Body Hair Removal/Equipment
This section introduces tools used in shaving and gives tips and usage notes for each.
Straight razor (cut-throat razor)
Straight razors are open steel blades, and were the traditional tool used for shaving before the invention of the safety razor. Some barbers and other shaving professionals continue to use them to this day, due to their precision. Picking off a single hair or trimming around a blemish is very easy with a straight razor, especially when compared with safety razors whose plastic casing makes precision difficult.
Sharpening and using a straight razor
They are sharpened using a strop before each use. Strops are typically made from fine Russian horsehide, but cardboard is just as effective; try the back of a notebook or the inside of a cereal box. Most blades are double-hollowed, meaning that the blade is curved in such a manner that the optimal stropping angle is when both the blade's edge and spine press against the strop.
Although the use of straight razors in violent scenes in movies and TV shows has promoted an image of them being dangerous weapons, straight razors are generally safe when handled properly. The key is to never move the blade in a slicing motion on the skin. If this is done, the blade will leave a perfect, clean cut which will, nonetheless, heal quickly with appropriate care.
Most recommend that the blade be kept at a thirty degree angle to the face while shaving.
Honing a straight razor
If a quality blade is dried and oiled after each use and stropped when needed, a straight razor may stay sharp for many years between honings. But once in a while, the blade may need to be honed. Traditionally this was done on a speciality oil hone but modern synthetic water stones are an extremely popular option. A quality water stone can be purchased from a wood work supply store. Wood working requires frequent honing of the instruments and a speciality store will often carry a large selection of honing devices. Hone grit convention vary with every brand but usually something labeled as 8000 or higher is fine for a straight razor.
A straight razor must pass the hanging hair test otherwise it requires honing. After stropping, a hair is pressed perpendicularly against the blade. Slowly pulling on the hair, the scales should bite on the blade resulting in the hair being cut in mid air. A straight razor that is dull is dangerous to use. The user will want to apply too much pressure to compensate for the lack of cutting power and this can lead to injury. Some razors are sold fully sharpened, but even brand new razors may require an initial hone. One does not need to acquire a water stone in order to use a straight razor. Some manufacturers recommend returning the blade to the manufacturer to be honed because users sometimes fail to get the blade as sharp as it could be. But most barbers will perform the honing for a small fee.
If you are just starting out shaving, you will probably find yourself using a safety razor. A safety razor, like a straight razor, is non-electronic (though battery-powered models have lately made an appearance), and typically consists of one to five metal razors aligned within a plastic frame. The frame is an extension of a usually grooved handle. When this frame and its blade are removable, they are together called a blade cartridge. Safety razors with this design are not meant to be disposed of frequently, though their cartridges are. Safety razors without a removable cartridge are meant to be disposed of when the blades dull.
Though they are called safety razors, you yourself must exercise some degree of care in their use. Safety razors are not totally safe. Avoid running the blades laterally (side to side) on your skin, especially if pressure is applied along a blade's edge, as with a finger. With a safety razor, it is still possible to be cut. Always shave with the direction of hair growth initially. To achieve a very clean shave, you can reapply shaving cream and make another pass in the opposite direction, but be very careful, as this may result in cuts, irritated skin, and ingrown hairs.
A safety razor's blades wear out, and you should replace the blades whenever they feel dull. The rate at which they wear out depends heavily on the roughness of the body hair, the shaving cream used, etc. Keep the cutting surfaces clear by rinsing the hair off often. Also remember to keep the blades clean, by, for example, wiping them with something such as a piece of toilet paper after use. Even a cheap safety razor may shave comfortably for months if the blade is dried and oiled after each use, to prevent dulling of the blade by oxidation. Do be careful of your fingers, though.
While double-edge (frequently abbreviated DE) razors are also safety razors, they differ from most others in that they use a standard double-edge razor blade in place of a cartridge design. This blade must be placed into the head of the razor body. With many double-edge razors, this is done by twisting the base of the handle. The head either opens missile-silo fashion or simply becomes unscrewed from the body, the blade is dropped in, and the head replaced and screwed back down atop the blade. This leaves the blade's cutting surfaces exposed for shaving, while preventing the shaver from pressing the blade too much against the skin and being cut. More aggressive razors expose more of the blade; some razors allow the amount of blade exposure to be adjusted to match the aggressiveness desired by the shaver. A greater degree of skill is called for in using double-edge safety razors than other safety razors, as there is no cartridge assembly to hold the blade at a desirable angle for shaving; as with straight razors, thirty degrees from the surface to be shaved works well.
In addition to this primary distinction, double-edge razors are generally designed to last significantly longer than other safety razors. They are often cast out of metal and cost about as much as an electric razor. A double-edge razor, properly cared for, should last generations; some of the earliest models are still in circulation and use, including models molded out of such anachronisms as Bakelite.
A head blade is a razor specially designed for shaving the head.
Electric razors are safer than safety razors. You usually use an electric razor when you're in a hurry or on a trip and don't have time or means for a proper shave. You do not use shaving cream with an electric razor. It is easy to shave with dry skin. Some special electric razors spread skin softening lotion while shaving, but they are rare because it's usually easier to use a lotion separately afterwards.
Modern electric razors shave almost as closely as most safety razors, are easier to use, aren't as messy, and are becoming the preferred instrument of a lot of people.
