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Q. What’s the most sustainable way to shave my man-scruff so I don’t look like such a dirty hippie? I know, I know, not shaving at all is the way to go, but damn if it doesn’t start itching too bad.
Q. What is the most environmentally friendly/responsible hair removal method for women (legs and underarms)? Shaving, waxing, laser removal, something else I’ve never heard of? (I realize the most environmentally responsible way might be to not remove the hair at all, but I’ve decided not to take that route at this point.)
A. Dearest Wade and Caitlin,
My, society is a funny beast. Thousands of years of evolution have come up with a highly successful model for the human body – all that leg, face, and underarm hair included – and what do we do but work ourselves into a tizzy over how to get rid of it. I appreciate your sheepish acknowledgment of that fact, you two, but worry not. You’ll hear no rants in favor of au natural grooming from me today.
What you will hear, however, is a gentle reminder to keep things in perspective. Individual choices do matter, and we should always strive to do the best we can. But the carbon emissions associated with razor blades versus electric razors versus waxing, etc., pale in comparison to bigger-ticket choices like transportation, home energy, and diet. So let’s get into some recommendations here, then transfer that care and energy elsewhere.
For the fellas
We tackled this topic back in 2005, and try as I might, I couldn’t find much in the way of newer, even eco-friendlier options for maintaining one’s mane. (There’s been surprisingly little innovation on this front in the intervening years.) The best choice was then, and is now, the grandpa-chic straight razor. A good one can be handed down to your kids, thereby eliminating the landfill waste and petroleum-based production of countless disposable plastic razors, and it requires no power but your own steady hand. You’ll need a few accessories to do this right – a “scuttle” or lather bowl for whipping up foam, a natural-hair brush, and a strop for sharpening – but the savings will accrue over the life of your shaving set. Just be careful and start slowly, okay? Managing a naked blade near the jugular takes some practice.
If that just won’t do, Wade, then may I suggest a safety razor? With these old-school tools, you keep the metal handle and replace the double-sided blade as necessary. Bonus: The replacement blades often come in small cardboard boxes, reducing packaging over the plastic-cartridge version of reusable razors, and they’re much cheaper. And if you dry the blades after each use, you may be able to make each one really last.
Here’s the key with these wet shaving methods: You must take care with your hot water use, as therein lies the biggest environmental impact of shaving. Under no circumstances shall you run the water while scraping; instead, fill the sink with an inch or two of rinsing water and save three gallons per shave. Hardy souls may do even better by using cold water to save the energy of heating.
I’m not a big fan of electric razors, by the way, mostly because electricity is not essential to the task of defuzzing. But if you must, know that an electric shaver daintily draws less than one kilowatt-hour of electricity every year (assuming a 15-watt shaver and 10 minutes of action per day). Turn the AC up, the heat down, hang your clothes to dry, or even turn off a light to compensate, and you’ll come out ahead.
For the ladies
We also dove into this back in 2005 when female readers clamored for an XX perspective. One thing we didn’t mention back then: It is possible to use a straight or safety razor on your legs and underarms, thereby reaping the benefits of long-lasting steel. Gender equality, hurrah!
We did mention body sugaring, a waxing-like process using only sugar, water, and lemon juice – and that remains a solid, if time-consuming and somewhat messy, choice. If none of the above are for you, Caitlin, the reusable plastic razor with replaceable blades remains a next-best option.
More important than the exact razor composition is – say it with me, now – saving hot water! Please, please, don’t shave in a running shower. Turn off the water, Navy-style, or shave over the sink or a bowl.
And finally, for everybody, a note about soap: Skip the propellant-stuffed cans of shaving cream and try a longer-lasting, foamy hard soap. Many lovely soaps made from natural ingredients can be had these days; peruse the Environmental Working Group and the Good Guide for some ideas.