How you remove unwanted hair is largely a matter of preference. Some of our women testers found that using an epilator or hot wax was painful, while others said that depilatories smelled bad and were messy. And those who had previously used razors weren't happy with any electric shaver they tried. Different methods work best for different people, and you might have to try several before you find the one that's right for you.
If you're trying an electric razor or epilator for the first time, give yourself some time to get used to it, because it can take a while to develop the right technique. For that reason, choose a shaver or epilator with at least a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can return it if the product doesn't work well for you. This women's shaver and hair-removal guide will help you choose.
Types of women's shavers and hair-removal products range from the simplest razor blade to treatments such as waxing, laser, and electrolysis. Use the method that best fits your needs--and perhaps matches your pain tolerance.
Most people--men and women alike--find the traditional razor blade to be easiest to use. Razors shave at skin level, and they can be used anywhere on the body. But you'll have to shave frequently to keep your skin smooth.
Electric shavers, like razors, can be used on any part of the body. Even the best electrics won't shave quite as close as a razor, but they shave close enough. They let you shave without soap and water--a plus when you're away from home. And they avoid nicks, because the cutters don't touch your skin. But electrics can cause ingrown hairs and irritate the underarms. Men's electric shavers are generally heavier and more expensive than women's, but they've consistently performed better in our tests. We haven't noticed anything particularly womanly about the women's shavers, and there's no reason why women shouldn't use a men's model. For more information, check our report on men's electric shavers. Look for at least a 30-day money-back guarantee, especially when you buy an electric shaver for the first time, so you can return the device if it doesn't work for you.
Unlike razors and shavers, which cut hair at about skin level, depilatories dissolve hair slightly below the skin surface--which means that they should keep skin smooth somewhat longer than a razor or shaver would. Their caustic chemicals dissolve the hair so that it can be wiped away. But some testers found the procedure to be painful, and none removed all the hair on every panelist in a single try. Depilatories often have an ammonia odor and might be messy and drippy. The Federal Drug Administration has received reports of burns, blisters, rashes, and peeling skin caused by these products, so test a small amount on your forearm first.
These electric devices use hundreds of tiny tweezers to pluck the hairs. Epilators scored higher, overall, than electric shavers in our tests, but you should use them only on the legs and forearms. Some women said that using an epilator is more work than shaving. But because an epilator removes the hairs at the root, you might not have to repeat the procedure for several weeks. Look for at least a 30-day money-back guarantee, especially when buying an epilator for the first time, so you can return the device if it doesn't work for you.
This involves applying a layer of heated wax or soft wax strips to the skin. The hairs become embedded in the wax, and pulling off the wax layer plucks the hairs. Because the hairs come out at the roots, new growth might not be visible again for several weeks. But waxing is tricky. None of the home wax kits we tested removed all of the hair on every panelist on the first try. And some testers found the procedure to be painful. The Food and Drug Administration warns that waxes should not be used on the face, nipples, genital areas, irritated or sunburned skin, varicose veins, moles, or warts.
Laser treatments permanently remove hair by destroying the follicles with heat. But laser treatments are expensive and time-consuming and should be performed only by a licensed practitioner. Even then, scars or skin discoloration might result.
An electrolysis hair-removal device places a thin probe in each hair follicle and destroys it with a shortwave radio frequency. It's a time-consuming and expensive procedure and should be performed only by a licensed practitioner. It involves the risk of infection from a needle that's not sterile and scarring from poor technique.
Different types of hair-removal products have different features, from single- and multiple-blade razors to different kinds of waxes or depilatories. Some products are easier to use than others, so check out the women's shaver and hair-removal-product features that best suit your lifestyle.
For razor blades: You can still find single-blade razors, but two-, three-, and even five-bladed razors are the hot marketing items. Multiple blades might offer some advantage.
For razor blades: One five-bladed razor uses an AAA battery to vibrate its head.
For epilators: Most of the epilators we tested run on battery power, but one model has to be plugged in.
For electric shavers: Men's shavers use either rotary cutters, which spin, or foil cutters, which oscillate. Each has its devotees, although neither type showed a marked superiority among the men's models. All of the women's models we tested use foil cutters, and none shaved as well as the men's models in our tests. We advise women who want an electric shaver to use a men's model.
Batteries and chargers
For electric shavers: All the shavers we tested should provide at least seven shaves on a full battery charge. Some provide a full charge in as little as one hour, and some allow a five-minute emergency charge for one shave. Some chargers shut off automatically when the battery is fully charged. Others must be unplugged as soon as the shaver is fully charged, or battery life might be reduced. That's a hassle. Check the shaver's instruction manual for details.
Ease of cleaning
For electric shavers: Most shavers come with a small brush for cleaning. Some can be rinsed clean.
For epilators: One of the models we tested can be rinsed clean.
Wet and dry shaving
For electric shavers: Some models can be used in the shower and with shaving creams or gels.
For electric shavers: This feature is designed for trimming sideburns or other long hair.
For depilatories: Some depilatories are pitched to women, and some to men. That's a marketing gimmick. In use, depilatories are gender neutral.
Creams vs. gels
For depilatories: Depilatories come in creams, gels, lotions, spray-ons, and roll-ons.
Ease of application
For depilatories: Some products are easy to apply. But one spray-on product ended up on bathroom surfaces instead of legs.
For epilators: These add versatility.
For epilators: Some testers liked this feature, which cools the skin.
Home vs. salon
For waxing: You can buy a kit for home use or go to a salon for a professional treatment. You're likely to get better results at a salon, but a professional full-leg wax treatment can cost $30 or more.
For waxing: These waxes must be heated in a microwave oven. Most of the ones we tested performed well, though some may require repeated reheating.
For waxing: These waxes come on strips and are soft at room temperature, so there's no need to heat them.