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Fact or fiction? Skin Health Alliance dermatologists confront the myths of body hair and discuss the dos and don’ts of its removal

4 min read

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Whether you favour plucking, shaving or waxing, body hair removal is an eye-watering business - not least because the global market has been valued at a whopping US$880 million. And much like body hair, its growth shows no signs of slowing down, with a projected value of US$1.35 billion by 2022.

The benefits of hair removal are, in the main, psychological rather than physical. That’s not to say it’s a worthless practice, as unwanted hair - particularly in highly visible areas like the face in women - can impact on self-confidence and quality of life. But the perception that body hair is somehow unhygienic or unnatural is a fallacy, and actually compounds the psychosocial burden placed on women and, increasingly, men too.

James Stalley of the Skin Health Alliance says:

“Let’s be clear that in the vast majority of cases, we remove hair for aesthetic reasons, and not for reasons of skin health. While arguably a lot of our body hair is a relic of evolution and we can function just fine without it, hair exists for reasons as diverse as thermoregulation, helping to trap or remove body heat, eye protection and friction protection. So there is generally no benefit to the skin of hair removal, and in many cases, no harm either. But the benefits to how people feel about themselves can be enormous.”

Skin Health Alliance experts were asked at a meeting in June to tackle some common hair removal myths:

Shaving hair makes it grow back thicker.

“Not true. If you look at a hair under a microscope, the end is tapered – a bit like the end of an artist’s paintbrush. But imagine cutting that paintbrush across its thickest middle section – it will now look thicker at the top. If a hair is shaved, the end becomes blunt, and this can also make it feel bristly.” – Dr. Susan Mayou, consultant dermatologist, London

During pregnancy, an increase or decrease in body hair can help predict the gender of your baby.

“This is a misunderstanding of how hormone levels affect hair growth. It is true that if a woman has high levels of testosterone, which can be caused by certain genetic syndromes, she may have patterns of hair growth, or even hair loss, that you would more commonly find in men. A common example is facial hair in women with polycystic ovaries syndrome. But this is not the same as fluctuating hormone levels during menstrual cycles or pregnancy. Carrying a male child will not make you more hairy. - Dr Tabi Leslie, consultant dermatologist, London

People with sensitive skin should not shave.

“This is not the case for many people. The logic here is that if you are scraping the skin while shaving, it is may damage the skin’s barrier function, which is largely provided by the very outermost layer of skin and dead skin cells. Ingredients in shaving products may also cause problems for people with specific allergies or sensitivity to those chemicals. The trouble is that sensitive skin is a generic term covering a range of possible issues, and not all of these will be affected by shaving.” – Dr Susan Mayou, consultant dermatologist, London

Removing body hair when young will lead to less body hair later in life.

“This is definitely true for lasering, and most methods which remove the hair from the root, like waxing. Many people have over-plucked their eyebrows and regretted it later – there are only so many times you can remove a hair from its follicle without damaging it to the point where it won’t return. That’s not the case for methods that just cut the hair at the skin surface level, such as shaving and creams – the hair’s root is still intact so it will keep growing back.” – Dr Alexis Granite, consultant dermatologist, New York and London

Think pulling up weeds compared to trimming them, and you’ll get the idea.

Lasering too young can actually stimulate hair growth.

“This one’s doing the rounds in professional circles as well as with the public. Personally, I haven’t seen sufficient evidence to back up the idea that lasering in young adulthood can actually cause increased hair growth. However, there is a myriad of other reasons why it may not be suitable for this age group – such as patient consent and cost.” – Dr Alexis Granite, consultant dermatologist, New York and London

You should not remove hairs from moles.

“Hair growing out of a mole is actually a good sign – it would be less likely to grow out of a cancerous mole. And there’s no evidence that shaving or plucking the hair will traumatise the mole and turn it into a melanoma.” - Dr Susan Mayou, consultant dermatologist, London

Men have it easy!

“Manscaping is definitely a growing trend. In clinic, we have seen a huge increase in male clients for permanent hair reduction. Previously it was seen as the reserve of gay men, but that’s certainly not the case now. It is generational though – we see more men under 40 than over for lasers and IPL. Male body hair tends to be darker and coarser, so when looking for home hair removal methods, men may find epilation and waxing more effective than shaving. On the flip side, men are more concerned over hair loss on their heads, with many coming in for treatment for receding hair lines, so they now face pressure regarding both body and head hair!” – Dr Alexis Granite, consultant dermatologist, New York and London

According to a recent Skin Health Alliance survey, 31% of British men remove hair from their crotch area, and one in ten from their backsides. 41% remove ear and nasal hair, 29% shape their eyebrows, 20% remove chest hair and 13% remove hair from their backs. Less than a third (29 %) did not remove any body hair.