The science behind leg hair growth
Leg hair — wouldn't it be wonderful if it was gone for good after only one shave?
Unfortunately, it keeps growing back. But have you ever wondered why? Here's the story of your leg hair's life.
A leg hair is born...
Every leg hair has a follicle and a shaft. The tunnel-like follicle extends from your outer layer of skin (epidermis) to your inner layer (dermis). At the follicle’s base is the papilla. It contains capillaries, tiny blood vessels that nourish the cells. At the very bottom is the bulb, the hair’s living part. Its cells divide every 23 to 72 hours — faster than any other cells in your body.
A leg hair’s follicle also has an inner sheath and an outer sheath — these protect and shape the hair as it grows — and a sebaceous gland which produces an oily secretion that conditions your hair and skin.
The hard protein that forms the part of your hair you actually see is keratin. "Naturally, keratin is produced by cells called keratinocytes," The Dermatology Review reports, "and just as collagen or elastin, this protein helps keep the skin firm and forms a protective layer to retain healthy skin."
Keratin's protective layer is made of three parts:
- The medulla (inner layer)
- The cortex (middle layer)
- The cuticle (outer layer)
The cuticle consists of tightly overlapping shingle-like scales. The cortex makes up most of the hair shaft, and along with medulla, holds the pigment that gives your hair color.
And it grows up
A leg hair goes through three stages of growth:
- During the active phase of growth (anagen), cells in a hair’s roots divide rapidly. A new hair is formed and pushes the club hair up the follicle and out.
- A transitional phase of growth (catagen) follows. During it, a leg hair’s growth stops and the outer root sheath shrinks and attaches to the root to form a club hair.
- A leg hair’s growth ends in a rest phase (telogen) in which the hair follicle is completely at rest and the club hair is formed. (Pluck a hair in this phase and you will see solid, hard, dry, white material at its root.)
During the rest phase, Allure notes that "the follicle is dormant for up to four months and eventually sheds its strand of hair so that a new one can enter the anagen phase." And the beat goes on ...
Closing the book on fecund follicles
When it comes to getting rid of leg hair, a close shave is just that: It doesn’t remove hair at the root, nor does it disturb the follicle. This means a shave lasts only a few hours to a few days.
Unlike shaving, which leaves sharp, hard hair stubble just below the skin, depilatories leave rounded, smoother edges. While an active ingredient dissolves the hair shaft, the mechanical action of removing the cream with a spatula or sponge helps pull away dissolved hair from the surface of the skin. Stubble is minimal and hair regrowth takes longer. Still, you'll likely need treatments weekly, if not more often.
Like depilatories, waxing goes deeper than shaving. Wax is warmed until it’s soft and spreadable. It's applied a bit at a time. Then a clean white cloth is pressed down on top of the warm wax and is yanked off quickly. Hair comes with it — roots and all. But it will grow back sooner or later.
You'll see more permanent leg hair removal results with electrolysis. In it, a sterile needle is introduced to a follicle, and the low electric current that passes through it destroys the hair. Electrolysis has risks, though. As the FDA reports, they include "infection from an unsterile needle and scarring from improper technique."
Like electrolysis, laser hair removal delivers longer lasting results. Laser hair removal uses light pulses to selectively destroy hair follicles by targeting the melanin in them and significantly slowing hair regrowth. Unlike other methods, it's gentle on skin and leaves the surrounding tissue undamaged. It works for all skin types and most hair colors, and with multiple treatments, it can make the hair-free dream an everyday reality.
As you can see, leg hair growth may be inevitable. But it's not unstoppable. You can slow it, even stop it. And once you have, you'll see that you made a smooth transition to a softer, silkier you.