Of all the things to audit, the footprint from hair removal seems somewhat insignificant compared to say, the footprint caused by flying or electricity use. But there’s a hairy elephant in the room (known as mammoths) and I want to talk about it.
If there was ever a year to let it all grow out, this was it. Countless memes have been floating around social media from home-job haircuts, to hairy legs and underarms, to the bush being back like a 70’s porn – all because many of our regular beauty salons were forced to close and being stuck at home in isolation meant we had no one other than our significant others to impress – and let’s be honest, most of us gave up on that after the first year.
If the Rona were a style, I’m it. I’ve let it all grow, from head to toe (I’ve also embraced tracksuit pants and have become significantly more grey!). Due to years’ of conditioning by media, peers and society, I’ve been led to believe body hair on women is unsightly, dirty and altogether a lazy woman’s ethic. I’ve also been led to believe body hair on men is only appropriate in particular places and in particular amounts. For that reason, I’m confused about whether I liked removing hair because of the way it feels and looks or, if I just did it because everyone else was doing the same. What I do know is I’m saving time and money not having every last hair plucked or shaved from my body. As well as avoiding very annoying and irritating ingrown hairs! Just to put the time thing into a perspective, if I spent around 15 minutes a week on de-fuzzing, that would equate to just over a month in a lifetime.
But unlike our appendix, body hair does actually serve a purpose, it:
- Keeps us warm
- Regulates body temperature
- Hair on our head protects us from the sun
- Minimises chafing
- Attracts mates through scent (probably a throwback to our evolutionary past)
According to The Women’s Museum of California, women have been removing body hair for thousands of years, as far back as ancient Rome and Egypt. They also state “Elizabethan women removed their eyebrows and hair from their foreheads to give themselves a longer brow”, not too dissimilar to a mullet really. And no surprises here, the three industries that profited most from making women’s hair removal a thing in recent times were the women’s fashion industry, the men’s hair removal industry, and the women’s magazine industry, taking advantage of a gap in the market, or rather, creating the gap. As the fashion trends changed over the course of a few decades, exposing more flesh, the need to be smooth and silky all over came too.
As Heather Widdows states, at some point in time, “de-fluffing [stopped] being a beauty practice, and [became] redefined as a hygiene practice, as part of so-called ‘routine’ maintenance”. However, “beauty practices are indulgent and optional; hygiene practices are necessary and required”.
Environmentally, the practice of hair removal does carry a burden. Particularly when it comes to waste.
- According to Eco Voice, Australians are potentially sending 5600 tonnes of wax to landfill every year (estimated from a Perth salon that sends 7.4 tonnes to landfill yearly).
- Not all waxes are natural. Some include nasty chemicals such as parabens and synthetic fragrances. Others are made of paraffin, a derivative of fossil fuels.
- Even if the wax is made from natural ingredients, it’s probably safe to assume most of it ends up in landfill where it adds to methane emissions.
The best bet here is to choose a natural wax, such as a sugar wax, so it can be composted or washed off. I have tried making my own sugar wax before on three occasions with no success – every time it turned to toffee. If I go down the waxing path I’ll probably stick to store bought sugar wax!
- Around 2 billion disposable razors are thrown into landfill every year in the US and estimated to take up to 1000 years for each razor to degrade.
- Disposable razors are generally made from virgin plastic – derived from fossil fuels.
If shaving is your go to, instead opt for reusable razors like a safety razor or a disposable where the blades can be changed. And opt for a shaving soap over a cream in a can so there is less packaging.
Electric Razor or Epilator
- According to one study, about 60 percent of an electric toothbrushes carbon footprint occurs during the manufacturing stage. We can probably assume an electric razor will have a similar output. Like all electronics – the product becomes ‘greener’ the longer you use it as the post manufacturing foorprint starts to outweigh the carbon emitted to produce the product.
- An article on Slate estimates an electric razor uses approximately 0.35 kilowatt hours per year which is roughly 200 grams of CO2.
If you use your electric razor on solar energy for more than fours years you’re on your way to a greener option over disposable razors (also no water or soaps required so saving energy heating water and packaging!).
- In terms of waste disposal, laser hair removal is an eco option as it basically creates zero waste over a long period of time.
- The footprint from laser hair removal is in the energy required to perform the task and the energy used in operating the beauty salon in which it’s performed. Without knowing exactly what these are, it’s hard to say but I would guess this is a reasonably eco-friendly option given how long laser lasts.
- On the downside – completely defuzzing your body in a semi permanent fashion is stepping away from what nature intended us to be. Perhaps over time we’ll start to evolve to become completely hairless on our bodies – like we have done so in the past.
Until the status quo on women’s body hair changes to favour a more natural look, perhaps I’ll never know if it’s the years of conditioning or if I do really just prefer smooth legs? Moving forward, if and when I defluff my body I’ll opt for a natural wax as it’s less permanent than laser, but lasts longer than shaving. However, as with having grey hair, I don’t see why women should be shunned or made to feel ugly or dirty for having exposed body hair if they so choose to. Power to the hairy people and up yours Gillette – you don’t own us!