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.
If there's a singular hair removal method that works best for sensitive skin, it's sugaring.
Here's why: The hair is removed from the root so you can be hair-free for weeks on the face or body. Made from all natural ingredients, there's also less chance of skin irritation that artificial ingredients in wax often cause. 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" (see gel vs. paste). 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 to 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 ($382).
If you wax with sensitive skin, it could lead to extreme 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.
Take 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 can only be used on the face, though, and shouldn't really be used on the eyebrows.
If your skin is so 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, due to its great track record. 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.
DON'T Use Depilatories (Hair Removal Creams)
Depilatories are one of the harshest hair removal methods, because they use strong chemicals to break down the hair so that it can be wiped off. Depilatory creams are terrible for sensitive skin. They've been known to make skin burn, turn red, peel and scab—even for people that don't consider themselves to have touchy skin.
Depilatories don't create a sharp tip like shaving does, but their results last just about as long (a day or two). You're likely to experience problems with a depilatory, no matter the brand if skincare products generally irritate your skin.