This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
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There’s more than one way to skin a cat — and the same can be said for ridding the body of unwanted hair. Nowhere is this truth more evident than on Reddit, where users unabashedly share their best and worst attempts at grooming brows, shaving legs, and landscaping one’s nether regions, among other removal methods.
Of course, with Reddit being the vastly open and varied community that it is, creative options abound — including those that use sandpaper, crystals, and double-sided tape. Do such measures really work? And what about suffering first-degree burns from a depilatory cream — isn’t that just urban legend?
We gathered the most shocking, questionable, and relatable body-hair removal testimonials from within Reddit communities and ran them by top dermatologists. Our experts then prescribed top tips for ailing skin after a hair removal gone awry and how to game the system of getting smooth — the right way. Think of the next few slides as the ultimate lesson in everything you’ve wanted to know about removing body hair, but were afraid to ask. And get ready to marvel at both humankind’s ingenuity — and the body’s incredible ability to heal — ahead.
The hair-removal horror story: After using Retin-A for about two months, one Reddit user booked an ill-timed brow-shaping appointment. “I vaguely remembered people telling me I couldn’t wax on it, but my eyebrows were so messy-looking that I was desperate. I got them waxed and afterward felt a really hot, stinging sensation all around them. I thought this was normal until I looked in the mirror and noticed red, shiny ‘patches’ — where the skin was quite literally taken off.”
The derm’s take: According to dermatologist Melanie Palm, MD, retinoids and waxing don’t make the best bedfellows. (The vitamin A derivative sensitizes the skin, leaving it extra vulnerable.) If you need to wax and you use a retinoid, lay off for a least one week before a brow-grooming appointment. Other less-irritating options are plucking or threading sessions instead. If the damage is already done — and your brow area is red, raw and inflamed — Dr. Palm recommends an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone or derm-prescribed Biafine cream. “It’s fantastic at healing skin from burns, scrapes, or waxing incidents gone wrong,” she says. “The skin will become dry after healing occurs, so make sure to use a bland moisturizer that includes ceramides and/or hyaluronic acid. And make sure you wear sunscreen on the irritated area, or hyperpigmentation may occur.”
Photo: Getty Images.
The hair-removal horror story: In one thread — where redditors divulged some of their most creative approaches to removing body hair — one user offered this gem: “Double-sided sticky tape is an effective remover of arm hair.”
The derm’s take: Palm suggests bypassing this hair-removal hack for several reasons. First, at $7 a roll, it’s not exactly a cost-effective endeavor. But the biggest reason not to raid your craft drawer in pursuit of smooth skin can be found in the tape’s adhesive itself. “For patients that are sensitive to the adhesive contained on these strips, double-sided sticky tape can cause a red rash or contact allergy,” she says. “The tape may [also] strip several layers off the skin, causing an irritant dermatitis; this injury can become secondarily infected, leading to more significant skin problems.”
Photo: Getty Images.
The hair-removal horror story: If sandpaper does such a bang-up job of smoothing splinters on 2 x 4s, then why not use the gritty substance to blast away arm hair, as well? That’s the logic behind one redditor’s experience, who wrote, “one time I just used sandpaper to remove the hair on my arms. It worked very well, and I would do it again.”
The derm’s take: Believe it or not, we can see the logic behind this one. After all, microdermabrasion uses similarly textured tips — albeit much smaller — to rid the skin of dead cells and excess oil. Still, the method gets a thumbs-down from Amy Derick, MD, dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at Northwestern University. “Even the finest grit sandpaper is too rough skin,” she says. “In fact, when a dermasurgeon uses sandpaper for dermabrasion, the skin needs to be anesthetized. Scrubbing with sandpaper can cause deeper-than-usual exfoliation and, possibly, scarring.”
Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
The hair-removal horror story: Not every first-time foray into pubic-hair removal goes successfully. One redditor recalled getting first-degree burns after using a depilatory cream on the region. “I’ve never touched the stuff since,” they wrote. Yikes.
The derm’s take: Sounds like something pulled straight from an urban-legend handbook, but Dr. Palm says this can happen thanks to active ingredients in depilatory creams like lime and lye. “Both are caustic agents with a high pH that can cause chemical burns,” she says. Then why on earth would they be marketed to use anywhere? “Unlike the thicker skin on the legs, skin in the pubic region is particularly sensitive and highly reactive. Even short exposures to creams intended for the legs could cause a significant reaction to skin in the groin.”
Experimenters who suffer the same fate should consult a derm, Dr. Palm says. “In addition to topical treatments, I sometimes recommend laser and light-based technologies to aid healing.” She uses IPL devices to minimize scarring, redness and improve skin texture. LED lights calm inflammation.
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
The hair-removal horror story: One user decided to tweeze her or his entire pubic hair region in hopes that it would slow down the grow-back process. “It took hours. I did it because I thought it would last longer than shaving, but unfortunately, it didn’t really. It only took a few days to start growing back in. And yeah, [it was] very painful, but you kind of get used to it after the first hour or two.”
The derm’s take: “Tweezing the pubic hair one-by-one sounds like torture,” Dr. Derick says, adding that the groin area is more prone to ingrowns since pubic hairs are curly. “Although repetitive plucking will decrease density — since the hair follicle starts to give up after being pulled and traumatized too many times — this could cause scarring if you were [tweezing] too roughly or digging in the skin to pull out the hair.”
Photographed by Brayden Olson.
The hair-removal horror story: After a seemingly good start with an epilator, one redditor began to notice ingrown hairs dotting her legs, accompanied by dark spots. The effect “didn’t bother me initially, but they started appearing darker and refusing to go anywhere,” the user said. Eventually, the redditor admitted they became too embarrassed to step out with bare legs.
The derm’s take: Derick notes that this isn’t as uncommon as you might think. “Ingrown hairs happen when the hair gets trapped under the skin,” she says, noting that a less close shave — that is one that doesn’t snip hairs below the surface of the skin — can help prevent it. For those who wish to escape the relentless cycle of shaving and then having ingrowns, laser hair removal is an option that typically thins hairs permanently. “Then, the hair can’t get stuck, because its missing from the follicle.”
Photo: Getty Images.
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