Is Hairless More?
Elite cyclists, swimmers and other athletes shave their bodies to improve performance. Should you do the same?
Why would a guy want to shave his body? Turns out there are plenty of reasons. Topping the list, of course, are vanity and sex. (Is that one reason or two?) Indeed, 54.9 percent of the respondents to the Men's Fitness Sex Survey said they wished they could change their body hair -- more than any other physical attribute, including muscularity. But while shaving isn't for everyone, athletes have been lathering up and blading down for years. In many sports, a hairless epidermis can make you faster, safer and generally more comfortable.
Cyclists are probably the group of athletes best known for going under the razor. But there's more to shaving than just making their gastrocs look awesome. "The main reason cyclists shave is in case of a crash," says former Olympic cycling coach Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D. "[With hair], your skin grabs more asphalt and you tend to get greater tearing or abrasions. Second, it's a heck of a lot easier to clean the wound and bandage it without all that hair to deal with."
The easiest place to wield a blade is in the shower. First-timers may want to clip some of the excess hair with scissors or the trimmer on an electric razor. After letting the hot water open your pores, lather up--hair conditioner works really well--and shave in upward strokes. Clean shaves last only about three days and regrowth can be itchy, so this might become a semiweekly routine.
"If a man's chest is really hairy, it can be hot, itchy and irritating," says Janice Cook, director of spa operations at Chicago's Mario Triccoci Salons. Guys who strength-train in tank tops or run shirtless often don't appreciate the extra coat. And when was the last time you saw an elite swimmer wearing a hair vest? "Competitive swimmers shave just before an important meet to increase their senses and decrease their drag in the water," says Mary Wagner, a spokeswoman for the United States Olympic swim team.
There are three real options for a hairy torso: shave, wax and laser. The biggest drawback to shaving is that you need a willing party to assist with places you can't reach, and most guys have friends who will only go so far so often. A salon wax will last for up to four weeks, but many guys don't like the pain and don't go back for seconds. Permanent removal with a laser costs from $800 to $1,500; it works best on light skin/dark hair combinations, but not as well on dark-skinned guys, blonds and redheads.
Certain athletes are known for gleamingly smooth physiques. "A hairless body shows a lot more definition," explains Cynthia James, a body-shaving expert who works with professional bodybuilders, wrestlers and boxers. Hairs cast shadows, which tend to obscure muscle detail.
The best shaving strategy is to sit in a hot bath with a moisturizing oil, such as apricot or sunflower oil. Then shave against the grain with a combination of hair conditioner and shaving cream. You'll have to exfoliate the skin every 24 hours-using a tough luffa sponge, or you'll run into irritating ingrown hairs.
For those tricky nooks and crannies such as the Adam's apple and the collarbone, lasering is a good solution. So is electrolysis, or zapping each follicle with an electric needle; it's a tedious process that is too time-consuming for large areas. A less expensive option is a depilatory -- a lotion or gel formulated to dissolve hair just under the skin's surface. While they can be odorous and potentially irritating, one skin-friendly choice is Sally Hansen's Sponge-On Hair Remover ($6). Results last for about a week.
When it comes to the sport of seduction, a few things never fail to draw a penalty. In other words, nose and ear hair just isn't sexy. Trimming offers instant gratification. Buy a pair of safety scissors with dulled ends, which will prevent you from stabbing yourself as you maneuver through awkward crevasses.
Another shaggy offense is the unibrow. To cleave the caterpillar spanning your forehead, the cheapest options are tweezing and waxing. The first is self-explanatory: grip and yank. You can do this as soon as you see hairs peeking through. Applying an ice cube to the area beforehand will numb the pain.
To wax, you must have at least one-eighth inch of regrowth, which will be visible but not overwhelming. It hurts, but it's a small area and the pain is over quickly. Waxing lasts for up to a month -- the amount of time it takes for the follicle to produce another root. You can try it at home with products such as Marzena liquid wax, but for a few minutes and around $10, a stylist can perfectly groom your eyebrows.
Short of the chin and upper lip -- the areas you're most likely to know how to deal with already -- are there other potential trouble spots nearby? Well, yes. "Some men have hair growth from their eye sockets to their collarbones," says Norris. Laser removal or electrolysis are best, but they're both expensive and require a minimum of several sessions over several months.
Whether you plan on deforesting to win a meet, meet a winner or just to show off those hard-earned muscles, the options are there. Sure, you'll pay a price in dollars, hours and discomfort, but what the heck? Feeling better about yourself just might help your performance, too.