Goodbye to hairy legs

Most women spend a lifetime keeping the hair on their legs as short as possible. If you're a male cyclist, hair removal is as important for you, since clean legs can cut the risk of infection after falls.

Unfortunately, hair removal can be a bit of a hassle. Here are some tips, courtesy of the US Food & Drug Administration:

Epilators: needle, electrolysis and tweezers
Needle epilators introduce a fine wire close to your hair shaft, under the skin, and into the hair follicle. An electric current travels down the wire and destroys the hair root at the bottom of the follicle, and the loosened hair is removed with tweezers.

Medical electrolysis devices destroy hair growth with a shortwave radio frequency after a thin probe is placed in the hair follicle. Risks from these methods include infection from an unsterile needle and scarring from improper technique. Electrolysis is considered a permanent hair-removal method, since it destroys the hair follicle. It requires a series of appointments over a period of time.

Tweezer epilators also use electric current to remove hair. The tweezers grasp the hair close to the skin, and energy is applied at the tip of the tweezer. No scientific studies have established whether the tweezer epilator can permanently remove hair.

Available in gel, cream, lotion, aerosol and roll-on forms, depilatories are highly alkaline (or, in some cases, acidic) formulations that affect the protein structure of your hair, causing it to dissolve into a jellylike mass that you can easily wipe from your skin.

You should carefully follow instructions and heed all warnings on the product label. For example, manufacturers typically recommend conducting a preliminary skin test for allergic reaction and irritation. Depilatories should not be used for eyebrows or around eyes or on inflamed or broken skin.

Side effects may include burns, blisters, stinging, itchy rashes and skin peeling.

Waxing, sugaring and threading
Unlike chemical depilatories that remove hair at the skin's surface, these methods pluck hairs out of the follicle, below the surface.

With waxing, a layer of melted wax is applied to the skin and allowed to harden. (Cold waxes, which are soft at room temperature, allow the user to skip the steps of melting and hardening.) It's then pulled off quickly in the opposite direction of the hair growth, taking the uprooted hair with it.

These products should generally not be used if you have diabetes and circulatory problems. Waxes shouldn't be used over varicose veins, moles or warts. These products also shouldn't be used on eyelashes, the nose, ears, nipples, genital areas or on irritated, chapped or sunburned skin. As with chemical depilatories, it can be a good idea to do a preliminary test on a small area for allergic reaction or irritation.

Sugaring is similar to waxing. A heated sugar mixture is spread on the skin, sometimes covered with a strip of fabric, and then lifted off to remove hair. Threading is an ancient technique in which a loop of thread is rotated across the skin to pluck the hair. All of these techniques may cause skin irritation and infection.

Shaving hair only when it's wet, and shaving in the direction in which the hairs lie, can help lessen skin irritation and cuts. It's important to use a clean razor with a sharp blade. Contrary to popular belief, shaving doesn't change the texture, color or growth rate of hair.

(Source: US Food & Drug Administration, September 2008)

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