If you’ve ever wanted to get rid of errant hairs in a hurry — whether they’re on your face, arms or elsewhere on your body — you’ve probably hesitated before picking up a razor. Surely you should wax or use a depilatory cream instead, right?
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After all, you’ve always been told that shaving your hair will make it grow back thicker … in exactly the spots where you don’t want luscious locks to grow.
As it turns out, this is a myth: Shaving won’t make your hair regrow any thicker or faster. But there’s some logic behind thinking it does.
“When hairs are cut short, they can feel stubbly or stiff because their shorter lengths have increased resistance to bending forces,” explains dermatology resident Taylor Bullock, MD. “They can also feel sharp and prickly due to uneven and sharp edges from being recently cut.”
Dr. Bullock delves deeper into what’s really happening when you shear off unwanted stragglers and what you can try instead if you don’t want to deal with stubbly regrowth.
How shaving affects your hair
Let’s start with an imperfect but helpful analogy: Think about a dandelion growing in your yard.
If you cut the dandelion with scissors or run over it with your lawnmower, it will seem to be gone — for now. Beneath the surface, though, its roots are intact, and a new stem will soon grow. When it makes its way above ground, the dandelion will be visible again.
Shaving is sort of like that.
Each hair on your body grows from its own hair follicle, a tube-like structure surrounding the root and strand. In this analogy, each hair is a dandelion whose “stem” you see growing from your skin. This is your hair shaft, and it’s made up of dead skin cells.
When your shave, you cut your hair at the shaft — but that doesn’t impact the actual root of the hair, which, like a dandelion root, is located beneath the surface.
“After shaving, you may notice that your hair seems to grow back thicker and darker,” Dr. Bullock says, “but this is actually due to the variation of the hair shaft along its length, not because shaving has actually altered the hair follicles.”
In other words, when shaved hairs first start to grow back in, they may seem thicker or darker than before — but they’re really not.
“Instead of seeing the thinner and often lighter ends of longer hairs, you see the darker and thicker bases of the hair shafts,” Dr. Bullock explains. “Once the hairs grow longer, though, they’ll return to their softer, original texture.”
How long does it take for hair to grow back?
Shaving doesn’t impact how quickly your hair regrows. But then, how long will regrowth take? On average, the hair on your scalp and lower legs grow about half an inch to one inch per month. But your regrowth speed depends on, well, you.
“The length of time it takes for your hair to pass through the ‘stubble stage’ will depend on how fast your hair grows and the location of the hair you’ve shaved,” Dr. Bullock states. “The stubble stage will be much shorter in locations where hair grows quickly, such as the scalp, in comparison to the eyebrows or the thighs.”
That means your freshly shaved head will grow back in fairly quickly (which is annoying for haircut purposes, we know!), while hair elsewhere on your body may not be so quick to return.
And if you’ve heard rumors of a prescription wonder cream that can slow down hair regrowth, well, that’s sort of true — but Dr. Bullock says they’re not really worthwhile.
“A topical medication called eflornithine can be used in combination with waxing or depilatories to slow down hair growth,” he notes, “but I don’t typically recommend it because it doesn’t work very well and is very expensive.”
Shaving tips for smoother skin
There are lots of things you can do to get a closer, smoother shave, including:
- Exfoliating first.
- Shaving with cool water.
- Using shaving cream or gel.
But when it comes to combatting stubble, Dr. Bullock says one tip rises to the top. “The best thing you can do to lessen that initial coarseness is to moisturize your skin. The drier your hair is, the pricklier it will feel.”
He adds that the best time to apply moisturizer is right after you shower, when your skin is most able to absorb moisturizer.
More permanent hair removal options
There are lots of benefits to shaving: It’s quick, easy and inexpensive, and you can do it from home. But because you’re cutting off your hair at the shaft rather than removing the root, shaved hair will grow back faster than hair that’s removed by, say, waxing or sugaring.
And there’s a longer-term option to consider, especially if you have a lot of unwanted hair that tends to grow back very quickly.
“Laser hair removal can be expensive, but when you add up the time and money spent on other hair removal techniques, it’s often the best option by far,” Dr. Bullock says. “Laser hair removal requires five to eight treatments, with a few maintenance treatments afterward.”
Whatever you choose, just know that, for better or worse, nothing you do will cause your hair to grow back thicker, darker or even faster.