Electric razors require a higher initial investment (generally $50 to $150 US dollars) but may make economic sense in the long run: power usage is minimal, few consumables are required, and most electric razors have a lifespan, if maintained, of five or more years. However, the closeness of the shave isn't 100% the same as a wet shave. In addition, the skin feels more refreshed after a wet shave.
A shaving brush is commonly used with shaving creams distributed in tubs and tubes and with shaving soaps. It is used to work the cream or soap into a lather and apply the lather to the face. Shaving brushes take the form of a handle in which is fixed a knot of bristles. Brushes are characterized by the type of bristle, the diameter of the bristle knot, the loft of the bristles (the length of the exposed bristles), the height of the handle, and what the handle is made of. Brushes vary in size from quite small to quite large; larger brushes use more shaving cream but ease applying the lather to the entire face. Bristles are made of badger hair, boar hair, synthetic materials, or sometimes of the bristle plant. Badger hair is typically graded as silvertip, super, best, or unqualified (in approximate descending order from most- to least-valued) and is generally valued for its high degree of water retention and its feel. Boar hair is stiffer than badger, giving a pricklier sensation when the lather is applied to the face than badger.
If you choose a safety or straight razor, use shaving cream to protect your skin. (For shaving genitals, you may want to use a special shaving cream that does not contain irritating chemicals and deodorants.) A variety of shaving creams are available. Perhaps the most common are gels and creams dispensed from a pressurized spray can. If you use a gel-based solution, keep in mind that the gel will produce a substantial amount of cream as it is applied to the skin, and thus only small amounts are required. Another option is shaving creams distributed in tubs or tubes. Though these may be applied directly to the face with one's hands, proper use of a shaving brush gives a richer, creamier lather, as well as exfoliates the skin. (Many of these creams contain glycerin; some, however, contain lanolin. Note that extensive use of lanolin-based shaving creams with a brush may lead to the brush becoming gummed up.)
- Note that pressurized spray cans are dangerous; as with most aerosol cans, they may explode when exposed to too much heat (especially if put near a fire), and they may crack and later release toxic chemicals if frozen.
- Although this should be obvious, it must be noted that most shaving creams and lotions are toxic. Do not ingest or inhale shaving creams or lotions. The instructions on the label of the container will sometimes indicate what quantity is a dangerous amount, but if you have ingested what seems to you to be a large amount, it would be wise to call a poison control center immediately unless the label says non-toxic.
Soaps can also be used to produce a lather. While any soap should produce some degree of lather, soaps especially formulated for shaving tend to give better results without drying out the skin. These are regularly used with a brush, and, when properly used, can produce a lather comparable to that of the creams. Soaps are commonly used with a bowl or cup to contain the lather whipped up by the brush.
Lotions and oils
Essential oils and lotions may be used both before and after shaving to prepare the skin, protect it, soften it, restore some of its moisture, or simply because it feels good and smells good. Alcohol-based aftershaves are also available; note that these will sting, especially where you have noticeably cut yourself, though they might disinfect.
Styptic pencils and blocks, typically made of alum, can be used to staunch blood flow from cuts. While they may sting when applied to a cut, they work rapidly. This method of stopping bleeding is often quicker than alternatives such as applying pieces of cigarette paper or toilet paper to cuts, though whether it is significantly less unsightly is yours to judge.
A mirror is essential for most people. If it fogs up, a tiny amount of soap rubbed on the mirror will give a spot that stays clear for days. Do not rub the mirror with a used towel, because the body oils on the towel just make the fogging worse. Where possible, cracking or even fully opening a door or window to allow cooler air to enter the room will defog the mirror; if you wear glasses, this may be necessary for you to be able to see to shave.
A nose-hair trimmer is a smaller trimmer meant for trimming nose hair. Electric models have a body that doubles as a handle with a small vibrating blade of sorts at the tip, which is small enough to be partially inserted into the nostril.
Sugaring uses a thick sugar syrup to remove the hair. The syrup must be heated to a stage where it is thin enough to spread but cool enough not to burn the skin. Once a section of skin has been covered a fabric strip is pressed into the syrup and the strip is quickly pulled off in the direction opposite to the hair growth. Any extra sugar left on the skin is easily removed. For sensitive areas the sugar syrup can be spread on the fabric strips first and then pressed onto the site for hair removal, lessening the chance of burning. The advantage to sugaring is that the fabric strips can be rinsed out and reused many times. There are recipes for making your own sugaring syrup available on the Web.
Although painful and time consuming, tweezers offer the most precision of any method of hair removal. Tweezing is less painful when the hair is being plucked from skin that sits right on top of bone, and is therefore used most frequently on the eyebrows. Tweezing presents several advantages to shaving, most importantly the reduced chance of painful and unsightly ingrown hairs. Since tweezing removes the hair completely from the follicle, rather than just cutting it off at the surface of the skin, the new hair that grows out is thinner and less likely to catch on the skin.
Laser hair removal is supposed to be permanent but is very expensive and requires multiple sessions over several months to achieve good results.
There are several different types of lasers used for hair removal purposes depending on the machine that is used. But regardless of the method, laser hair removal treatments are not always permanent. However it is generally accepted that for certain skin tones and hair color, there is a noticeable hair reduction.
Pulsed light (IPL)
Pulsed light does not use a laser light source. Instead, it produces a pulse of high intensity light. There are a few advantages to this method. Owing to the broader range of wavelengths (colors) produced, a broader range of skin tones can be treated. The area covered is also larger, so treatments tend to be faster. With these advantages the treatments cost less.