The smooth skin guide (no stubble guaranteed)
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
One of my more reckless childhood experiments was shaving my entire body at a sleepover party. It was the late ’90s and laser hair removal was beginning to take off; billboards were covered with silky legs and armpits. My mother, a second-wave feminist, was distraught. I was banned from picking up a razor until my late teens.
If I have children of my own, I hope to be more forgiving. Like SPF, the practice of removing body hair dates back to ancient Egypt – historically it was a symbol of status – and the reasons for it are manifold. You might be suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that can cause excess hair growth. Or perhaps you’re a bodybuilder in pursuit of a hairless chest.
Hair removal has never been easier – or more popular: in 2021, the global laser-hair-removal market was valued at $583mn. By 2031, it’s projected to reach around $2.51bn.
Laser and intense pulsed light (IPL), the two most popular permanent solutions, work by directing light at hair pigment; damaging the follicle with heat. The main difference is that laser treatments emit one wavelength of light, while IPL projects short bursts of white light (containing multiple wavelengths). Laser is often more effective: IPL can be more versatile. There might be a little bit of pain during both treatments, but nothing compared with the rashes and in-grown hairs that can come with shaving.
Treatments are evolving quickly. At The Clinic Holland Park, Dr Jennifer Doyle uses the Forever Bare BBL by Sciton, an updated IPL treatment that’s up to four times quicker than standard devices. “We’re a lot more open about the social pressures we’re under and what we do to adhere to those,” says Doyle of the growing interest in hair-removal treatments, one of the most popular being for bikini lines, which can be zapped in three two-minute sessions. Forever Bare’s efficacy is thanks to a built-in sapphire that cools the skin during the treatment, allowing more heat to be administered without side effects (burns and scarring). The treatment is available in salons across the world, from Paris – try Aesthé in Le Marais – to New York.
Hair removal services now resemble luxury wellness offerings. In January, London’s EF Medispa group launched Soprano Leg Perfect, a “holistic” option that combines a triple wavelength formula with soothing cryo balls and a cellulite-reducing massage. What’s more, it can be performed pre-holiday (typically you should avoid sunshine before and after laser hair removal). “We wanted to offer [an] experience that felt more like a treatment,” says founder and skincare expert Esther Fieldgrass, who recommends a minimum of six sessions.
For some people, “there’s [a] notion that removing your body hair is obligatory, so there’s no need to make the experience a positive one,” agrees Lillian Tung, co-founder of New York-based grooming brand Fur. “But we believe routines can be elevated to a self-care ritual.” The brand has products – including oils, creams and scrubs – to accompany a full- spectrum of hair-removal methods. When Fur launched a gender-inclusive trimmer – built with anti-irritation blades and an LED spotlight – it sold out within days.
But while treatments are evolving, not all were created equal. Because laser targets melanin, it can leave those with darker skin at risk of burns. Blondes or redheads, meanwhile, might not see any results at all: the most receptive candidates have a sharp skin-to-hair contrast. One way around this is electrolysis – ideal for chins and upper lips – where a thin wire is inserted into the follicle and connected to an electric current. “The quick shot feels similar to tweezing an eyebrow hair,” says Abbey Conley, head of aesthetics at KX in Chelsea. Those with larger areas to zap should look for Nd:YAG or diode technology: lasers with longer wavelengths that can bypass melanin by going deeper into the skin.
There’s also a new wave of at-home treatments, one of the newest being the JOVS Venus Pro, an IPL device that, like Sciton’s BBL, uses a sapphire to maintain a low temperature. “It’s a three-in-one,” explains Heather Talbot, an expert at beauty gadgets company CurrentBody, adding that it also helps to boost collagen and reduce signs of ageing.
Not ready to take the plunge into permanency? There’s always sugaring, the procedure that removes hair in the natural direction of growth by peeling off a mask of lemon juice, sugar and water. Now gaining new traction among waxing refuseniks and the natural-methods crowd, it’s available in dedicated salons around the world. And while initial treatments only last about three weeks, the hair follicles should begin to deplete after a few treatments. My mother will be pleased: I’ll never pick up a razor again.