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All you need to know about hair removal

By Verne Maree 

Preferring to be hair-free is nothing new, I’ve discovered. Prehistoric cave paintings show some cavemen with facial hair and others with smooth faces. They’re thought to have use flint blades to scrape their beards off – ouch!

Early Egyptian women removed every hair, except for those on their heads and eyebrows. Ancient Greek sculptures of females depict universally hairless underarms and pudenda, while their male counterparts do sport pubic hair. As for the ladies of ancient Rome, they employed razors, pumice stones and tweezers, or “waxed” with resin or pitch. They also used depilatory concoctions of arsenic, bat’s blood, she-goat’s gall, powdered viper and more.

Though razors, creams and waxing techniques have come a long way over the millennia, their basic mechanical principle remains the same. Here’s a rundown of current hair removal techniques, from the quick, cheap and easy to the high-tech and unavoidably pricey.

What’s the Difference?

Depilation removes hair above the skin’s surface. Shaving or trimming are most common; chemical depilatories also fall into this category.

is the removal of the entire hair, including the part below the skin. Methods include tweezing, waxing, sugaring, epilation devices, lasers, threading, intense pulsed light (IPL) or electrology.


If you’ve successfully undergone IPL or laser hair reduction, you might wonder (apart from the cost aspect) why anyone still bothers with shaving and other methods that can offer only a temporary solution. The truth is that these new, high-tech procedures do not work for everyone. Most effective on thicker, darker hair growing from pale skin, laser and IPL can be a waste of time on blondes.

Having heard that was the case, I’ve never tried them, but one of my blonde Expat Living colleagues confirms that she has – multiple times and on various areas of her body, and to absolutely no effect. Fortunately for us, the modern versions of flint stones, waxes and depilatory creams are far less scary.


Shaving is still the easiest and cheapest way to get rid of unwanted body hair. Gillette came out with the first men’s safety razor in the 1880s; and in 1915, soon after Harper’s Bazaar featured an evening gown model with arms raised to reveal smoothly shaven armpits, Wilkinson Sword famously launched an ad campaign to persuade women that underarm hair was unhygienic and unfeminine. As hemlines rose and swimwear shrank, razors got increasingly busier. Do razors still have a place? I think they do, especially for removing thin, light hair that does not grow back thick and prickly.


Though it’s possible to thread unwanted hair from anywhere on the body, nowadays threading is mainly used for facial hair – eyebrows, upper lip and chin. So says Sylvia from Sylvia’s Secrets , which offers the whole gamut of face and body treatments. Having originated in ancient Persia, where it was done before marriage to signal the attainment of womanhood, threading both the face and body has long been popular in many Arab countries, together with China and India.


How is it done? A thin cotton thread specially designed for threading is doubled and twisted, then rolled over areas of unwanted hair to pluck out the hairs from their follicles.


Advantages of Threading

1.Unlike waxing, threading doesn’t use any foreign substances, making it a popular choice for people with sensitive skin.
2.Unlike tweezing one hair at a time, threading removes multiple hairs at once so you get the sting over with quickly. The surrounding skin may be a bit red, sore or puffy afterwards, but threading isunlikely to cause irritation or a rash.
3.The thread pulls out hairs in a straight line, giving clean, precise brow-lines that many people prefer.



Cost: Upper lip $8; eyebrows $15

Where to go:

Sylvia’s Secrets

559 Bukit Timah Road, #03-01A King’s Arcade (6469 0833)

100 Turf Club Road, Horsecity (64655338)




This is another ancient technique that goes back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians. They used a sticky mixture of honey and oil, sometimes mixed with beeswax, in a version of what we now call sugar waxing, or sugaring. A strip of cloth was then applied to the paste and swiftly yanked off to remove both paste and hair.


As the hair is pulled out from the root, the effect lasts longer than shaving and the hair does not grow out in a prickly stubble – especially welcome news for your nether bits. Since the late 1970s revival of a trend for little or no pubic hair for women, bikini line or Brazilian waxing has become increasingly popular.


