Hair removal for sensitive skin—an expert guide to achieving a smooth, rather than sore finish

Tried-and-tested techniques to make hair removal for sensitive skin a far gentler experience

Woman raises are above her head to show a smooth underarm
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You might not believe it, but there is such a thing as hair removal for sensitive skin. While some women's skin is less tolerant of treatments and products than others, there is no reason why, if you use these tips and tricks, you can't get your legs, underarms, and bikini line looking and feeling as great as you want them to. 

Dermatologists and beauty experts are well versed in the issues raised by sensitive skin, so take note! Their recommendations on the best methods of hair removal for sensitive skin, as well as general skincare routines, mean that irritation and pain can be a thing of the past.

It might take some trial and error, but there are tried-and-true methods out there for sensitive skin. Whether it's finding the best razors for women, or trying a new, little-known waxing method, it is possible to achieve the silky-smooth skin you want.

Tips to deal with hair removal for sensitive skin

Take care of your skin, every day

If your skin gets irritated during or after hair removal, ask yourself this question before any other: do I give my skin the attention it needs regularly enough?

It won't help to blame the hair removal method if you're not making sure to do everything possible to keep your skin happy and healthy on a daily basis.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends easy remedies for dry or irritated skin that you can apply daily. These practices range from moisturizing right after washing to choosing extra-gentle clothes and laundry detergents.

“Truly any method of hair removal can be suitable if the right precautions are taken to soothe and protect the skin,” says Dr Erum N Ilyas, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology and founder of AmberNoon.

When you give your skin the love and care it needs, the options for hair removal for sensitive skin open right up.

Woman stroking smooth hairless legs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The less contact, the better

Although Dr Ilyas argues that any procedure can work, she acknowledges that some methods are better than others when it comes to hair removal for sensitive skin.

“Most hair removal methods such as shaving, depilatory creams, and waxing irritate or inflame the skin in the process of hair removal,” says Dr Ilyas. “Threading or plucking tend to be ideal for the simple reason that these two methods do not impact the skin directly in the same way that other hair removal methods do.”

When you think about it, it makes sense. Razors, creams, and waxes come into complete contact with the skin, whereas threading and plucking only aim to touch the hair itself. They also don’t involve the application of topical products, which could also be the source of irritation for some women.

That being said, threading and plucking are slow-going, and therefore not great options for larger areas, such as arms or legs.

Similarly, laser hair removal can potentially be a good option for sensitive skin as, while it takes some time, once the sessions are over the results should be nearly permanent. 

Try gentler products

You may also be able to perform the hair removal methods that have irritated your skin in the past by upgrading to less harsh products.

There are beauty products out there designed by and for women with sensitive skin, and they’re worth your attention. Have you ever heard of sugar wax, for example?

“Having tried every method out there, I can confidently say that sugaring is the best hair removal for sensitive skin by leaps and bounds,” says Salome Sallehy, founder of Sugar Sugar Wax.

Sugar wax only adheres to dead skin and hair—not healthy skin—when it's applied. That means that when it’s removed, it only strips away the stuff you don’t want on your legs, leaving you with smooth, shiny skin.

Salome also explains that traditional waxing techniques remove hair in the opposite direction to that that your hair grows, which is what causes pain and irritation for some women. Sugar wax, on the other hand, removes hair in the same direction as the hairs grow, limiting strain on the hair follicles.

“Sensitive skin doesn’t like to be pulled and prodded,” explains Salome. It’s important that skin gets to rest between waxing, so she recommends using sugar wax every six weeks.

Woman uses beauty spatula to apply hot wax to leg

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sugar wax isn’t the only product out there that offers an option removing hair from sensitive skin. People are discovering new beauty solutions every day—just keep an eye out for new products and innovations.

Your favorite hair-removal methods—quick tips for sensitive skin

Good old-fashioned hair-removal methods might still work for you, even if you have sensitive skin. The key is to choose gentle products and take good care of your skin before, during, and after whatever process or technique you opt for.

Shaving

Have you ever heard a chef say “a sharp knife is a safe knife?” Well, the same principle can be applied to razors.

Dull blades can lead to more nicks and potential razor burn, which in turn results in skin that's more irritated. Make sure your razors are sharp, whether that means sharpening them yourself or getting new razor heads as needed. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends sharpening or changing your razor every 5-7 shaves.

Additionally, gently wash your skin with warm water and/ or a facial cleanser before shaving to smooth and relax your skin.

Waxing

When it comes to waxing, technique is everything. It’s important to keep the skin taut while removing the strip, and it’s essential that you remove the strip in the direction that the hair is growing.

Make sure you apply gentle products to your skin beforehand to prepare it, and then apply a cooling gel or lotion—as well as a cold compress—to the skin afterwards. Additionally, taking an ibuprofen or anti-inflammatory 30 minutes before waxing can help with pain and redness. Waxing can be slightly less painful for some, which is why it's often a good facial hair removal option.

Threading or plucking

Threading or plucking are processes that grab the hair at the root and force it out of the skin. Ideally, nothing touches the skin, and the motion is so swift that it doesn’t tug the skin either. What’s important is that the process is done correctly and efficiently, to prevent damage and ingrown hairs, so the best advice we have for this process is to see a professional and don’t attempt it at home, especially without help. This is because there are some hairs you should and shouldn't pluck—and a professional is best placed to know the correct way to do things.

Depilatory creams

If you’ve never had luck with depilatory creams like Nair because of your sensitive skin, chances are it just might not be the hair removal method for you.

Depilatory creams are some of the harshest hair removal products because they use strong chemicals to literally dissolve hairs. Instead of experimenting with different products, experts recommend trying a different method all together, such as shaving, waxing, plucking or threading.

woman&home thanks Erum N Ilyas of AmberNoon and Schweiger Dermatology, and Salome Sallehy of Sugar Sugar Wax for their time and expertise.