Overview of hair removal options

By Judith Culp, NCEA, CIDESCO

Warm sunny days equate to time for shorts, swimsuits and bare skin. Body conscious women and men want exposed skin to be smooth and hair free. Outside of removing facial hair, shaving has been a tradition dating back to pre-1900, with advertisements promoting it to ladies wanting to remove superfluous hair. Now the trend has expanded and men as well as women are regularly epilating. Thanks to television and other media, men are learning about “malescaping” and appropriate control of excess hair. Legs, bikinis, backs, butts, arms and more are locations of choice for hair removal. 

Shaving while popular has its flaws.  Ask anyone who has been shaving their legs and they will show you a collage of nicks, cuts and tiny scars for their efforts.  Stubble that quickly shows up from re-emerging hair means this somewhat hazardous process must be repeated nearly daily.

Fortunately, there are numerous alternatives which can be offered within a beauty clinic setting.  Electrolysis is the only method medically considered to be permanent.  However, it is a slow and somewhat uncomfortable process as each hair must be dealt with individually. A probe is inserted into the hair follicle and then electrically zapped. While appropriate for unwanted stray facial hair, it is not the treatment of choice for removing hair on the legs.  Electrolysis can only be performed by licensed electrology professionals but these technicians are restricted to using only an approved electrolysis device. An electrology license may not allow them to do waxing or laser hair removal, but check your state regulations for variations on this.

Laser hair removal is not considered “permanent” by the American Medical Association. It does discourage hair growth and some clients find it very effective with long lasting results. Laser hair removal works best on dark colored hair for clients in the Fitzpatrick II and III categories.  This method has gained popularity for removal of large areas of bikini or leg hair. The machines are very expensive, ($30,000 – to over $100,000), and are found in a physician’s offices, clinics and some salons. In some states they can only be used under direct supervision by a medical professional. Public safety is always a concern. While laser services are expensive, clients do like the permanency of the procedures.

Esthetic hair removal services more often include waxing, sugaring and stringing.  Waxes range from honey to resins and more.  Terminology regarding waxes can be confusing: hot wax, cold wax, hard wax, soft wax, etc.  The most accurate way to define them is strip or non-strip.  Strip waxes are applied warm and then a piece of pellon, muslin or cellophane is applied on top of the wax.  This strip is peeled off removing the hair in the process.  Non-strip waxes like Cirepil Blue and Cristaline are applied warm, allowed to cool and then peeled off.  Most commonly non-strip waxes are applied more thickly to allow the technician to get a hold of them for removal. Non-strip waxes are usually applied a little cooler making them more suitable for sensitive skin areas.  Strip waxes  like Cirepil’s Crystal Ocean are more economical for waxing large areas of the body like legs or backs. As they are applied more thinly less, product is used during the process.  Both types of wax are equally good at removing the hair. Another form of strip waxing is a product that has the wax pre-applied to strips. This strip is heated, applied to the body and then peeled off for hair removal.

There are lots of great waxes available and every technician has their preference. Regional climactic variations make a difference in a waxes performance.  In a humid climate a wax may perform beautifully but in an arid climate that same wax may be brittle. It is a trial and error process to find the one that works best in your region.  Most supply firms will allow you to purchase just one can because wax doesn’t come in trial sizes.  Ask if the firm has a training video or classes. Technique is critical to success.  You can’t afford NOT to learn the tricks of using a specific wax and the tricks to waxing different body areas.  I have seen numerous great videos available to learn waxing. While not inexpensive, their knowledge is invaluable. It only takes one bad waxing experience to loose a customer and hurt your reputation.  Take the time to learn the skill and then practice to perfect it.

Be sure and check the instructions on the wax you are considering.  Many waxes are not appropriate for facial hair removal if the client has been using products with anti-aging properties or acids, (either prescription or over-the-counter.)  Ask your supplier if they have an Informed Client Consent Form related to their wax products.  Having the client fill out one of these on each visit will assist your liability protection as many times clients don’t reveal important information.  It would be advisable to have your lawyer review this form to make sure it is in accordance with your state legal guidelines.  I recently read the fine print of a product that contraindications included allergies but did not specify what type of allergies.  If I use this product and the client has allergies, including for instance to grass pollen, and they have a reaction after waxing just how would my insurance coverage be affected?  The client’s allergies don’t seem to be in any way related to the product, but the statement by the manufacturer would seem to leave me in a very gray zone legally.

Sugaring is like waxing but also quite different and has mixed reviews.  If this is an avenue you want to pursue don’t just purchase the product, spend the money and take the specialty training to learn to work with the sugar ball technique.  I have tested the sugars offered without additional training and found them to be extremely inconsistent. Technicians who have taken the specialty classes have found the sugar ball products to be much more reliable and are staunch advocates of this technique.

Stringing is a centuries old technique from the middle-east.  It uses a length of cotton quilter’s thread to literally saw off the hair. This method is limited to facial usage and is most appropriate for clients who do not tolerate waxing. While not difficult to learn, like anything else it requires practice to master.  It is an excellent alternative for clients using anti-aging products like acids or with retinol ingredients. Stringing is also excellent for clients in the Fitzpatrick IV, V and VI categories who easily hyper-pigment.

Another aspect of hair removal is dealing with ingrown hair.  Currently there seem to be two forms of products.  One form uses salicylic. This is found in brands sold under trade names like Tend Skin, etc.  Salicylic is very beneficial but stings or burns during application.  This creates a client efficacy problem. If the client won’t use the product its effectiveness is mitigated.  Another product dealing with ingrown hairs uses Tea Tree essential oil.  Sold under trade names like Bikini Saver, and Hovan’s Gold this is a cream that mitigates ingrown hair problems.  The well supplied salon has products to perform services and to deal with the clients home care needs and concerns.  Results without side-effects are the hallmark of a successful skin care facility.  

Whatever technique of hair removal you use, be sure to follow the guidelines and restrictions of your liability insurance carrier.  Some firms may require test patching. Some specifically exclude Brazilian waxing from their coverage.

Once you have the skin beautifully bare, look at techniques related to in-salon skin coloration. Tan is better if it doesn’t damage the skin: Wax + tan; Buff + tan; Smooth + tan.  Feels good; looks good.