10.29 at DrugStore.com).
Before you wax, keep these tips in mind:
- Wax at least a couple of days before or after your period to blunt the pain. And take ibuprofen 30 minutes pior to beginning.
- Exfoliate the bikini area with a product containing salicylic acid, like Anti-Aging Buffing Beads For Face and Body by Peter Thomas Roth ($36 at Sephora.com). Dust skin lightly with baby powder.
- Apply wax in the direction of hair growth. When you remove the wax, hold your skin taut and pull the paper up, close to your skin (like you're turning a page in a book). To ease the sting, press on your skin immediately. You can ice it briefly, but dry your skin well before doing the next section. For a waxing how-to video, check out CompletelyBare.com.
- To prevent red bumps and ingrown hairs, use a lotion with salicylic acid daily, and lightly brush your skin before and a day after with a dry medium or firm toothbrush. If you do get bumps, treat them as you would a pimple, says Chicago-based dermatologist Carolyn Jacob, MD. "Use a topical AHA to exfoliate, and salicylic acid to calm the inflammation," she says. She also recommends Tend Skin ($20 at Sephora.com).
- If you're getting a salon wax, be wary if the aesthetician doesn't wear gloves. Ask him or her to wear gloves and to explain the types of wax the salon uses. Also, if she or he double-dips instead of using a clean stick to apply each section of wax, stop the person immediately and leave.