Razor burn. Ingrown hairs. Those ouchy little nicks you get on your kneecaps. Does hair removal have to be such medieval torture?
Lucky for our legs, underarms, and, well, elsewhere, the answer is no. Here's our guide to getting better results with shaving and alternative hair removal, with help from industry experts Cindy Barshop, owner of Completely Bare Spas, Janette Barredo, brand manager for The Art of Shaving and Kristina Vanoosthuyze, senior scientist for Procter and Gamble.
Step 1: For maximum smoothness, exfoliate the day before (try Kiehl's Gently Exfoliating Body Scrub, $25). Otherwise dead cells keep your razor from gliding smoothly.
Step 2: Relax in the shower/bath for three minutes to hydrate skin and soften hairs.
Step 3: Always apply shaving cream (never razor-clogging soap). Try Lippmann Collection Did I Shave My Legs for This?, $24(pictured here).
Step 4: Use long strokes and gentle pressure with your sharp razor (replace every five shaves), "like you're mowing a lawn," says Barredo, who recommends stretching the kneecap skin to remove every single hair from that tricky area.
Step 5: Post-shower, apply lotion containing shea butter for deep moisture and chamomile and calendula to soothe (try FC5 by Arbonne Conditioning Body Moisture, $23). This ensures a close shave next time.
General Advice: Always use a women's razor, which pivots to fit a woman's body and thus catches every hair (try Gillette Venus Embrace, $12.99, pictured here).
Step 1: Three minutes into your shower, apply shaving cream (try The Art of Shaving Cream Pump, $30) for lubrication.
Step 2: Gently glide the razor "up, across and down to get every hair," explains Vanoosthuyze. "Hair grows in different directions here." Pulling on the razor equals razor burn, so go softly. Always use a fresh blade that has been stored in a dry area.
Step 3: Still get irritation? Apply pre-shave oil like eShave Pre Shave Oil, $19 or olive oil before shaving cream for more protection.
BIKINI LINE 101
Step 1: Coarse hair is harder to remove. To start, trim hair to a half-inch. Or use a trimmer like the Schick Quattro for Women TrimStyle, $10.99, pictured.
Step 2: Prone to razor burn or ingrowns? Apply pre-shave oil or olive oil three minutes into your shower.
Step 3: Apply shaving cream generously (try Aveeno Positively Smooth Shave Gel, $3.99). On the first pass, pull skin taut and gently shave in the direction the direction of hair growth.
Step 4: Reapply shaving cream and shave again, this time against the hair growth.
Step 5: Post-shower, apply fragrance-free, soothing moisturizer with aloe or chamomile (try St. Ives Intensive Healing Advanced Therapy Lotion, $5.79) to fight ingrown hairs.
Step 6: If you still get ingrowns, use an exfoliating treatment like Tend Skin, $29 to help the hair break through the skin. Don't tweeze or pick. Once hair breaks through the skin, "shave it off so it grows correctly," says Barredo.
The deal: Chemical creams such as Sally Hansen Naturally Bare Creme Hair Remover for Body, $8 and Bikini Zone Creme Hair Removal, $6.49 weaken hair so you can wipe it away.
The bonus: Delivers a longer period of smoothness than shaving, since hair is removed slightly below the skin's surface.
Best for: Fine hair and less sensitive areas like the arms and legs.
Avoid if: You're sensitive-skinned or coarse-haired (waxing or shaving will net better results).
PRO WAXING 101
The deal: Wax is applied to skin and removed with a cloth strip or by pulling the dried wax strip. Tip: Go to a waxing specialist who wears gloves and doesn't double dip sticks in the wax tub, and one where "they take longer, about 30 minutes, to do your wax -- it won't hurt as much," says Barshop.
The bonus: Three weeks of smoothness, since it pulls out the root.
Best for: Dark, coarse hair and those who get stubble or shadow immediately after shaving.
Avoid if: You can't stand any stubble, since you need a quarter to a half inch of hair in order to get a good wax. Also prepare for moderate pain when the wax is pulled off. Finally, the expense -- $30 to $60 average per month.
HOME WAXING 101
The deal: Use a kit like Sally Hansen Extra Strength Allover Body Wax Hair Removal Kit, $10.69, pictured here. If you've never done it before, step-by-step video from Completely Bare Spas for guidance.
The bonus: Inexpensive, convenient.
Best for: Fine to medium hair growth.
Avoid if: "Leave Brazilian waxes to a specialist," says Barshop. Also, coarse or thick hair needs pro waxing.
LASER HAIR REMOVAL 101
The deal: Intense pulses of laser light target the hair's melanin and kill the follicle with heat. You'll need six to eight sessions ($200-$350 a pop). Note that it doesn't get rid of all your hair in the lasered area.
The bonus: Can completely eliminate ingrowns and reduces overall hair growth. Plus you can shave between sessions.
Best for: Those whose everyday life is affected by hair. "If you won't go on a date or go to the beach because you have hair growth, consider laser," Barshop says.
Avoid if: Your hair is lighter than your skin color, because the laser can't discern your hair from your skin. Also, consider your pain threshold; if waxing tortures you, laser will be more intense.
GROWTH INHIBITORS 101
The deal: "Shave-minimizing lotions" claim to slow growth so you shave less often. Some use botanical/plant extracts ( Bliss Get Out of Hair!, $35(pictured) and Completely Bare Completely Smooth, $42). Others use soy (Aveeno Positively Smooth Moisturizing Lotion, $7.99).
The bonus: They moisturize, which is key to a close shave, something Barredo, Vanoosthuyze, and Barshop all agree on. And many exfoliate with willow bark, which can prevent ingrowns.
Best for: Reluctant shavers.
Avoid if: You're not a gambler, as many experts and consumers are skeptical of these creams' effectiveness. But since moisturized skin equals closer-shaved skin, they can't hurt.
HOT NEW SHAVING GADGETS
A few newbies that have everyone buzzing...
Sun Maita Threader Kit, $150 (pictured) is an at-home threader best used on face and underarms.
TRIA Personal Hair Removal System, $795 is the first FDA-approved at-home laser. For use only on light to medium skin tones with medium to dark hair.
The Art of Shaving After-Shave Mask, $50 is a soothing three-minute clay mask to prevent razor burn, ingrown hairs and irritation. In convenient single-use vials.