From vellus hair to leg hair, and all the hair in between, hair removal is a monthly (or weekly) beauty regimen for many Black women. Whether you remove hair with a razor in the bathroom or book a dermatologist appointment for laser removal, a hair-free body may be the preferred appearance. However, the beautification of hair removal in Africa and the diaspora may be more of a result of cultural conditioning.
In West Africa, Igbo women were stereotyped as hairy in literature like Igbo Village Affairs with pubic hair in connection to pride. In Zimbabwe, the Shona people saw pubic hair as a symbol of fertility; in New Guinea, for the Kwoma people, hair was a symbol of beauty; and hair is seen as power for the Himba women. For Africans and the Black diaspora, the hair on our head (and for many Africans, the body) is held to a high cultural status.
However, in Black diaspora culture, body hair is stereotyped as masculine. Hair removal is a symbol of beauty in popular culture with a range of tools used to remove body hair for a more smooth, silkier feel. From dermatologist-conducted laser hair removal to waxing, sugaring, and shaving, the treatment process for unwanted hair can be temporary, permanent and at times, painful. If you want to move away from the razor bumps induced by shaving, or simply in search of more long lasting alternatives, follow below for our Essence Beauty guide to hair removal.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), you can apply hot or cold wax to your skin, then remove the wax with a fast motion to pull hair out from the root. Black women will often book an appointment for a pubic hair, leg hair, or armpit hair wax with results to last a few weeks or longer. A painful option to hair removal, waxing remains an extremely popular hair removal tool for longer-lasting results. We would recommend receiving a professional wax at a studio.
Sugaring is an ancient method to remove hair with a more recent increase in popularity. Compared to waxing, sugaring is a similar technique however the mixture is applied in the opposite direction of hair growth, then pulled in the normal direction. “Most sugaring products contain sugar, lemon and water or similar ingredients, and are heated to make a sticky syrup that can adhere to the hairs to help pull them out,” said dermatologist Amy Kassouf, MD. “Waxing is often done in one treatment, while sugaring may take several passes,” explained Dr. Kassouf. “Sugaring doesn’t remove as many additional skin cells since the cooled mixture doesn’t adhere to your skin.”
Laser hair removal, a more permanent hair removal tool, emits a light beam which the pigment in your hair absorbs. With the laser, the hair follicle is damaged over time and can not grow back. The process will take approximately 6 treatments to effectively remove hair, however removal is permanent, except for on the face. After each treatment, the hair will grow back more thin and fine until the final laser removal session.
Whether you choose to shave, or not, you have options for how to deal with body hair. Just remember—to remove body hair, your follicles have to grow out really long first. As you approach hair removal, remove the stigma towards body hair and allow yourself to feel beautified throughout the hair growth process—not just the end result.