High school is a time filled with experimentation and a lot of learning—and we're not just talking about during school hours. For many of us, it’s a time of immense change and self-exploration. I mean, hello puberty. And with those many changes (both puberty-related and not) comes the inevitable body hair debate. We know puberty brings more hair growth in certain areas (more on that later), but what exactly to do with that hair—if you choose to do anything at all—isn’t so simple.
Though the potential for nicks, burns, bumps, ingrowns, and irritation is rife, shaving has remained a popular option for those who choose to remove their body hair. And yet, despite its enduring legacy, much of what we know (or think we know) about shaving is downright false. For example, we’re willing to bet you’ve heard that shaving makes hair grow back even faster and thicker.
But does it actually? The answer’s not so simple. That’s why we went straight to the experts: esthetician Jodi Shays, board-certified dermatologist Ranella Hirsch, MD, and scientist Gaby Longsworth, Ph.D. Read on for everything they have to say about shaving and whether or not hair really does grow back thicker.
Meet the Expert
- Jodi Shays is an esthetician and the owner and founder of Queen Bee Salon & Spas in Culver City, California, and Seattle, Washington.
- Ranella Hirsch, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.
- Gaby Longsworth, Ph.D., is a scientist and hair expert. She’s the owner of Absolutely Everything Curly and received her Hair Practitioner Certificate through the International Association of Trichologists.
Does Shaving Make Hair Grow Back Thicker?
According to Longsworth, the myth that shaving makes hair grow back thicker is really just an optical illusion. Hair strands typically taper at the tip—so when those hairs are shaved, tapered strands are sheared into flat ends, which can look thicker to the naked eye. When you shave and cut off that tapered tip, you’re left with hair that can look (and even feel) a lot thicker and blunter. Longsworth offers a great tip for avoiding this trick of the eye: “Higher-end razors with multi-blades [versus traditional single-blade razors] lift the hair before slicing it for a deep shave so that it takes longer for new hair growth to become visible.”
Does Shaving Make Hair Grow Back Faster?
All three experts give a resounding no to this myth, which is fueled by the aforementioned optical illusion. “Hair grows at the rate it is going to grow based on the person,” Shays explains. “Shaving won’t change that. That being said, hormonal changes can cause hair to grow back faster. The same goes for people taking hair-growth supplements.”
How Hair Grows
News flash: Most of the body has hair (except for specific spots like the palms and soles). All that hair stems from corresponding hair follicles within the epidermis and/or dermis layers of the skin.
According to Longsworth, what we tend to think of as hair falls under two main types: The shorter and thinner vellus hairs (also known as peach fuzz) and the longer and thicker terminal hairs, which tend to include the hair on your head, facial hair, pubic hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, etc. Interestingly, some vellus hair is replaced with terminal hair during puberty in androgen-dependent sites (think the pubic area).
All hair follows the same set of growth cycles, explains Hirsch, though the specific cycles differ in both time and hair length depending on the area. There are three main phases within the hair growth cycle. The first is the anagen phase, during which growth begins at the root of a hair follicle via blood supply and nutrients. This is followed by the catagen phase, during which the hair transitions from a growing to a resting phase and detaches from the body’s blood supply. Finally, the telogen phase is the inactive phase, when the hair sheds or falls out of the follicle. The time length of each differs depending on the area of the body, which impacts the subsequent amount of hair growth possible in a given area.
The thickness, color, and length of hair (both vellus and terminal) largely varies depending on the individual and even varies within a single individual depending on the area. Let’s get a bit more specific here.
The growth phase for eyelashes, eyebrows, nasal hair, and ear hair is (thankfully) quite short—about a quarter of an inch per month, says Longsworth. As for peach fuzz on the face, a study on the physiology of the vellus hair follicle measured the rate of vellus hair growth on the forehead over three months for a group of healthy men and women between the ages of 15 and 30 years. They found growth to be about 0.03 millimeters per day or an average of .9 millimeters per month. For reference, that translates to a growth rate of less than 1/25th of an inch per month.
There’s a bit more variation when it comes to leg-hair growth. According to Shays, a mixture of vellus and terminal hairs cover the legs of both men and women, which can range in density and color. During puberty, some of the vellus hair follicles on the legs become terminal hair follicles, resulting in thicker, faster-growing hair.
Terminal leg hair grows about a half-inch per month, according to Longsworth, with a growth cycle of about two to six months. Vellus leg hairs grow far slower, she adds, though they still follow the same growth cycle as terminal (just at different rates). Vellus hair tends to have a shorter anagen phase than terminal phase.
