Throughout history, women have shaved, waxed, plucked, and tweezed, all with the goal of hair removal in mind. But how much do we actually know about this thing we're so intent upon eradicating? Just what is hair? How does it grow? And how does it respond to shaving?
What is hair?
A strand of human hair consists of three parts: the cortex, the cuticle, and the medulla. Human hairs are contained within hair follicles. A woman's legs and underarms combined contain approximately 78,000 hair follicles. The number of follicles is determined by genetics—after birth no new follicles are formed. The hair root, or papilla, is found at the base of the follicle, deep within the skin, and is the only living portion of the hair structure. Hair itself is not alive.
How does hair grow?
Once the cells that comprise hair are produced, they die and harden, forming the hair shaft. The hair shaft is then pushed up through the follicle opening toward the surface of the skin at an average rate of 1/4 inch per month.
What are the effects of shaving?
The effects of shaving on human hair have been studied extensively in recent years. The overwhelming conclusion is that shaving does not affect the re-growth of shaved hair. Shaving doesn't alter the size or color of the hair. Further, shaving doesn't cause shaved hair to grow back thicker, darker, or faster. Shaving does, however, alter the tip shape of the re-growing hair, which may initially change the way hair feels to the touch when it grows back after shaving.
If the shaved hair is allowed to grow back completely, the hair will return to its previously silky and soft-feeling state.
The Science of Skin
Maintaining soft, smooth, hair-free skin means properly caring for it—before and after shaving. In general, the skin on a woman's legs is relatively dry as there are few oil-producing glands located there. Therefore, it is essential to prepare skin for shaving by applying a moisture-rich shave gel. Hydrating hair with warm water makes it up to 60% easier to cut.
Unlike women's legs, the underarm area, where glands are abundant, tends to be comparatively moist. Although moisture makes cutting the hair easier, it also makes the skin suppler and allows it to move with the razor when shaving. In the underarm area, the structure below the surface of the skin makes it more flexible than on the leg. This skin suppleness may make it more difficult to get a close shave, so women should raise their arm high above the head when shaving. This pulls the skin taut, enabling the blade to cut hair more closely.