On the downside, waxing is undeniably painful; but happily less so in the highly experienced hands of Evonne from Visage the Salon , who has been in the business for 18 years and did her first Brazilian wax in 2001. And if you get it done monthly, it can in time cause hair to become thinner and sparser.


Wherever on the face or body it’s done, Evonne says that a good, clean waxing comes from using the correct wax product with a good technique. “For a lasting result, it’s important the hair be plucked cleanly from the root,” she emphasises; speed is not everything.


The genital area is the hardest area to wax, because the hair grows in different directions. But it’s actually recommended by some doctors, as it can reduce the incidence of thrush and urinary tract infections in susceptible women.


You could wax your own bits in the privacy of a locked bathroom, where no one can hear you scream. I find Veet wax strips pretty good for this purpose. Unless you’re a contortionist, however, it’s impossible to achieve a totally hair-free cleanup down under – if that’s what you’re after. For that, you need a professional.


Cost: A Brazilian wax starts at $55.

Where to go:


402 Orchard Road

#02-12/15 Delfi Orchard

6733 0933 | visage.com.sg


Waxing Tips

1.Avoid having a bikini or Brazilian wax either in the week before or during your period, when skin is more sensitive.
2.If you’ve been shaving, wait at least a week for the hair to grow out before waxing it.
3.A little cortisone cream can be applied to soothe the redness.
4.After any tenderness has disappeared, gently exfoliate the area in the shower to avoid getting ingrown hairs.


Rebecca’s Review:


“If you are a waxing virgin or, like me, have been getting by with razors and hair removal creams for a while, then I recommend a visit to Deborah at Diana King’s salon, The Waxing Guru . Of all the salons I’ve tried in the past, I found this one the least painful and definitely the fastest.


Within minutes of climbing the stairs in the Holland Village shophouse (opposite Paris Silk), I was coming down again – and with hardly a tear! Admittedly, I only went for the Splash and Play version instead of the Full Monty, which I’m told takes only a little longer.


I had my underarms waxed too, and the effect has lasted remarkably well. Though my underarm growth is rather pathetic, its regrowth is persistent, and it’s been great over the holiday period not to have to worry about them or my bikini line. The verdict? Well worth the price and the time.


They also do full body waxing, face and brow threading, brow and lash tinting and henna treatments.”

Rebecca Bisset, UK, Editor-in-Chief


Cost: Bikini-line $45; full Brazilian $50

Where to go:

The Waxing Guru

25 Lorong Liput

Holland Village

6468 7965 | waxingguru.com

Depilatory Creams

Quick and easy, this is an inexpensive DIY method. Depilatory creams such as Veet and Nair contain strongly alkaline ingredients that work to dissolve the protein in the follicle of the hair; after a few minutes, the residue is simply rinsed or wiped away.

They can be smelly, though – much like a hair perm – and as only the upper part of the follicle is dissolved, the effect doesn’t last much longer than a shave. Even if the chemical smell has been masked with perfume, their powerful ingredients can irritate or even burn the skin if left on for too long.


What’s more, we now know that our skin does absorb harmful substances; pity those hair-shy Egyptians whose depilatory preparations included arsenic!


Cost: Under $20

Where to get it: Supermarkets and pharmacies


Something new – Dermaplaning

In dermaplaning, a scalpel blade is used to scrape off the upper layer of facial skin, simultaneously exfoliating it and removing the fine vellus hair. That’s exactly what happens when you shave your legs in the shower, and you’d achieve a similar result by using a razor on your face.


If this sounds shocking, remember that a woman’s fuzzy vellus hair is very different from the coarser hair on your underarms and pubic area; I’ve been assured that cutting it does not cause thicker growth or make it feel stubbly. (You first, my friend, and let me know how you go.)



Though it’s said that no manufacturers of light-based hair removal machines are allowed to claim that they will effect permanent hair removal, they are allowed to claim permanent hair reduction, meaning that hair will be removed to a significant degree. Then there’s electrolysis, an older technology that can claim permanent removal over many sessions of treatment.

