Depilation is a generic term for hair removal which affects the part of the hair above the surface of the skin. The most common form of depilation is shaving. Another popular option is the use of chemical depilatories, which work by breaking the disulfide bonds that link the protein chains that give hair its strength, making the hair disintegrate.
Epilation is removal of the entire hair, including the part below the skin. Some individuals may use waxing, sugaring, epilation devices, lasers, Intense Pulsed Light or previously electrolysis (cosmetology). Hair is also sometimes removed by plucking.
Reasons for removing hair
Hair removal has been practiced for centuries in almost all human cultures. The methods used vary among times and regions, but shaving is the most common method.
Removal of hair for medical reasons
Patients' body hair was once shaved before surgery for reasons of hygiene; however, this turned out to be counter-productive, and as a result patients are no longer shaved in many hospitals. The shaving of hair has sometimes been used in attempts to eradicate lice or to minimize body odor due to accumulation of odor causing micro-organisms in hair. Some people find it medically necessary to remove ingrown eyelashes.
Removal of hair for social, cultural, or sexual reasons
Hair is normally removed for social and sexual reasons related to the social role of hair in human society. Many cultures have an aesthetic "ideal" amount of hair for males and females. People whose hair violates such standards may experience real or perceived problems with social acceptance.
Many men in Western cultures shave their facial hair, to the point that only a minority of men has a beard. This is in spite of the fact that facial hair grows fast and has to be shaved daily to achieve a clean-shaven or hairless look. Some men do not grow beards simply because they cannot grow a "full" beard. What qualifies as a "full" beard varies from man to man, but it usually means one that isn't blotchy (spots with little or no beard hair). There is also the problem of the beard being a different color than the scalp hair and looking odd in an undesirable way. Still other beards grow out in such a way as to look gnarly or growing in all directions thus not enabling the beard to have a groomed look. Finally, some men have beards that are too coarse for their facial skin and thus make it itch all the time. For any single or combination of these reasons, many men do not grow a beard and thus go clean-shaven instead, though they may occasionally try growing a beard from time to time to see if things have changed for the positive.
In some cultures (e.g. Sikhs), men cannot shave or otherwise remove their hair. In other cultures, men or women may not be allowed to cut their hair.
In Western culture, many women shave their body hair in the belief that body hair is not feminine (see gender role), or because they think it makes them look ugly. Many women in America and Japan shave off all their pubic hair in hopes of looking more youthful thus more attractive to their sexual mate and/or in the desire to simply look and feel younger themselves. By shaving off graying, thinning, and/or brittle hair, they get rid of the aging evidence. But it isn't just middle-age women that do so. With youth being so prized in American and Japanese cultures, young women do so to make themselves appear even more youthful. The practice though is most commonly done by upper-class women in these two countries and a usual practice is to make a couple of trips to health spas that will use lasers or electrolysis to permanently remove all the pubic hair to save future labor by them. In some US cities (such as Dallas), parents give this as part of their high school graduation present to their daughters. It being given along with paying for breast implants to make their daughters more attractive when husband-hunting on college campuses. Many women of African descent commonly shave all their groin pubic hair due to its common coarse nature to reduce irritation of their partner's skin due to rapid repeated rubbing that takes place during sexual intercourse.
Some men shave their heads, either as a fashion statement or to cover up male pattern baldness. A very few women also shave their heads for fashion reasons or to make a social political statement.
Removal of hair in military institutions
Shaving of a man's hair has been used as a means of stripping them of their former identity. This is sometimes done at the beginning of military training, and is done as part of a process of trying to instill a new identity into the new soldier. No military in the world does this to female recruits, possibly because of expectations of psychological trauma. Female recruits sometimes have their hair "bobbed" (cut so it is off their shoulders).
Removal of hair as punishment
In some situations, people's hair is shaved as a part of punishment for a crime. After World War II, this was a common punishment in France for women that collaborated with the Nazis during the occupation. Sometimes, male prisoners are shaved to convert their "freeman" identity to a "prisoner" identity, and to make them more easily identifiable if they were to escape from prison.
Places on the body where hair is often removed
Hair grows on most areas of the human body, except for the palms of the hands and the feet. But hair is most noticeable in most people in a small number of areas that are most commonly waxed, trimmed, plucked, or shaved. These areas are the:
Hair removal methods
Many products on the market have proven fraudulent. Many other products exaggerate the results.
Permanent hair removal involves 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.
Permanent hair removal for most
Permanent hair reduction for some
Lasting hair inhibition for many (requires continuous use)
- Prescription oral medications
- A new method of epilation is to use enzymes that inhibit the development of new hair cells. Hair growth will become less and less until it finally stops, normal depilation/epilation will be performed during that time. Products include the presciption drug Vaniqa (active ingredient eflornithine hydrochloride inhibiting the enzyme ornithine decarboxylase) - effective for 46% of women.
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:
- Waxing (a hot or cold layer is applied and then removed with porous strips)
- Plucking (hairs are plucked, or pulled out, with tweezers)
- Sugaring (similar to waxing, but with a sticky paste)
- Threading (also called fatlah 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)
Some methods are still in the experimental stage or have been banned for most uses due to adverse effects.
- X-ray (banned in the United States)
- Photodynamic therapy (experimental)
Many methods have been proposed or sold over the years without published clinical proof they can work as claimed.
- Electric tweezers
- "Transdermal electrolysis"
- "Transcutaneous hair removal"
- Foods and Dietary supplements
- Nonprescription topical preparations (also called "hair inhibitors," "hair retardants," or "hair growth inhibitors")
- Hair removal facts (http://www.hairfacts.com/index.html) for consumers