Growth within the underarm area is similar to that of the leg region. The hair cycle is around three to six months and, “even if you never shave, there is a limit to how long it can get, ranging from one to two inches in length,” Longsworth says.
Pubic hair growth is also comparable to that within the leg and underarm region. The increased androgen production that comes with puberty causes vellus hair in all three areas to turn into terminal hair, increasing hair growth thereafter. Longsworth estimates that hair growth in the area is similar to that of the legs, though it can be a bit faster.
Tips for Shaving
From a health perspective, Hirsch says there are two major concerns when it comes to shaving: cuts and infections. For the former, allowing the hair to soften in the shower and applying a good lubricant will help immensely. For the latter, optimizing your technique will help limit ingrown hairs and the potential for folliculitis (an infection in the follicle).
As for general shaving tips, always prep by washing your face and body and warming your skin to soften the hair and the skin itself. All our experts underscore the importance of using a fresh, clean, sharp razor and a gentle, easy-glide shave product (such as a gel or cream) to avoid snags and cuts. Use short strokes. If you’re looking for a deep, close shave, Longsworth suggests shaving against the grain of the hair. She recommends going with the grain if you have sensitive skin or are particularly prone to ingrowns. Always moisturize post-shaving and use sunscreen or wait 24 hours before exposing freshly shaved skin to direct sunlight for an extended period. As for shaving frequency, it totally depends on the individual and their personal preferences. For area-specific tips and tricks, see below.
Take a hot shower before shaving—the steam helps open the pores for a close, clean shave with minimal skin irritation, Longsworth explains. Shays recommends avoiding shaving creams and gels that contain essential oils to help prevent irritation and aggravation, while Longsworth suggests looking for shaving products that lather easily and feature moisturizing, skin-loving ingredients. Apply minimal pressure to your razor, use short, gentle strokes, and move with the grain. For those with less sensitive skin, Longsworth says you can re-lather the face with some extra shaving cream or gel and finish by gently shaving against the grain. This, she says, will give you the closest possible shave without suffering any nicks or cuts. For those with more sensitive skin, we suggest skipping that final pass.
When it comes to shaving their legs, many people can do it as frequently as once a day without experiencing irritation. As we said before, shaving frequency is completely dependent on the person, how much hair they have, how quickly it grows, and their preferences.
Our experts suggest soaking legs for at least ten minutes pre-shave to soften the area, so try shaving near the end of your bath or shower if possible. And while not technically necessary, gently exfoliating the area before shaving will help remove dead skin cells that could otherwise clog the blade and jeopardize the quality of your shave.
The skin here is generally tougher, so most people will be fine shaving against the grain (in an upward motion), though those with ultra-sensitive skin should proceed with caution. Longsworth suggests starting at your ankles and working your way up the leg using short, gentle strokes for better control. Take extra precaution when approaching the knee area, as it tends to be drier and more prone to nicks and cuts. Hair on the upper leg tends to be finer than the hair on the lower leg, so shaving direction matters a bit less according to Shays. Follow with a gentle moisturizer. Because the skin here is tougher, Longsworth says you can try a depilatory cream to dissolve the hair at its root, which will buy you a few weeks before new growth occurs.
While this area can have different rates of growth and thickness, Shays says most people shave their underarms every day or two, especially during the summer months. According to Longsworth, hairs in the underarm area can grow in many directions, making them appear wilder than other body hair. Plus, the skin here can be especially sensitive, which increases the likelihood of developing a rash, irritation, or general itchiness.
Longsworth suggests avoiding shaving this area right before you head to the beach, a pool, or any situation where a lot of sweating is involved. She recommends shaving at night and avoiding deodorant after the fact to give the skin a chance to repair overnight.
As nearly anyone who’s shaved their pubic area can attest, the skin here is very delicate and has a lot of potential for ingrown hair growth. According to Shays, dragging a razor over the area too frequently can create dry, irritated skin and cause hyperpigmentation, so avoid daily shaving—perhaps opt for weekly instead. Longsworth suggests looking for a shaving gel or cream with moisturizing ingredients like aloe and vitamin E to help reduce friction and irritation. Gently pull the skin taut for a smooth surface, and shave with light strokes. If you’re not prone to ingrown hairs, feel free to shave against the grain, but those who are should stick to shaving with the grain.
Hair follicle: function, structure & associated conditions. Cleveland Clinic.
Blume U, Ferracin J, Verschoore M, Czernielewski JM, Schaefer H. Physiology of the vellus hair follicle: hair growth and sebum excretion. Br J Dermatol. 1991;124(1):21-28.
Terminal hair: function & examples. Cleveland Clinic