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Should Men Shave Their Legs (and Other Body Parts)? A Dermatologist’s Perspective

“Should I shave my legs?” you might ask into the ether, expecting a concrete reply. And if by “legs” you meant “soul patch,” then there is a concrete answer: Yes. But if by “legs” you meant “legs,” then it boils down to a matter of preference.

Are you shaving your legs bare or merely looking to manscape? Are you using an electric razor or a manual one? Are you going bare for aesthetics? And if so, are you asking about shaving in opposition to, say, waxing? See, there’s just no definitive answer to this question. However, you can arrive at your conclusion by weighing the pros and cons, and perhaps understanding how to shave your legs in the first place — as well as how that process stacks up against waxing.

Much of the debate about leg shaving can also be applied to other body parts. Across the body, shaving often comes down to an aesthetic decision. But even then, it’s important to understand how body hair functions before you go mowing or peeling it away.

So should men shave their legs? Let’s start with some pros and cons. These lists were outlined by NYC-based dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali.


The Pros of Shaving Body Hair

How smooth you want to be is really up to you. Sure, maybe it can shave nanoseconds off of your 100m dash time. But when looking at the actual benefits of shaving, you need to consider the benefits of having body hair in the first place.

Bhanusali notes that, if you’re tracking anything on the skin like a curious mole or worrisome lesion, then being bare might benefit you (and the dermatologist). “It can also help minimize conditions like intertrigo, which are infections in the folds of the skin,” he notes. And permanent removal, like laser hair removal, can prevent frequent infections one might experience through shaving and waxing (folliculitis chief among them).

Bhanusali does acknowledge the belief that trimming body hair can allow for more optimal physical performance — or at least allow you to see your gains, in case the hair is obscuring your hard-earned definition. But if you’re not aiming for top-tier performance and competitive-level results, then it’s purely a matter of aesthetic preference. (I, for one, appreciate that my chest hair obscures my total lack of abdominal and pectoral definition!)


The Cons of Shaving Body Hair

The cons of shaving your legs and other body hair are fairly direct and obvious. “If you are shaving, there is always the potential for razor burn, ingrown hairs and cysts forming,” Bhanusali says. “We encourage sanitation between use of clippers and razors. Dull razors especially can cause infections or ingrown.” Replace blades after every two to three weeks of use, or after six to eight shaves, whichever comes first. And always rinse them clean in piping hot water, then allow to air dry in a cool, dry place before storing them away (in a clean, dry, dust-free environment) before the next use.

If you want to minimize these woes, then consider switching to electric razors or visiting a waxing professional for longer periods of smoothness. Bhanusali also recommends considering permanent laser hair removal, which your dermatologist can further advise on.


Does Leg Hair Stop Growing?

All of the hair on your body has a “terminal length,” which is the point at which it stops growing. Each different type of hair has a different terminal length; the hairs on your scalp, for example, have a much longer terminal length than those on your leg or chest or pelvis. This is why the hair on your head can grow extremely long, while that on your body never may surpass an inch or a few.

Hair growth exists in three phases: anagen (active growth), catagen (transitional) and telogen (resting). After telogen, it sheds and the follicle begins a new anagen phase. Each type of hair on your body has a different period that it experiences these three phases, but in general, the hairs on your legs have a much longer resting phase than those on your head, meaning they don’t shed as quickly. They simply stay the same length for hundreds of days before falling out and growing anew.

And because all of the hairs on your leg (or any body part) are in different phases of this growth cycle at any given time, the overall effect when left unshaven is that hair stays one uniform length. Even if you shave them all and let everything regrow, the overall effect will look like they all reached the same terminal length because there are simply too many hairs to track; you’ll never know which ones are about to fall out or which ones are newly regrown. Within a month or so, newly re-sprouted hair will have finished its anagen phase and be at “terminal length” for the next three to six months, until it sheds and begins again.


How to Shave Your Legs

Shaving your legs isn’t a whole lot different from shaving your face. It’s equally important to warm up the skin ahead of time, to relax it and prep for the blade. A lubricating pre-shave product or shaving cream/oil will help prevent friction and razor burn. Shaving with the direction of the grain (as in, the direction the hair grows towards) will prevent ingrown hairs since the hair will still be encouraged to pierce through the skin’s surface. (Shaving against the grain encourages the hair to furl up underneath the skin, due to its growth pattern. And while it results in a slightly closer shave, the difference in time is nominal. You’ll still want to re-shave every few days to maintain smoothness.)

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Pull skin tight, especially as you round curvy muscles and angular joints. Splash cold water on the skin afterward, to close off the pores. Apply a non-alcoholic post-shave product (with witch hazel, for example) to the skin following the shave, to neutralize bacteria and calm skin. If it’s in a splashy liquid form, then chase it with a heavier moisturizing agent, which acts like a blanket over the top of the susceptible, exposed pores. It traps in moisture and prevents toxins and bacteria from entering.

If you want to minimize risk altogether, then use an electric shaver. It won’t break the surface of the skin, hence no ingrowns, bumps, burns or the like. While the hair will become stubble more quickly than a manual shave, the visual difference is nominal and may only require a re-shave one day sooner. Considering how much time you’ll save (not to mention how painless it is), you may want to have an electric shaver on hand at all times. If not, put it into rotation indefinitely.


Shaving Legs vs. Waxing Legs

The main differences between shaving and waxing are the amount of time you get to enjoy smoothness before taking action again and the risks associated with each. Well, and the cost of waxing, since it’s highly recommended you see a professional for that, given the risks associated.

Like shaving any body part, with leg hairs, you risk ingrown hairs, razor burn, irritation, nicks, cuts and more. Shaving with a manual razor will cut the hair slightly below the surface of the skin, but the hair will breach the surface within a day or two, which is when you’ll feel and see the stubble. If you use an electric razor, you won’t go through the surface of the skin, so the hair is only cut to the exact level of the skin. The stubble will appear sooner, but you will minimize the risks associated with a manual shave — which is argument enough for a daily once-over with an electric shaver.

With waxing, you physically remove the follicle, which leaves your skin smooth for about three to four weeks. It will still feel overall smooth for another week or two as those baby hairs start sprouting, and by six weeks you should have full growth all around the leg. You’ll then need these hairs to grow out for a couple more weeks before they’re long enough to wax again. These baby hairs won’t be rough like shave stubble, since they’ll be much thinner upon initial regrowth. In time, after frequent waxing, some of them may even fail to grow back due to the repeated trauma to the hair follicle. (That’s not saying other hairs won’t sprout up in the meantime, so don’t think of waxing as a permanent smooth solution. It has to be maintained just like any other facet of your regimen.)

The reason it’s imperative to see a professional for waxing is because of how difficult it is to do this job sanitarily, without risking bacterial infection all across the freshly opened pores. Even the slightest bit of friction, compression or sweating for the next day can cause prolific redness and pain. A professional will gently prepare the area before the waxing, and treat the skin following the waxing.

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How to Manscape and Which Products to Use