IPL – Intense Pulsed Light

IPL systems are different from laser systems in that each IPL pulse can deliver hundreds of different wavelengths or colours. Each tingling zap of IPL stings momentarily as the burst of light is absorbed by the pigment in the hair follicle, which converts the light to heat. As with laser, this heat destroys the follicle and stops its regrowth. You’ll need a number of sessions to achieve permanent reduction, because each follicle needs to be treated at each stage in its growth cycle.


The treated area may feel warm for up toa couple of hours, says Mary Silva of hair removal specialist BARE , which uses the latest generation of multi-application IPL systems shipped directly from Italy. This can be relieved by splashing it with cold water. And when the course of treatment is completed, she promises, you will be assured of smooth,hair-free skin, permanently. Effective on almost any area of the body, it’s especially useful for large areas such as the back or legs and costs $120 to $1,000 per session, depending on the area treated.


SkinLab offers Ellipse I2PL Permanent Hair Removal, a second-generation IPL system that uses highly filtered red light to enhance results and safety levels by reducing heat. Expect costs to start from $138, depending on the area. You can try it at their second outlet, just opened at the ritzy new extension to Plaza Singapura.


Where to go:


328 North Bridge Road

#02-24 Raffles Hotel Arcade

6737 6018 | bareaesthetics.sg

Promotion: 20 percent discount for Expat Living readers on IPL hair removal treatments during the month of February.



#03-33 Plaza Singapura (6336 1106)

#04-04 Wheelock Place (6235 3246)



Electrolysis, Best for Faces

Apart from the fine, fuzzy vellus hair that covers our bodies, women tend not to sport much facial hair. So, unless you’re earning a living as the Bearded Lady, facial hirsutism can be distressing. Renuka of Renique Salon recommends electrolysis as a safe and inexpensive way to remove facial hair permanently

As she points out, different ethnic groups tend to have more or less body and facial hair. Excessive hair growth can also be linked to higher levels of male hormones or androgens. As we grow older, hypertrichosis – an increase in facial or body hair – may become evident. It can be triggered by certain over-the-counter supplements, hereditary factors, hormonal imbalance or menopause-related hormonal changes.

How you treat facial hair depends on personal preference, she says, andwhether the hair is light and superficial or dark and thick:

Bleaching can cause skin allergies and is not recommended for acne sufferers. Also, bleached hair can still be seen in bright light and in the sun, especially against warmer skin tones.

Waxing is only a short-term solution and can cause irritation and breakouts; what’s more, the pulling motion can in time cause skin to sag.

Threading is a popular choice, but needs to be repeated every four to six weeks.

IPL for hair reduction is effective on dark hair, but may be expensive.

Electrolysis, however,is a safe permanent hair removal method that works on hair of any colour, including blonde, red or grey.


First used in 1875 by an opthalmologist who removed ingrown eyelashes using a fine needle and a galvanic current to destroy the follicle, electrolysis is effective and inexpensive. It does require multiple sittings, though.


Promotion: 20-percent discount for Expat Living readers on hair removal treatments during the month of February.


Where to go:


190 Clemenceau Avenue

#03-25 Singapore Shopping Centre

6337 0966 | 8163 8544 | renique.com.sg


SHR – Super Hair Removal

Here’s something new and improved from David Loh Surgery , with plenty of acronyms to keep us on our toes. Its SHR uses Advanced Fluorescent Technology or AFT, which employs special filters to convert certain unused wavelengths of light into useful wavelengths.

Why bother? you may well ask. Dr K J Wong explains that AFT uses lower energy levels to achieve the same effect as IPL and laser. Like them, AFT targets the hair follicle, killing the hair; but because it’s not laser, it causes only minimal discomfort. And because it’s not IPL, it’s suitable for all skin types – including darker ones.

He says that many of his patients who have had pain or unsatisfactory results from other technologies have had good outcomes with SHR technology. Usually, four sessions are needed for near-permanent hair removal.

Cost: Prices vary according to the size of the area treated. For example, a jawline and chin treatment session would cost $180, whereas a full back treatment session would cost $1,200.


