Home CommentaryStudent Life Lines of demarcation: Our obsession with body hair

Lines of demarcation: Our obsession with body hair

by Archives March 8, 2006

VANCOUVER (CUP) – Juli Johnson has seen it all when it comes to body hair. Over the course of her career, she has removed hair from hundreds of legs, backs, butts and bikini lines, and there is plenty more on the horizon.

Just like hair, the business of its removal is experiencing constant growth as people look for new ways to shave, wax, pluck and laser away their undesirable bits. From her experience as a registered electrologist and the manager of a laser hair removal clinic in Vancouver, Johnson has gained plenty of insight into the relationship between humans and their hair.

“I use hair as this amazing metaphor for everything else that goes on in our social, cultural environment. It’s stuff that’s perfectly normal, that nobody wants to admit to and that everyone spends a lot of energy hiding,” she explains.

A lot of energy, and a lot of money-Johnson’s clinic has done over $1 million in hair removal procedures since its establishment.

It is clear that many people are willing to do what it takes to be rid of unwanted hair.

The desire to remove hair has persisted for thousands of years-evidence suggests that cavemen used sharp rocks to remove the hair from their faces. In more recent times, shaving and waxing have become common, every-day hair removal practices. As technology has developed, some have ventured into the world of spas, beauty salons and hair removal clinics.

The industry has traditionally catered to a female clientele, with women having hair removed from their faces, stomachs, bikini areas, arms, armpits and legs. This trend, according to Katelyn McIntyre, a fourth-year physiology student at the University of Saskatchewan, is indicative of society’s expectation that women maintain a specific appearance.

“I just think there’s a lot of pressure to look a certain way,” said McIntyre. “It’s the way that women are portrayed in Hollywood, you have all these girls walking around in microscopic clothing and you can’t have hair coming out of every nook and cranny.”

More recently, however, an increasing number of men have been taking an interest in hair removal, according to Johnson. As Johnson explained, social influences are equally responsible for this more masculine flurry of hair removal activity.

“We’re mammals, we have hair! And people don’t like it, especially because you never see it now,” she said. “Seriously, Calvin Klein has done a total number on body image. Society has definitely swung that way.”

Whatever the societal or cultural influences, decisions on hair removal are simply a matter of personal choice.

“I think a lot of the time it is something that I do for myself to make me feel clean and girlie,” said Sarah Hutchison, a University of Victoria theatre graduate. “But sometimes I just don’t care at all and feel that others can take it or leave it. It really changes day to day,” she said.

Waxing has become a very common hair removal procedure, as people have looked for alternatives to shaving or using depilatory creams, such as Nair.

“Shaving can be irritating. The hair is so coarse, it can be itchy or uncomfortable. When you wax, you don’t have that itchiness,” said Kelsey, a spa esthetician. “Depilatory creams can be really irritating on the skin. There are a lot of chemicals in them,” she said.

“With waxing, it lasts three to four weeks and your hair tends to grow back less and softer. The hair is a lot finer.”

According to the estheticians at her spa, they are seeing an increasing number of male clients.

“There are quite a few men that come in. They get back waxes, chest waxes, we also offer a male Brazilian.” explained Kelsey.

Although waxing is popular, an increasing number of people are willing to pay the price for a more permanent technique-laser hair removal. This method, according to Dr Jason Rivers of the UBC Laser Hair Removal Clinic at Vancouver General Hospital, is one of the most popular cosmetic procedures in North America today.

Laser hair removal differs from electrolysis, another common method, in several ways. Electrolysis destroys a hair follicle by changing the electrolytes in the area of the follicle, explained Rivers.

“The electrologist puts the needle or probe into the follicle and pushes on the pedal and that will destroy the follicle,” explained Rivers. “It’s a slow process, so you can only do a limited area at a time, it has to be done on more than one occasion, it’s painful, and at times, it can cause scarring.”

Electrolysis can only target one hair at a time, whereas laser removal can destroy several hairs at once, using an intense laser beam to destroy hair follicles.

“Lasers don’t use an electrical energy to destroy the hair follicle. The common modality is, to some degree, heat,” explained Rivers.

The UBC clinic now uses an EpiTouch Alex laser, which they say is five times faster than other hair removal lasers.

“You can scan a much larger area in a shorter period of time with this laser. Instead of one pulse per second, you could do multiple pulses per second,” Rivers said. “It would have taken me several hours to do someone’s back before, I can now get it down to half an hour or less.”

In some areas, such as the face, hair grows very quickly and it could take 10 to 12 sessions to finish the job. But the average is between four and eight treatments per patient. A single treatment at the clinic can cost between $125 and several hundred dollars. Each day the clinic sees approximately 40 patients.

Though the common belief is that laser removal is a complete, permanent procedure, Rivers emphasizes that there is no guarantee.

“The important thing for people to know is that it is permanent hair reduction and that means, defined by the FDA, a 50 per cent reduction in terminal hair growth for two or more growth cycles…It’s quite substantial though it may not be 100 per cent.”

Still, laser techniques have advanced the field of hair removal by leaps and bounds, said Johnson.

“If you can get rid of 80 to 90 per cent of somebody’s hair in six months, that’s astounding to me. * she said. Johnson is a personal fan of laser hair removal.

“I haven’t owned a razor in seven years,” she said.

Though Johnson sees more female clients for laser treatments at her clinic, the number of males getting treatments has increased.

“One of my favourite jobs is necks and cheeks [on men],” she says. “It makes a guy look so clean and well-groomed even if they haven’t shaved in a number of days. We get a lot of lawyers, a lot of real estate agents, we get guys in impression-based jobs..”

When it comes to laser hair removal, Johnson warns consumers not to rush into a particular technique and not to be hasty choosing a practitioner. A consumer’s expectations may not be in line with what a clinic can accomplish, she said.

“People still underestimate the biological component of hair growth. The truth is that as we get older, we get hairier…You have to understand what you’re dealing with and what the technology can accomplish.”

Johnson also stresses the importance of getting all the information before undertaking any hair removal endeavour.

“A lot of people are really shy and really embarrassed and really self-conscious. So people for some reason are willing to hand over money for procedures without really doing their homework. Go for three consultations at least. Get on the Internet. Really look into it,” she said. “Hair is kind of in the closet. You know, if you get a bunch of drunk girls together, it often comes up, but general table conversation is not somewhere where people talk about their nipple hairs.”

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