Taming the Jaws of Death

Summer means more skin on display. Even for those of us who aren’t trying to attract everybody in sight, when it’s in the triple figures in the shade, the last thing you want to do is wear more clothes than absolutely necessary. But as most women will bemoan, summer means more skin on display, which means more hours devoted to their hair removal ritual of choice. And for those of us with any remotely Latinate or Mediterranean blood, the ‘ritual’ is something more like a daily battle.

I have what traditional schools of cosmetology call an ‘olive’ complexion – in actuality I like to refer to it as ‘tea-stained’ as I feel this is more accurate. Being a quarter Sicilian with some Choctaw thrown in for good measure, I have been blessed with my coloring. This does, however, mean that I have hair in plentiful supply and most of my life up to the advent of Boyfriend has been an attitude of ‘do your best, grin and bear the rest’. While I’m not about to go to the extremes (in my opinion) of some women in order to be hairless in all the socially-determined spots, I did decide to better tackle the basics. In this case, legs and underarms.

Shaving wasn’t doing the trick. Not a fan of the chemical potluck of hair removal creams, and found them ineffectual anyway. Waxing…not brave enough for that. So I decided to buy a pet Jaws of Death.


That, my friends, is an epilator. It is yet another of the various means women have contrived to remove unwanted hair from their bodies, and you could be forgiven for thinking it a torture device. However, after a few uses and some doubts, I have to say that I am very much a fan of it now that it has been tamed. I will attempt to provide some advice and an accurate review for those wondering about its effectiveness.

[For those wondering, the model I bought was $89.99 at the time through Amazon – a white/purple Philips HP6576/60 ‘Satin Perfect’ epilator, which has some very good reviews and is very user-friendly. Comes with charger, cleaning brush and travel bag. It even has a little light to help you see where you’re going, and two speed settings.]

For those new to the concept, on the scale, epilators are like the link between shaving with a razor (or electric shaver) and waxing. It is a hand-held electronic device with a contoured head of side-on rotating ceramic discs that work like dozens of little tweezers. You use it anywhere below the neck, and handle it just like you would handle a razor, except no lather or water is required. They are not the most painless thing in the world and take some getting used to, but that is more than possible. They are also not the quickest thing in the world until you get used to the process and what works best for you. Now I find it takes less time than I think.

My reason behind trying an epilator was because my hair tends to grow out darker and thus be very visible, even in pre-stubble stages (particularly for my underarms). I was also simply tired of the stubble, and the wastefulness of shaving up to three times a week (not to mention the razor nicks). I made sure to read a good portion of the reviews on Amazon before I bought it so I knew what I was getting into. Obviously, everyone’s body is different so what worked for me may not work for you.

Before your first use, naturally you have to charge the body, which takes about an hour. However, the epilator can also function while plugged in and the cord is long for this purpose. You also detach the head and clean it with the provided brush (just under a running cold tap works fine), and let it dry completely before re-attaching it. My aim was to try the thing out on my legs first before progressing to my underarms.

Two tips straight away: one, if you’re gonna do your legs, I recommend doing so a few minutes after you’ve dried off from the shower (and if you can give them a rub down with some kind of scrubbing instrument beforehand just to exfoliate a little, all the better). This way your pores are more open and your skin is more relaxed – it will make it easier. Also, make sure you are completely dry. However – two – if you’re gonna do your underarms, I found it easier to do them before a shower because your skin hasn’t expanded (for lack of a better word) with the heat.

Admittedly, when you first turn the thing on, it is noisy and it looks like a little angry clusterf*ck of gnashing teeth. Of course, all likelihood is that you have never seen anything similar before, so it’s understandable. It is not the most discrete item in the world and it’s taken me half a year to be okay with using it in the same apartment as C.

I recommend you start on the lowest speed setting so you don’t feel like you’re grappling with a fury monster. The idea is that you run against the grain to which your hair grows – and ideally 5mm of hair growth will enable the head to get a grip – so this means you will need to adjust depending on which part of your leg you’re working on. It is more effective to hold the epilator so the head is at a ninety-degree angle to your skin, and press down gently (don’t worry, it won’t grab your skin unless you’re really *really* digging it in there, in which case it will stop automatically). It’s also a good idea to try to pull your skin taught with your free hand.

I’m not gonna lie. It friggin’ hurt the first time. Well, and the few times thereafter. I had to stop frequently, brush my legs down, blow on them – you get the idea – to have relief from the stinging. You will also initially get some red bumps – which is okay, that’s what’s meant to happen. This is why it’s a good idea to do this in the evening so the redness can calm overnight (luckily I already take my showers in the evening so this wasn’t a problem). I also found that certain spots on my legs were more pain-sensitive than others (just above my knees, the backs of my knees and thighs). But I persevered – I figured if I had once voluntarily dragged a serrated steak knife through my shoulder, I could handle this. And you can bet my legs were pretty darn smooth.

Now, I know you’re probably wondering why you would want to put yourself through that kind of pain. It was painful, yes, it was time-consuming, yes, but the results were awesome. I was particularly convinced I’d made a good decision when I tried it on my underarms (which, by the way, is much more painful for a first-time than the legs) and after I was done, there was no lingering dark cloudy look to my skin to show hair just beneath the surface. You have no idea how wonderful it felt to have hairless underarms that truly looked hairless. It was worth the pain.

Eight months on and on the areas I do regularly – and by regularly, I mean minute touch-ups every few days or so – such as my underarms and legs below the knee, I barely feel any pain at all. My thighs can still sting sometimes but I attribute that quite easily to the fact that I don’t show them off all the time, so I don’t attend to them as frequently. Crucially, though, I have noticed that when the hair is growing back, it is much finer and lighter. So in actuality, I can more easily get away with not keeping my lower legs baby-smooth because it’s not as obvious. And because you’re plucking rather than shaving, the stubbly-effect is definitely not as bad.

The only downsides I’ve encountered thus far are mainly two: one, it’s not so good at catching the really fine, short hairs, but then, these aren’t really that obvious so only you know they’re there; and two, I have on occasion had to battle with ingrown hairs, but this is likely because I don’t take the time to exfoliate my legs a bit first. Also, this model doesn’t have a daintier head for bikini areas, but that’s neither here nor there.

It is a bit of trial and error the first few times, but now I only use my razor for, say, touch ups around the knees or for areas I need to quickly take care of but still find a bit tender, such as the backs of my thighs. I definitely won’t go back to shaving full-time, though. Once you’re used to it, even those with a low pain threshold (admittedly mine is above-average), it becomes less and less painful and just as easy. Not to mention less messy. I find that my skin is used to the process now and the feeling is so much better than it was from shaving, and just as smooth.

Whoo! Legs!

~ L


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