When you have sensitive skin, hair removal can be a daunting task. You kind of don't know what you're going to get—your body could be fine, or it could have an extremely intense negative reaction. But it doesn't always have to be a complete guessing game. There are certain methods of hair removal that make irritation more, or less, likely. It's important to know what those are.
With sugaring, the hair is removed so you can be hair-free for weeks on the face or body. Made from all natural ingredients, there may be less chance of skin irritation than with the artificial ingredients in wax. Still, you should tell your technician if you have any allergies.
The method using the paste (there's also sugaring gel) can remove hair as short as 1/16". You don't have to wait to the 1/4" hair length like with waxing. And because the paste removes in the direction of hair growth, it leads to minimal pulling on the skin, which means less pain and irritation.
Using a razor is a common and easy method of hair removal, and the one most people grow up on. For people with sensitive skin, it absolutely can create nasty side effects, but it definitely doesn't have to end in disaster.
Often, the problem with shaving isn't the method. Instead, it's the wrong products and tools being used. You want to use a razor with a built-in moisturizing agent and use shaving cream. If you already use it, look at the ingredients in the shaving cream. Other times, an allergy to a common ingredient in shaving products can be the culprit. Finding the cause is key.
Laser/IPL Hair Removal
Lasers use pulsed light to disable the follicle by targeting the pigment. Generally, you will feel some heat and a snapping against the skin.
Sensitive skin (even in the safe zone range) will sometimes get overly red or swell. It's important to do a patch test to see how skin reacts. If you're getting it professionally done, let them know you have sensitive skin prior to beginning the process.
Most professional clinics apply a gel to protect the skin during treatment, which also helps cool it. Gels or calming products to be used during and/or after treatments are often sold by those that make home devices like the Tria Laser 4X ($429).
If you wax with sensitive skin, it could lead to redness, peeling and scabbing. So there are some cases of skin sensitivity when you shouldn't wax at all. In other cases, you should only avoid a certain area.
Many times, the thing that causes lots of redness, tons of pain, or bruising is the wrong type of wax. It can be the fact that it's wrong for the hair or area or that it's a poor quality wax. Other issues from waxing can be caused by the technician not prepping the skin correctly, or removing the wax the wrong way.
Try taking Ibuprofen (200-400 mg) 30 minutes before waxing to decrease inflammation and help with the pain.
Threading is unique, in that it pulls hair out from the root with a thread. It doesn't use any chemicals or heat, so there's no need to worry about product allergies or burns.
Generally, it's gentle to the skin with a good tech. And while people sometimes get bumps and redness, it often doesn't last that long. However, the downside to threading is that it's generally only done on facial hair—not anywhere else.
Looking for something to do at home? While they don't use a string, coil hair removers (the ones that look like little slinkies) can manually remove the hair without the use of chemicals. They're only used on the face, though, and shouldn't really be used on the eyebrows.
If your skin is super sensitive, hair removal can be a source of fear and anxiety. Getting rid of all or most of the hair permanently can bring great relief. Electrolysis is the only method that's FDA-approved for permanent hair removal. It utilizes an electric current, and it's a match for all tones of skin and hair colors.
There are three different modes used in electrolysis. The discomfort, potential side effects, and results have a lot to do with which one is used... as well as the skill of the electrologist. It can be a bit painful, which is why Emla, a prescription topical anesthetic is often recommended.
Depilatories are, admittedly, a controversial option, as they can result in redness, peeling, and even burns. But if your skin isn't super sensitive, these chemical creams could be the right option for you.
"While depilatories can cause irritation, they can work in the right skin types when used properly," says board-certified dermatologist Michele Farber, MD. "Make sure to use a formulation that is specific for the body area where you're removing hair, follow the directions, and do not leave the product on for too long for best results. Products with hydrating ingredients like aloe can prevent irritation, as can proper care of the skin afterwards with moisturizer and gentle products."
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Removing hair safely. Updated June 30, 2010.