Ladies: should you be shaving?

Dr A. Bolin

Ladies should you shave your face or put the razor down? Dr A. Bolin looks at the pro’s and con’s of women shaving.

Would you like to have a glowing face with smooth skin that beauty serums penetrate easily into and your makeup glides over?  These are just some of the claims proponents of shaving make, but can it achieve that or will you end up with a face full of stubble?

It seems many women are willing to find out with shaving becoming increasingly popular. Many women shave to get rid of unwanted hair, whereas others do it for the skin smoothing effects.


Women’s facial hair taboo

Let’s face it, women do not often talk about all the work that goes into their regimen for body hair removal, especially involving facial hair.  It is usually softer and thinner than men, but not necessarily. The colour and thickness varies depending on genetics, hormones (puberty, Poly Cystic Ovarians Syndrome or PCOS, menopause) and some medications.

According to the NHS, up to 75% of women notice an increase in facial hair as they get older. Facial hair can cause stress and low self-esteem with some women feeling less feminine. Removing that hair in conjunction with other emotional and psychological supports can help improve self-confidence.


Women across the globe and across time

If you are concerned about facial hair, you’re not alone.  For centuries women have found novel ways to rid themselves of body hair and facial hair.  Various techniques include manual plucking, threading (originated in the Middle East), sugaring, epilation, topical eflornithine HCl 13.9%, shaving, waxing, and lasers. A plethora of options exist from techniques established from Cleopatra to Marilyn Monroe, ancient Persian and Egyptian methods to present Japanese rituals such as shaving salons for women offering kao sori (definition: shaved face).


Do you have thick, dark, fine or fair facial hair?

When you look at your family, men and women, what type of body and facial hair do you see? Genetics, hormone levels (especially testosterone) and medications (such as anabolic steroids) can have an effect on the thickness, texture and amount you have.

It could be fine soft peach fuzz (vellus hair), sparse coarse sprouts or perhaps even a thickish moustache/beard.

There is a scale that dermatologists use to describe how dense the body hair is: the Ferriman-Gallway score.

Whatever your density is, what are the benefits and risks of shaving?


Benefit: Every penny counts and shaving is pretty cheap

Laser and IPL (intense pulsed light) only works on pigmented hair and is less effective on fine and fair hair.  It is costly and requires multiple treatments.

Bleaching and depilatory creams (which dissolve keratin in hair structure) can irritate sensitive skin.

Threading involves a technician that uses a cotton thread with a series of turns/knots to pull individual hairs out from the roots, which is a good chemical free option but it might be hard to find qualified technicians depending on where you live, it’s time consuming and may not work on fine hairs.

Electrolysis delivers small electrical shocks at the fine tip of a needle to the base of each follicle which destroys the hair.

All of these methods (except threading perhaps) would be considerably more expensive than shaving.


How could my skin benefit from shaving?

Shaving exfoliates the skin. In some ways the skin benefits are a step toward – or mini-version – of doing microdermabrasion, a micropeel, chemical exfoliation, dermaplaning or laser resurfacing etc.  All of these treatments offered by dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons are costly and time-consuming.  Dermaplaning is a technique used by dermatologists gently using a scalpel to exfoliate the top layer of skin (epidermis), which also eliminates the peach fuzz (vellus hair).  Remember that dermaplaning is done by a professional and shaving at home will likely not yield as professional results.


Pluses and minuses

So, on the plus side we have:

+           shaving your face is cheaper than most other methods of hair removal and skin treatments.

+           conveniently done at home.

+           exfoliation helps buff away residual makeup, pollution and dead skin that accumulates.

+           by removing the dead skin and top layer of skin along with the hairs, you may notice a smoother, slightly lighter/brighter complexion.

+           newly deposited collagen and elastic fibres as the skin heals and resurfaces.


Risks: Could my skin look worse after shaving?

As a blade cuts the hair, it also removes the top layer of skin cells.  If you have sensitive skin just the fact of disturbing the root (follicle) can lead to inflammation as some bacteria settle into the area (folliculitis).

–            you might require topical or oral antibiotics.

–            Pseudofolliculitis barbae (aka barber’s itch, razor bumps) are ingrown hairs when the hair shaft is unable to grow past the skin surface and hence coils under causing irritation.

–            If you are overly enthusiastic with your razor, you can have bleeding, chafed areas which might be prone to infection and require treatment.

–            Any inflammatory reactions can lead to changes in the skin pigmentation and scarring.

–            Also, your new skin underneath might be more erythematous (pink/red) or sensitive to chemical products, makeup, and sunlight (more prone to sunburn). Make sure you use a good sunscreen.


Risk? Will I end up with stubble and a 5 o’clock shadow?

Our hair is thicker at the base and naturally tapers at the ends, giving it a softer feel. If you shave it you cut it off in the middle of the shaft and it can feel like it is rougher. Does this mean that it has become thicker and you’ll sprout a moustache? No, the number of hairs will not increase and if you stop, after a while it should go back to its usual softer self.

So, what’s the upshot? It a personal choice. Many women who do it claim their make up goes on better, their skin looks and feels younger and their skincare product seem to absorb better as the layer of dead cells on the skin is removed. But there is it risk that regrowth may feel bristly and unlike waxing or light therapies it won’t remove or thin the hairs.

It’s a cosmetic choice with its risks and benefits and if you feel it could make a difference then it could be worth a shot.


Tips for good face shaving:

  • use only razors or exfoliators designed for the face, as other products might be damaging to the skin.  Certain companies sell these single blade micro razors such as Shiseido (Japanese company) or Tinkle (Chinese company).
  • wet vs. dry shave: I leave it to your skill, preference and skin type.  Some people are able to achieve a good result with a dry shave, but it might be too irritating for sensitive skin.  Others swear by the hydrating effects of a good shaving cream.
  • If you do head to a salon or have someone do it for you, ensure that they are a trained practitioner in a professional setting with sterile clean equipment.


*Reminder: if you experience increased body/facial hair accompanied by oily skin, acne, voice changes (deeper than usual) and your periods are irregular or stop – contact your GP for an assessment.



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