SMOOTH OPERATORS

TRIED & TESTED; How do you get rid of unwanted tufts and bristles painlessly? Our hirsute panel tests hair removers
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The Independent Culture
Opaque tights are being put away for the summer and bare legs are on show for the first time in months. Even though many think women shouldn't be pressured to remove "unsightly" hair, few are willing to bare anything that isn't silky smooth.

And the alternatives are bleak. Essentially, there are only two options: slicing the hair off mid-shaft (as with shaving) or pulling it out from the root (some form of tweezering). The downsides are that shaving cuts off the tapered end of the hair, meaning it grows back blunt and bristly, while pulling out may result in soft regrowth but is often as painful as it sounds. So how do we achieve super-model smoothness at home, with, ideally, minimum pain?

THE PANEL

All four panellists have had experience of various methods of home and salon hair removal. They were Cora Mann, Caroline Mooney, Niki Longmuir and the incredibly hirsute Lyndsay Scott, once referred to by an ex-boyfriend as "tarantula legs".

THE TEST

Each tester tried the selection of products on would-be hair-free zones and judged them on ease of use, immediate hair removal results, longevity of result, quality of regrowth and value for money.

*BRAUN SILK-EPIL COMFORT

pounds 39.99

Either our panellists were particularly sensitive or this electric shaver- shaped device is as painful as you'd imagine spinning discs with the effect of a row of tweezers to be. Caroline Mooney found this "torture instrument" too excruciating to use.

Cora Mann, who is "hardened to the agonies of waxing", admitted this contraption made her go "ow" even before she used it. She gritted her teeth and found it worked well on legs, though it is not recommended for use elsewhere. "What's the point of something you can't use anywhere except your legs?" she asked, and gave it a low score for value.

****LOUIS MARCEL STRIP WAX

pounds 5.49 for 36

Our testers were unable to agree on this product. On the one hand, Niki Longmuir suggested you'd do better with fly-paper, while Cora Mann declared it her favourite. "Blissfully non-grungy and hassle free. Quick, easy, non-messy," she said.

Lyndsay Scott fell in between. "This is a compromise method; less traumatising to the skin than warm wax, but less effective, since the pores remain closed and many hairs are left behind or broken off at the surface, resulting in more rapid regrowth."

Caroline Mooney agreed. "These were easy to use (though painful) and much less messy than either of the other two wax-type depilators."

***IMMAC WARM WAX

pounds 7.99; re-usable cotton strips, pounds 2.99 for 20

Lyndsay Scott found this method the best for long-term hair removal. "The heat opens the pores, the wax dries on the hair and rips it out to the roots," she explained. "However, it's so effective, the skin closes up over the hair follicle, resulting in unsightly spots - ingrowing hairs which have to be teased out."

Caroline Mooney found the warm wax gave "good immediate results and was long-lasting. Of the three waxes [Immac, Body Shop, Cold Strip Wax], although the Louis Marcel Strips were the best, I would probably buy the Immac before going on holiday, as it offers the best value for money and is less messy than the sugaring," she said.

Put off by "novella-length instructions", Cora Mann disagreed. "Even more fiddly than the sugaring kit. It didn't seem runny enough. Applying it dragged on my skin, and it left the odd hair behind. Besides, anything involving a 10-minute simmer in hot water is really not worth the trouble. Perhaps it should only be considered by microwave owners."

*****SILKYMIT

pounds 1.09, pack of three

"Of course your legs feel silky afterwards. You've sanded the epidermis!" said Lyndsay Scott of our winners - these little grey discs which must be "rotated in a gentle circular motion". Caroline Mooney, however, was an immediate convert. "Quick, excellent, wonderful. A much-needed alternative to the other methods. No mess, no pain, left legs feeling soft and, yes, silky. I intend to use this in future."

Niki Longmuir agreed that this product is good for legs, although she found it awkward to use round the backs. "You have to be careful how vigorously it is used. My legs reacted badly - the skin became itchy, raised, and red in patches; still, I think this was my favourite." Cora Mann was less convinced. "It didn't have much effect on hairs, although it was oddly nice to use - like sanding wood. It left my shins smooth. I'd buy it again to use in with the cold wax strips."

***BODY SHOP SUGARING

pounds 4.95; re-usable cotton strips, pounds 2.50 for 51; spatula, 60p

The testers found it tricky to maintain the consistency of this "100 per cent natural formula", which is softened by heating in hot water. A thin layer is smoothed on to the skin and a cotton strip is pressed over it and pulled off, supposedly taking any hair with it.

"I thought sugaring would be like working with candyfloss," Lyndsay Scott said, "but it's waxing by another name." Cora Mann agreed but acknowledged "a certain smugness factor" in using strips of "unbleached cotton made by a women's group in Southern India". "But," she added, " 'just hand- wash and iron to use again'? Please!"

Although she found it gave good results, Caroline Mooney dismissed it as too awkward: "it washes off with hot water, but it's very messy." Niki Longmuir said, "It's best to have a sadistic friend close by."

****GILLETTE SENSOREXCEL FOR WOMEN

pounds 4.99; pack of five refills, pounds 3.99

The days of grabbing your boyfriend's disposable from beside the sink are over. Women are now deemed deserving of their own, specially-designed, razor. Even though, as Cora Mann pointed out, "anything that doesn't pull the hair out won't be effective unless you use it every day", this product proved popular for leg and under-arm hair.

Caroline Mooney said: "Fast, easy, with great immediate results, leaves hair very short. Regrowth takes about a week and of course it's prickly. It seemed quite difficult to cut yourself with - not that I tried very hard."

Lyndsay Scott thought that this "floating vegetable peeler" worked "a treat", but both she and Niki Longmuir were concerned about having to buy replacement blades for it. "The blades unfortunately don't last for more than two sessions, and therefore the cost tends to add up," said Niki Longmuir.

**NAIR GLIDE-ON-CREAM

pounds 3.25

Despite the fact that it boasts a "New Fresh Fragrance", this roll-on cream was unanimously slammed for its overpowering stench. "Stinky! Stinky! Stinky!" said Caroline Mooney. "They have tried to mask the horrible chemical smell with an equally horrible synthetic cucumber smell which was very pungent and permeated the entire house."

As far as hair removal went, Caroline found it messy but gave it extra points for requiring little effort. She complained, though, that it left her skin feeling itchy and, even worse, her (dark) roots showing through.

"It glides on all right," said Lyndsay Scott, "but the waiting drives you crazy, and the longer you leave it on, the more it irritates your skin." Having found it "rather scarily effective", Cora Mann asked, "What can it have in it?" But, she added, "regrowth was disappointingly swift."

*PHILIPS LADYSHAVE AQUA HP2720

pounds 26.95

"The kind of thing you think is a good idea at the time, but after one attempt to use it, it ends up in the back of the cupboard," said Niki Longmuir of this wet/dry electric shaver. She and Caroline Mooney both found it left their legs itchy and blotchy. "It does not shave as close as a blade," Caroline said. Lyndsay Scott agreed, "I tried it in the bath. It left tufts I had to remove with the Gillette." "As electric shavers go, it's good because you can use it in the shower," said Cora Mann. "It can be used any time, any place, anywhere, though why you might want to shave your legs on the move I don't know."

STOCKISTS

Body Shop Sugaring from Body Shops; other products from Boots.

NEXT WEEK: DEODORANTS

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