Trends around keeping or eliminating body hair change over time, but the habit of shaving off the hair that grows on us has been around since before any trends existed. Rumor has it we’ve been grooming away our body hair for over 100,000 years, starting by plucking it out (ouch) one by one, then later moving to actual tools.
Back before modern conveniences like showers, shaving body hair was considered to be a way to reduce odors, infections, and pests. It also had cultural significance, most notably with ancient Egyptians associating shaven bodies with cleanliness and the upper class. Now, however, whether or not to shave one’s body hair is purely an aesthetic choice, and one some are starting to examine more closely. This is because even though all genders have body hair, only women are pressured to shave theirs off. A shaved body has been the ideal of feminine beauty for decades, but that doesn’t make it healthy, or—mind-blowing thought—the most beautiful way to upkeep our bodies. We’ll examine the ways in which giving up the razor under your arms is a surprisingly sound choice.
Before delving into the health benefits of keeping your underarm hair in its natural state, it’s important to acknowledge, and hopefully begin to break down, how deeply seated our thoughts, opinions, and fears around body hair may be. Personally, I always felt pressure to shave under my arms even though I’ve partnered with many AFAB (assigned female at birth) people who didn’t, and I find under-arm hair attractive on bodies of all genders. When I briefly stopped shaving under my arms in college, the “EW!” response from both friends and strangers was more than I could deal with, and I returned to the habit after a few short months. In the time since, I maintained a weird sense of envy for those who didn’t shave their underarms. One day a couple years ago, thanks to caring less about what others think than I did back then, I decided to join them.
It’s been two glorious years of loving my armpit hair, and feedback nowadays is overall less hostile than it was then, but underarm hair is still a polarizing topic. I made the mistake of hashtagging one of my insta photos with “#armpithair” a few months ago, and in turn found my photo reposted by numerous armpit hair fetish profiles. The fact that armpit hair is now a fetish displays how it’s still viewed as a choice outside the norm. I continue to hear statements like, “That’s not supposed to be there!” and have been called “brave” for not shaving. It’s a simple fact that body hair grows on us, so the concept of whether it’s “supposed to be there” or not is a moot point; it’s there unless we choose to remove it.
Shaving is a cultural phenomenon enforced by those who set, and follow, beauty standards. We’re beginning to move past the idea everyone should be impossibly thin, white, and have long, flowing hair—so perhaps in time we can move beyond the pre-adolescent visual preference for removing body hair, too. Meanwhile, here are some health benefits to help you rethink underarm shaving.
The Risk Factor
Most obviously, by not shaving under your arms you’ll eliminate the dermatological problems that can result from doing so: ingrown hairs, razor burn, rashes, and irritation. Additionally, those tiny little nicks and cuts from shaving can lead to infections like MRSA, the potential for which is mitigated by not doing it.
Not shaving reduces skin-on-skin contact friction, which means when you do activities that involve arm movement, like running or walking, your skin is much less likely to get irritated by the friction. This can lead to less skin issues like rashes and ingrown hairs.
It’s common knowledge our natural scents play a role in our attractions; just think of how someone might seem made for you on a dating app, but in person your expectations fall flat for seemingly no reason. We fit, or don’t, with others partially based on how our bodies react to the scent of theirs, and that scent is caused by pheromones. A study showed that the natural pheromones of our partners, as emitted from under the arms without deodorant, make us feel calmer and less stressed.
In a further example of body hair being presumed to only exist on men, a study showed a male pheromone excreted in underarm sweat called androstadienone increases sexual desire. That doesn’t mean the pheromones women emit from under their arms behave differently; it just means the subject hasn’t been studied yet. It stands to reason that since female bodies have pheromones just like male bodies, women probably have chemicals with similar properties.
There’s a lot of talk out there about aluminum and breast cancer, but the claim that the aluminum in antiperspirants leads to increased rates of breast cancer has yet to be widely proven. However, no matter what chemicals you put under your arms, you will absorb a greater percentage of them when you apply deodorant and/or antiperspirant after having just shaved. The rate of increase may seem minor, with the jump being from .01% to .06%, but that is a six-fold rise in chemical exposure regardless.
Additionally, the correlation has been proven between the usage of aluminum antiperspirant, shaving and the age of breast cancer onset, concluding that “underarm shaving with antiperspirant/deodorant use may play a role in breast cancer.” There’s more research needed, but this preliminary conclusion may be enough to give under arm shaving a second thought if you’re a fan of antiperspirants.
Still having reservations? Here are a couple reassuring facts about not shaving under your arms.
You won’t Smell Any Worse: Somehow we absorbed the notion that shaving off our armpit hair was saving us from terrible body odor, but that just isn’t true. Science has uncovered that the impact of shaving on odor is minimal at best.
You Won’t Sweat More: Similar to the idea that unshaved underarms smell less lovely than shaven ones, we also tend to think that shaving helps us sweat less. The reality: shaving, or not, has no effect on how much we sweat.
If you’ve thought about stopping your under-arm shaving, the above information may be enough to convince you of what a healthy option it is. And if you haven’t ever considered it, this is an excellent opportunity to look into why! Luckily, there’s no commitment needed; while some people who choose to stop shaving never go back to it, you can always pick a razor back up again at any time.