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Facial Hair Removal Skincare Guide: From Dermablading to Waxing and using Tretinoin

Working towards your skin goals – be that improving skin texture, tackling pigmentation or clearing acne is one focus. Throw facial hair removal like dermaplaning or waxing into the mix and you’ve got potentially irritating issues.

Active ingredients – think retinoids like tretinoin or exfoliating AHAs and BHAs to improve skin’s appearance – don’t make easy bedfellows alongside most facial hair removal methods.

And it’s not always a case of choosing one or the other. Facial hair removal is a reality for many people. But because everyone’s skin is different, finding good advice on how to navigate hair removal with minimal irritation – and how this relates to active ingredients in our skincare routines – can be hard to find. 

We delve into the pros and cons of a handful of the most popular hair removal methods, and check-in with our Consultant Dermatologist Dr Ben Esdaile, for what it means for treating your skin goals at the same time.

Facial hair removal and skincare with Dermatologist Dr Ben Esdaile

Skin + Me: Why do people have excess facial hair?

Dr Ben Esdaile: Excess hair is a normal variant (physiological) for most people but in some cases, it can have underlying medical causes related to circulating hormones. Hirsutism is a condition that occurs in women. This is when excessive dark and coarse hair grows in a male-like pattern on the face, chest and back. Excess or unwanted hair can have a big impact on self-esteem and mental health

Skin + Me: What hair removal techniques are available? 

Dr Ben Esdaile: There are two main types of hair removal that can be temporary or permanent. The most common, temporary methods include epilation techniques such as waxing, plucking, sugaring, threading and abrasives. Depilation techniques include shaving and creams that remove hairs (chemical depilation). More permanent hair removal methods include laser hair removal and electrolysis. These aim to destroy the hair follicle to prevent the hairs from regrowing permanently.

Skin + Me: What is the difference between epilation and depilation?

Dr Ben Esdaile: Epilation is the removal of the entire hair (including the root below the skin surface) whereas depilation is the removal of the hair at the skin surface. 

Skin + Me: Do hairs grow back thicker after shaving?

Dr Ben Esdaile: It’s a common misconception that once shaved off, hair grows back thicker. When a hair is shaved, the tip that’s growing may appear thicker as the tapered end has been shaved off. The hair is still the same diameter. 

Skin + Me: How is it best to remove hairs when using retinoids?

Dr Ben Esdaile: It’s best not to use wax for hair removal when using topical retinoids. Retinoids are chemical exfoliators and waxing will further exfoliate your skin and likely result in redness, sometimes extreme irritation and a ‘burn-like’ appearance. Sugaring, although milder than waxing, may also lead to irritation. Techniques such as threading and plucking can be used with care as well as some of the gentle depilatory creams. Care needs to be taken when using topical retinoids when having laser hair removal and is probably best to stop using retinoids for at least seven days before treatment. Some chemical depilatory creams can also cause irritation and so again be careful if using at the same time sensitivity-triggering ingredients such as retinoids.

Facial hair removal guide

Refer to our guide of popular hair removal methods when it comes to staying smooth and protecting your skin.

Shaving

The most common form of hair removal, using a standard facial shaving blade.

Pros: Quick, inexpensive, fool-proof (provided you prep the skin and use a clean, sharp blade in the direction of hair growth).

Cons: Post-shave ingrown hairs are common (when hair temporarily grows back into the skin and leaves bumps). Can irritate acne and spread infection.

It’s a common misconception that once shaved off, hair grows back thicker. The hair is still the same diameter.” Dr Ben Esdaile

Dermaplaning

Dermablading shares similarities with shaving. It uses a small exfoliating blade, to lightly take away the top layer of skin and accompanying fine hair with it.

Pros: Exfoliating treatment that leaves smooth skin, fast. Inexpensive.

Cons: Like shaving, the results aren’t long-lasting. Cleanse the skin before to minimise irritation and moisturise afterwards to protect skin that’s been stripped. Like shaving, dermablading can irritate acne and spread infection.

Tweezing

Plucking hairs directly from the root. 

Pros: Fast, effective and delivers slightly longer-lasting results than shaving.

Cons: You can only treat small areas at a time. Watch out for post-tweeze ingrown hairs – using a cool flannel after tweezing can soothe inflammation.

Epilation

An epilator grabs hair over a wider surface area than shaving and tweezing in one go, and pulls them from the root.

Pros: Can treat wider areas of hair. The results last until the hairs regrow from the root. Hair can grow back softer and finer than before.

Cons: Risk of tenderness and ingrown hairs afterwards. Not recommended for acne-prone skin.

Waxing and sugaring (at home)

Using soft wax or a sugaring formula that’s specifically formulated for facial hair removal. Sugaring is slightly more gentle on the skin.

Pros: Pulls hair from the root for long-lasting results. 

Cons: Can be messy and uncomfortable. Can also cause irritation, ingrown hairs and inflame acne-prone skin. Avoid using retinoids at the same time, as combining both retinoids and waxing or sugaring treatment can compromise and irritate the skin barrier

Laser hair removal (at home)

Pulsating laser beams damage hair follicles and the hair falls out.

Pros: Skin will stay smooth for up to six months afterwards and if it does grow back, will likely be finer. 

Cons: You need to invest in the kit and may experience tenderness on the skin after treatment. A cool compress can soothe this.

Electrolysis (at home)

Electrolysis is hair removal with a tool that emits an eclectic current with a fine electrode to target individual hairs.

Pros: This hair removal method works well on all skin types and skin tones.

Cons: Again, you need to invest in the kit and it takes more than one session to see results. 

Depilatory creams

Over the counter depilatory creams are strong alkaline chemical treatments that dissolve hair so it’s wiped away shortly after application.

Pros: Effective at removing hair and results last longer than shaving.

Cons: You have to perform a patch test 24-hours before your treatment. Can be messy. Depilatory cream can irritate sensitive skin and leave redness even after using as instructed. 

Threading

A trained cosmetologist or esthetician uses a thread to twist hair and lift it out of the follicle.

Pros: Effective, chemical-free hair removal for small areas of the face. Low chance of ingrown hairs.

Cons: You need to spend time at the salon or book an appointment. Hair needs to be long enough for the thread to ‘grip’ and pull it out.

A reminder: Retinoids can make skin more sensitive to some hair removal methods. It’s not recommended you mix tretinoin and face waxing. Our Dermatologists don’t endorse all the hair removal methods mentioned in this feature. Always check with your prescriber if you have sensitive skin or any questions before you try facial hair removal at the same time as using your Skin + Me treatment.

Medical facts checked by Consultant Dermatologist, Dr Ben Esdaile

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