One of my most sensitive areas on my body is my underarms. This is partially because I use it for test patches of new homemade beauty recipes, but also because I've been haphazardly shaving my armpits for 20 years. One pit in particular seems to take the brunt of abuse and has a monthly bout of inflammation that lately has me exploring plucking my armpit hair instead. Clearly, plucking your underarms will be more time-consuming than shaving, so it's likely that if you suffer from razor burn like me, laser hair removal is a way more enticing alternative. Shaving is quick and cheap, albeit dangerous, and laser hair removal is expensive and requires commitment, but where does plucking fall in the spectrum of underarm hair removal?
I could speculate and draw conclusions all day long, but curiosity and lack of valid sources on the web lead me to seek the help of an IRL expert. I chatted with Dr. Michelle Henry to find out if I should pluck my underarms and exactly what plucking would do to the already sensitive skin under my arms. Dr. Michelle Henry is a Harvard trained, board certified dermatologist specializing in reconstructive and cosmetic surgery, and having afro-textured hair herself, she also happens to be one of my go-to experts on safely removing body hair.
Together, we've put together everything you wanted and didn't think you wanted to know about plucking your armpit hair.
1. It's Not The Most Painful Form Of Hair Removal
If physical pain sends you running for the hills, I have some good news and bad news: according to Dr. Henry, while it's def more painful than shaving, laser hair removal, and waxing, plucking your pits won't be quite as bad as the first time you got your eyebrows threaded.
2. Plucking Isn't For Novices
According to Dr. Henry, if you pluck incorrectly, you can damage the follicle. If you are going to pluck those armpit hairs, Dr. Henry says that "after a [warm] shower is always best as the follicles are more open and it will be less painful." She also advises that you pull in the direction the hair grows, since "pulling against the 'grain' will encourage ingrown hairs." Not only that, but for women, choosing when you pluck is important as well. Dr. Henry explains due to hormonal changes painful stimuli tends to feel more painful near one’s menstrual cycle.
3. Plucking Will Not Save You From Ingrown Hairs
If I had a dime for every ingrown hair a eagerly plucked under my arms, I would definitely be able to use that money to cover my rent. Honestly, nothing gives me more satisfaction (and irritation) than plucking and fussing over ingrowns. Dr. Henry can explain the latter: "Whenever you remove the hair fully from the follicle there is a chance that it can transect the follicle when it regrows and cause an ingrown hair," she says. In fact, many find side effects from plucking armpit hair to be bumps and ingrown hairs.
4. Don't Pluck Your Armpit Hair Too Soon
You may have heard that shaving daily or every other day will prevent irritation, but that's not the case with plucking. According to Dr. Henry, "The hair should be at least one half to quarter of an inch to aid in plucking with the grain of the hair. Longer hairs are also easier to grasp and prevent damage to the follicle." Typically, Dr. Henry suggests plucking every four weeks — although the rate of hair growth varies from person to person.
5. The Speed Of Hair Growth Will Be Different After A Pluck
According to Dr. Henry, the plucked hairs grow back slower than hairs that are shaved, but are the same rate as hairs that are waxed because both waxing and plucking remove the hair from the root whereas shaving often removes hair at the surface.
6. Choose Your Tweezers With A Critical Eye
If you've never tried to work with an inefficient pair of tweezers, let me be the first to tell you that it leads to shoddy results and instant frustration making you imprecise and likely to cause irritation. Dr. Henry offers her own recommendation of Revlon tweezers being precise and inexpensive cautioning that dull tweezers can make it difficult to pluck along the grain.
7. Less Skin Prepping Will Mean More Work During Plucking
I've learned a gentle exfoliation before I shave helps remove dead skin cells that can get in the way of a clean shave and cause irritation. However, Dr. Henry states that it's not necessary to exfoliate before you pluck, but rather exfoliating afterwards to reduce the occurrence of ingrown hairs. Also, you don't need any oils or shaving cream to prep your pits, in fact, according to Dr. Henry you should always pluck on clean skin to prevent infections. "The armpit may have many different bacteria and yeast," explains Dr. Henry.
8. Not Everyone Should Be Plucking Their Armpit Hair
While Dr. Henry acknowledges that plucking is more gentle on the skin than waxing, she does caution that not everyone is a candidate for armpit plucking, including myself. Dr. Henry explains to me that plucking very dense hair can be difficult, saying that "anyone very prone to ingrown hairs may prefer a permanent hair removal method like laser hair removal." Sadly, this leads me back to my own shaving hijinks.
While tweezing certainly gives you control and is arguably the most inexpensive form of hair removal, Dr. Henry firmly believes that overall? Shaving and waxing will be more effective. Still, if you've tried both and hated both, you can at least have a knowledgeable and less painful plucking experience.