This story was originally published on Nov. 13, 2015. It was updated and republished on Sept. 6, 2019. Additional reporting by Kara McGrath.
Full disclosure: I've been shaving my arms since fifth grade. I don't regret this decision, but if you're considering taking the plunge (er, razor glide?), brace yourself for the things that happen if you shave your arms. It's a much bigger commitment than shaving your legs, so be sure you really want to keep up with it.
Admittedly, I'm not sure how much I'd mentally processed what shaving my arms would mean as a fifth grader. All I remember was some mean kid in my class named John Wayne (real original) told me I had gorilla arms one day at recess. My 11-year-old psyche was literally shattered, and that was the first time I recall being truly self-conscious about my body.
Since my mom had let me start shaving my legs that year, I asked her if I could shave my arms, too. She warned me that I could never stop once I started, and that I should think really hard about it. Obviously I spent all of eight seconds pondering a lifetime of arm shaving and decided to do it. Looking back, I definitely think it was silly to give that freaking mean kid so much power over how I felt about myself, but I do love my silky smooth arms. So, thanks?
Of course, hair removal is a very personal choice, and one that other people don’t really have the right to weigh in on. If you've decided that diving into the world of shaving your arms is right for you, here are some things to be aware of before you start.
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OK, this is obvious, but I certainly didn't think about it as a fifth grader. When you shave your arms, there is a high probability that arm stubble will pop up after a few days. Although it’s a myth that your hair will grow back thicker and darker, dermatologist Lauren Eckert Ploch, MD, MEd, FAAD tells Bustle that “the hair does have a blunt end after shaving so it can feel thicker.” You'll want to shave frequently to avoid that from happening, which is where the whole "once you start you can't stop" mentality comes from for me. I mean, of course I could grow my arm hair back out, but the process would be soooooo itchy.
2. Razor Burn
Arms are even more tempting to dry shave since you don't have to bend over and do any shower yoga to shave them, but control the urge! Dry shaving puts you at a much bigger risk for razor burn. Both Ploch and Nada Elbuluk, MD, MSC, an assistant professor of dermatology at the USC Keck School of Medicine, tell Bustle they recommend using shaving cream if you’re going to shave your arms. Dermatologist Ella Toombs, MD, FAAD says the product you use to shave doesn’t really matter, “as long as it's a liquid and glides.” To further reduce the risk of irritation “I also recommend shaving in the direction of hair growth,” Ploch says. Elbulk agrees, adding that you should “not repeatedly go over the same areas multiple times, and not shave irritated or inflamed skin.”
3. Elbow Nicks
Elbows are essentially miniature knees. Speaking about any risks to shaving your arms versus shaving your legs, Toombs tells Bustle, that while your arms are “not more sensitive” than your legs, you “must respect the creases, folds and curves” of your arms. IMO it's even easier to nick your elbows since the angle is weird, so follow other Bustle writers' advice and take your time when shaving.
4. Ingrown Hairs
“If you’re prone to ingrown hairs, exfoliating with cream or wash that has ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or classic acid beforehand can help,” Elbuluk says. I always opt for a moisturizing exfoliant that also helps soften up my hairs before I go after them with a razor. “Products with hydroxy acids can help prevent ingrown hairs but should not be applied immediately after shaving as they can often cause burning and discomfort,” Ploch says.
5. Dry Skin
Anyone who’s shaved any part of their body has probably noticed how shaving can dry out skin, so treat your arms like your legs and always moisturize after. If you can find a lotion with SPF, that’s even better. “Hair (especially dark hair) provides some sun protection, so removing the hair may expose skin to harmful UV rays even more,” Ploch explains.” I recommend that everyone use a zinc oxide-containing sunscreen lotion daily regardless of season or forecast.”
6. You Might Consider Alternatives
If you're not wanting to deal with the short, annoying stubble, you'll start tossing around the idea of waxing your arms or considering laser hair removal. “I find that laser hair reduction and depilatory creams are the least irritating methods of hair removal long-term,” Ploch says. Toombs also recommends depilatory treatments since they are “less traumatic to the skin, won't cut or abrade, and superficially removes hair from hair follicles.” Basically, if you're wanting to remove the hair on your arms, you have options.
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