woman with waxed arm pits

As people transition from the childhood stage to that of adolescence, they begin to sprout more hairs in more places than they ever have before. Some people prefer to keep minimal body hair at all times, while others want to keep it more natural. Either way, you do you!

There is a popular hypothesis that waxing negatively affects hair growth either temporarily or permanently.  Based on an experiment done by Dr. Paul Willis, it is unlikely that waxing affects hair growth. Let’s take a closer look at how the human body facilitates hair regrowth.

The Cycle of Human Hair

Before diving into waxing and its potential effect, it is important to understand the growth cycle of human hair. Each strand of hair that grows on the body goes through three distinct stages, which are known as the anagen, catagen, and telogen phases.

Hair grows independently regardless of its location and appearance. For example, all the hairs on your legs may appear to look the same, but they may not necessarily be. Each strand grows independently and, therefore, they can all be at different stages in the cycle.

The anagen phase is the first of the three, and it is also commonly called the growth cycle. During this phase, hairs go through a consistent level of monthly growth. It is estimated that about a centimeter of growth happens monthly. Note that this growth varies as there are other factors such as genetics, gender, and age that also contribute to the growth achieved. The length of a strand of hair depends on how long it stays in this phase.

The second phase is the catagen or transitional phase. A strand of hair only stays in this phase for a couple of weeks. The first sign of this phase is where melanin production in a hair bulb begins to decline. The hair follicle also shrinks to about 1/6 of its initial length, which pushes the hair up and cuts it off from the blood supply that provided nutrients.

The final phase of the cycle is known as the telogen or shedding phase. Here, the hair enters a dormant state for one to four months. Eventually, the hair is dislodged from the root and sheds.

Bear in mind that every hair on the body must go through these phases unless they are forcefully removed.

Waxing and Slow Growth

Many people who have done waxing and another hair removal method such as shaving have stated that the hair grows slower when waxing is used. A Penn State University Blog explains the reason for this well with the aid of a simple diagram. Until the end of the telogen phase, a hair is lodged in the root, which is beneath the skin level that is visible to the eyes.

Waxing pulls the hair out from the root as opposed to cutting its cross-section. Since the strands of hair must start over from the root level after waxing, it grows anew. In the case of shaving, the entire section of the strand below the skin remains preserved, meaning that it already has a base to grow from.

Testing the Theory 

To confirm this theory on waxing, Dr. Paul Willis, a researcher of Australia’s Flinders University, volunteered his own body to compare the results of waxing and shaving. Apart from just the results, the idea was to understand what happens beneath the skin where hair removal and regrowth are concerned.

The Study

Dr. Willis’ legs were used as the test areas for the study. The left leg was waxed while the right leg was shaved in a traditional manner. The plan was then to allow four months to pass and track the progress of each leg to draw a conclusion.

The Results

Based on Dr. Willis’ account, the hairs on his left leg took longer to regrow than those on his right leg. He noted that this was the expected result as the waxed hairs were pulled from their roots, which is consistent with the information in the Penn State University blog. He also noted that the hairs didn’t grow together, which can be accounted for by the phases of hair growth described above.

Since each strand of hair was growing at its own rate and was at its own stage in the growth cycle, the subsequent hairs didn’t grow altogether. For example, a hair that was in telogen phase was preparing to be shed and replaced with a new hair, so naturally a new hair grows quickly. If the hair was in the anagen phase on the other hand, one could expect a longer growth process.

Dr. Willis also noted how hairy his legs were before and after the process. People tend to say that shaved hairs regrow with a higher density. However, even though the hair on the shaved leg looked thicker, this was not because there was more of it. This was a result of the cross-sectional cutting noted earlier. Since they were not pulled from the root, they had blunt ends from being “older” hairs. The ends of newer strands have a pointed look, which makes them appear thinner.

Conclusion

After counting the hairs on both legs, the totals were the same as they were before any shaving or waxing took place.

Based on the information presented and Dr. Willis’ experiment, there is no longstanding effect on hair growth, though evidence exists that waxing too much can damage follicles and stunt growth after some years. On a more immediate note, it seems that waxing only results in a slower growth rate and a thinner look. Apart from that, the hair returns to normal and does not increase or decrease in density, which makes sense considering the number of follicles you have doesn’t change.

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