Taking a hot bath, applying a killer lipstick, trying a new face mask—so many of our beauty routines are downright pleasurable. Too bad the same can't be said for removing hair. If you want to remove hair on your face or body, there's almost no avoiding the "ouch" factor: ingrown hairs, nicks, razor bumps, razor burn, bruising, or some unholy combination of side effects.
One hair-removal hack you may not have pondered? Bleaching. Although bleach doesn't actually eliminate hair, it can make hair appear practically invisible, negating the need for shaving, waxing, epilating, and the rest. It's also pain-free, quick, easy, cheap, and safe for a variety of skin types, including sensitive skin.
We called on three skincare experts to suss out the pros and cons of bleaching facial hair and body hair, plus tips and tricks for safe DIY treatment.
Check out our guide to bleaching body hair and facial hair, ahead.
Meet the Expert
How Does it Work?
Bleaching works by breaking down hair's melanin, or pigment, permanently lightening the hair. Some of the active ingredients (like hydrogen peroxide) that are used to lighten facial and body hair are also used to lighten head hair. That said, the product you use to get golden, summer-y highlights isn't the same stuff you'd use to bleach hair on your upper lip.
"The hydrogen peroxide content is much lower for facial hair bleach than scalp hair bleach," Ciraldo explains.
- It's a fast, easy DIY. "The most significant pro of hair bleaching is its simplicity," Tobia explains. The process of bleaching, from mixing the product to removal, shouldn't take more than 15 minutes. Plus, it can be done at home—no salon trips or spa appointments required.
- Frequent touch-ups are A-OK. "If your skin doesn’t react negatively to the bleach, it’s safe enough to do weekly," says Tobia. "Most people do it every two to four weeks."
- It won't leave scars. Have a skin condition that makes shaving or lasering too risky? Try bleaching instead. "[Bleaching] is often the only alternative for people who have any tendency to scarring, like keloid formers or people who get hyperpigmentation from skin trauma," Ciraldo explains.
- It's affordable. Even if you need to bleach large areas of your body (like your arms or legs), a single bleaching process isn't likely to cost more than a fancy latte.
- It doesn't remove hair, it reduces the look of hair. Bleaching can't deliver the baby-soft, hairless surface you can get from other hair-removal methods. Also, bleached hair may be somewhat noticeable in bright light.
- It may not be ideal for those with dark skin. "Sometimes bleached hair on darker skin is even more noticeable than the natural hair color," Tobia says. Also, hydrogen peroxide can have unintended results on darker complexions. "There have been some cases where bleach has actually lightened the skin," Jarosz warns, although the result is usually temporary.
- It's not as effective on long, thick hair. Bleach works best on fine hair, like the hair on your upper lip and arms. If you don't get the results you want after two applications of bleach (more on that in the next section), "the product is not going to be effective enough for you," Ciraldo says.
- The results aren't long-lasting. Dark regrowth, which usually emerges within a few weeks, may stand in stark contrast to the bleached-blond tips of the hair.
Is Bleaching Facial and Body Hair Safe?
Bleaching is relatively safe, especially compared to heavy-duty hair-removal treatments like lasering. The most common side effects of bleaching, Tobia says, are "redness, itching, bumps, burning, blisters, hives, dry skin [and] swelling."
If you follow the product directions with meh results—say, the hair didn't lighten as much as you expected—don't leave on the product for longer than the recommended time, which may cause more serious side effects such as burning and blistering. Instead, Ciraldo recommends waiting at least 72 hours before trying again in case a skin allergy develops.
"After 72 hours, start to apply one percent hydrocortisone cream to the skin in the area, morning and night," she suggests. "Then repeat the bleaching, following manufacturer's directions after a day (by 96 hours)."
If you're not sure bleach is for you, there's a simple way to ensure your skin is compatible: "Do a patch test on a small spot before you apply the bleach all over," Jarosz suggests.
How Much Does It Hurt?
Ever white-knuckled your way through a painful waxing or lasering appointment? There's good news: On normal, healthy skin, bleaching is utterly painless.
As the bleach works its magic, a tingling sensation is typical. A burning sensation is a red flag that hair bleaching isn't for you.
If you feel any discomfort from bleaching, Ciraldo says to "wash it off immediately, and apply ice or even 1 percent over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream."
Body and facial hair bleach kits are easy to find in drugstores and grocery stores, typically ranging in cost from about $5 to $15.
Tobia and Jarosz both praise Jolen Creme Bleach. Tobia calls it "a mild and reliable product that is budget-friendly."
Ciraldo recommends the also affordable Sally Hansen Creme Hair Bleach, especially for bleaching hair on the face. "Facial hair products should have skin-calming ingredients like aloe and vitamin E," she says. The product's mild formula is aces for light and medium-dark hair; those with dark or thick hair should try the brand's extra-strength variety.
"Aftercare is important with skin and hair bleaching treatments to maximize results," Jarosz says. Post-bleaching care can also counteract dryness and inflammation from bleaching, she explains.
After you use bleach, make sure to lightly cleanse the affected areas, Tobia says. If skin is irritated or red, Jarosz and Ciraldo recommend applying soothing aloe vera gel and ice packs; if your skin's good to go, skip aloe and ice in favor of a moisturizing cream or spray.
"Use a rosewater spray to help hydrate the skin after bleaching," Tobia suggests; she recommends the "simple" Heritage Store Rosewater Spray ($11), made with purified water and moisturizing rose oil.
Bleaching is a fast, easy, low-risk way to reduce the appearance of facial and body hair, especially for people with light, sensitive skin who don't want the hassle or pain of other hair-removal methods. If you've got $5 and 15 minutes to spare, what have you got to lose (besides maybe a waxing appointment)?
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. ToxFAQsTM for hydrogen peroxide. Updated July 27, 2015.