Well, I'm too young to remember women's lib, but I've heard the stories of bra burnings and not shaving legs and underarms. That legacy didn't last long and never seemed to penetrate mainstream culture. So, in North America women are expected to be "supported" and have smooth hairless legs and underarms. Some go as far as removing hair from their arms, but I can't say that thought has ever concerned me.
To some extent, I wonder if advertising has created this overarching need for women to have hairless skin. When I was young, I can't remember seeing this number of commercials for various hair removal systems - crystals, chemicals, wax, sugar, razors and I'm sure some I've yet to hear of.
At the end of the day, the need to be hair-free is there. I'm not going to try to argue against that. I have the same wish as every other woman to have happy, shiny legs. Unfortunately, as someone with sensitive and allergic atopic skin, shaving is not something my skin is happy about. So, I've talked to my dermatologists over the years about the best ways to go about it. I haven't found the perfect system; so, at some point I will have laser hair removal.
So, here's what I've learned and I practice these steps where applicable:
1. If you don't have to shave, don't. I can't say I was happy when my first dermatologist told me this, but it's true. I invest in really great opaque nylons which helps me to get around that in the winter months.
2. Find a method that works for you. My legs are far too sensitive to use a regular razor or sugaring. I haven't tried waxing or chemical removal systems and never will. So, the only thing that works for me is an electric razor. If you have the will and the funds, consider laser hair removal. Do not cheap out on this. Make sure you go to a trusted dermatologist who will discuss this option and explain it thoroughly.
3. Electric razors. If you use this system, keep it clean. Replace components as directed. People with atopic dermatitis are at risk for serious infections like Staph. These infections can be troublesome or lethal and keeping the tools you use on your skin immaculate can be a matter of life and death. You wouldn't get a mani-pedi from a place that doesn't sterilize their tools; so, you need to be vigilant when it comes to what you use on your body. If you have open areas, don't shave.
4. Prep your skin. Clean your legs with soap (remove oils, bacteria, etc) and soak your legs in warm water for a few minutes before shaving. It makes the process easier.
5. Shaving lotion/cream. I use Kiss My Face Shaving Lotion. Find one that works for you with as little ingredients as possible if you have allergic skin. Stay away from irritants like peppermint. That can be harder than it seems.
6. Shaving in the direction of hair growth. My first dermatologist advised that shaving in the direction that the hair grows is less aggravating for the skin. You won't get a close shave this way, but it if helps, then it's worth it.
7. The three Is - Ingrown hairs, Infection and Irritation. Avoiding ingrown hairs is key, because they can be a site of infection. Mayo Clinic has some great tips to prevent and treat ingrown hairs. Speak to your doctor about how to address sites of infection and irritation. I use a corticosteroid cream on my skin right after shaving and an antibiotic ointment in the event of minor infections.
8. Moisturize. This is something you should be doing anyway, but keeping your skin in optimal condition is very important if you're going to do something that irritates it, too.
9. Talk to your dermatologist. It may seem like a minor thing, but this about the health of your skin. Come up with a plan that works for you. Your doctor may have other options that work better.
Personally, my next step will involve permanent hair removal. Being brown, I have issues with hyperpigmentation and depigmentation; so, after a discussion with a dermatologist at AvantDerm, I am confident that the procedure can be performed there with little risk to my beloved pigmentation. I've done a lot of research since not everyone can perform this procedure on patients with dark skin. Once I begin that process, I'll post with the results. I expect some irritation in the short term; so, I'll have to see how I manage that.
Hope this helps and hope you enjoy your summer - hair-free or not!