Body hair can seem like more of an inconvenience than anything else. After all, add up the minutes and you’ll find that you’ve probably spent hours (if not days!) shaving your legs. And between the nicks and the ingrown hairs, dealing with your body hair can feel like a battle. But it doesn’t have to be—especially once you learn more about it. Here’s what you should know.
Anyone who’s groomed her bikini line knows that it’s a hotspot for ingrown hairs. It happens for two reasons. First, “the hairs there may be curlier than underarm or leg hair, so when they start growing, they may curve back under the skin instead of coming straight out,” says Jessica Krant, MD, a dermatologic surgeon at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York in NYC. Secondly, your bikini line endures constant friction and pressure from clothing, which can keep the hairs from growing straight out (as they should) and force it back into skin.
In terms of safety, the best way to shave your underarm hair is in the direction of hair growth — and for most people, that’s in an upward direction. But most people have their own preferences and, for the most part, that’s totally fine. “Shaving against the hair growth makes it easier to get a smooth result, but has an increased risk of ingrown hairs,” explains Dr. Krant. If ingrowns are a regular issue for you, try swiping your underarms post-shave with Bliss Ingrown Eliminating Pads.
Nicks are annoying, but that’s mostly it. No matter where it is, you can treat it like you would any other cut. “Rinse it fully and keep pressure on it for several seconds to a few minutes to make sure it’s not actively bleeding,” advises Krant. If it’s a deeper nick or in a sensitive area, dab a little petroleum jelly on it and top it with a bandage until it heals.
You can skip the body scrub when you’re planning to shave your legs. “Shaving does exfoliate skin because the blade scrapes off outer layers as you go,” says Dr. Krant. “But it’s important to be gentle with this.” If you’re too razor-happy, you risk over-exfoliating, which can cause dryness and irritation.
Body hair is normal, and it exists for an evolutionary reason: To keep us warm. But too much of a good thing can be a sign that something else is going on in your body. “If you feel you have more hair than normal on your mustache area, chin, chest, or stomach—along with irregular periods and trouble managing weight—it could be worth seeing your gynecologist,” says Krant. These signs point to a hormonal condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome, which definitely requires a visit to the doctor.
Who knew? There’s a reason that the hair on your arms is much finer than, say, your pubic hair. “In the underarm and bikini area, the sweat glands are called apocrine,” explains Dr. Krant. “They produce odor.” (So that’s why your underarms smell if you forget to apply antiperspirant.) Aprocrine glands have an abundance of hair follicles, which is why underarm hair can grow so thick. As for the rest of your body hair, the hair is rooted in eccrine sweat glands, which primarily control temperature. Hair follicles are more dispersed here, so it’s much finer.
It’s just an old wives’ tale that shaving changes the thickness or growth rate of body hair. “Shaving just cuts thicker, mature hairs in the middle of the hair shaft and allows the same hair to keep growing,” explains Dr. Krant. “The hair that grows now has a blunt tip from being cut off, so overall the hair seems bulkier and darker.” When you’re waxing, on the other hand, you’re pulling out the hair at the root, so a new hair begins growing in its place. This baby hair is thinner and softer—at first. But over time, it’ll be just as thick and dark as what you’re shaving.
More women are embracing their body hair, and with it have come products formulated to condition and nourish it. Skip them, says Dr. Krant. You don’t need to condition your body hair, since the oils on your skin will do it for you.