Where to go:

David Loh Surgery

541 Orchard Road

#11-01 Liat Towers

6733 9114 | davidloh.sg


Laser Hair Removal

Laser was first developed in the 1920s. In the 1980s when it was used to remove birthmarks, a side effect was noticed: it removed hair, too. Specific laser hair removal technology was developed in the mid-1990s and continues to advance.

Dr Anita Soosay of The Aesthetics Centre says it’s one of their most-requested treatments. She prefers laser to other high-tech forms of hair removal because it results in permanent hair reduction without significant risk to the skin. Other form of light-based treatment such as IPL, she says, hold a high risk of burns, especially for those with tanned or darker skin. As for short-term solutions such as waxing and shaving, they can result in ingrown hair and folliculitis, and the continual irritation may also darken the skin.

Having several different types of lasers that cater to different skin types and hair colours means she’s able to customise treatment for a wide variety of patient needs. “We constantly update our machines in order to provide the most efficient treatment for our patients,” she adds.


Cost per session: Upper lip $120; underarms $400; half leg $700.

Where to go:

The Aesthetics Centre

1 Kim Seng Promenade

#03-10 Great World City

68203308 | dranitasoosay.com


LHE (Light & Heat Energy) Hair Removal

Now blondes can have even more fun than the world traditionally expects of us. By adding heat to the light delivered by other light-based systems, LHE doesn’t rely solely on follicular melanin’s light-attracting properties, making it unprecedentedly effective on blonde, brown, red and grey hair.


Lucie’s Review:


As I am blonde and have very fair hair, looking for a successful and permanent hair removal product or treatment has always been a challenge. Having fairer hair means that any light based hair removal machine is much less likely to have 100-percent success.


Over the past few weeks, I have been undergoing Light Heat Energy (LHE) hair removal treatment at the Spa @ Loewen Gardens. This machine uses heat for better results than can be achieved by most other light-based hair-removal technologies. It works by pulsating broad-spectrum light at the treatment area. Melanin in the hair absorbs the LHE, which raises the temperature of the hair follicle. Heat energy further increases the hair shaft temperature to destroy the hair follicle.


I have had a total of six sessions, and I am extremely happy with the outcome. This machine was certainly effective in picking up the hair follicles and permanently removing most of the hair, causing the remaining re-growth to be a lot slower and thinner.


The service I received was excellent, including a very thorough initial consultation where my friendly and professional therapists explained exactly how the treatment works and what results to expect. Overall, it was a brilliant experience.


Lucie Lamprey, UK, Physiotherapist


Cost: From $120 per session for upper lip to $480 for full back; packages available.

Where to go:

Spa @ Loewen Gardens

75e Loewen Road

Tanglin Village

6471 1922 | loewenspa.com.sg


Laser for Men

Plenty of men are discovering laser hair removal, and the cherubic owner of  Dr Valentin Low Aesthetic & Laser Clinic  sees his fair share of them in between the flock of pretty women who flit in and out of his clinic. Mainly, they want hair removed from their upper lips, the jaw and chin area, the chest, the back and the arms and legs.


To solve the problem of ingrown hairs caused by shaving sensitive skin, removing beard and neck hair is a popular option, he says. Intervals of two to three weeks between sessions are recommended; four, five or more sessions may be required for permanent removal of unwanted hair.


I know that Valentin is not a great believer in numbing creams, so I have to ask: do men cry much when they’re zapped with laser, or are they braver than women? Disappointingly, he closes ranks; his lips purse and he refuses to tell. (Between you and me, I bet they whimper like little girls.)


I have one last question: Do men ever come in for, er, scrotal defoliation – otherwise known as “back, crack and sac”? They do, he admits, and he’s willing to do it – but that’s perhaps not his favourite job.


Cost: From $300 per area per session.

Where to go:  

Dr Valentin Low Aesthetic and Laser Clinic

290 Orchard Road

#08-03 Paragon Medical Suites

6720 3323 | drvalentinlow.com

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