Control body hair?

Dear Alice —

I'm only 18, but I have a lot of hair on my chest. I'm afraid of letting women see me with my shirt off because I don't want them to be turned off. How can I get rid of this rug and keep it under control without shaving daily? Also, is there away to slow down my beard growth? Shaving more than once a day can be very irritating to my face, but I hate looking so dirty.

 — Harry

Dear Harry,

There are a number of ways to remove unwanted hair, each with benefits and side effects. Because skin sensitivity tends to vary by location on the body, some methods of hair removal can be more effective and less painful depending on the targeted area. As implied in your question, shaving daily can be quite harsh on the skin and may result in razor burn, a skin condition associated with hair removal by razor.    

If the goal is “keeping this rug under control,” one consideration is choosing body hair reduction instead of body hair removal e.g., trimming rather than shaving. Using an electric razor with a guard to achieve a uniform, shorter desired length can create a less voluminous look, making it stand out less if other parts of your body are less hairy by comparison. Shaping and contouring the hair is also an option—such as trimming armpit hair that connects to chest hair, shaving shoulders if hair extends above the collar bone, and shaving the bottom of your neck to so that chest and beard hair don't connect. A similar strategy can be employed on facial hair. Keeping your face and chest hair well-groomed may alter your and others’ perceptions of it.

Professional services such as sugaring and waxing are longer lasting options; an adhesive emulsion is applied to the skin and then quickly removed so that the targeted hair is ripped out in the process. One benefit of this is that it removes the hair from the root, meaning a new hair must grow, usually occurring over the course of weeks. While waxing and sugaring can be done at home, if done by a professional, it can be expensive. Hair growth can be further slowed by using a depilatory cream, a lotion that disintegrates hair.

While there are permanent hair removal solutions available such as laser treatment and electrolysis, these can be costly, painful, and often require many sessions to achieve desired results. However, many people choose these due to their long-lasting effects and low-maintenance once the treatments are complete. Consultation with a medical professional in the field such as dermatology is recommended before deciding on this type of treatment.

Popular opinion on body hair, particularly chest hair and beards, is constantly changing. As new fashions and styles become more widely recognized, perceptions of attractiveness may shift. Views on body hair can also vary from country to country, as well as region to region within a country—a recent study concluded that people in urban areas were more likely to have beards. Before you decide on a permanent hair removal option, consider giving it time as your feelings about it could shift depending on where you live next. Who knows? It might just grow on you.   

Last updated Oct 21, 2022
Originally published Sep 01, 1993

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