Dear Umbra,

I just read your response about men’s shaving, but what about women? I don’t see many women shaving with straight razors, plus we have the depilatory cream and waxing options too. What’s our best option, especially for those of us who just hate dealing with it, but must?

Appleton, Wis.

Dearest Catherine,

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Although I pledged to avoid the widget this year, I am failing — for the widget’s size belies its magnetic pull. As soon as I addressed that male shaving quandary, women — and men who shave outside the beard region, and men who love women who hate to shave, and so on — wrote in by the pound asking your selfsame questions.

Neither a showerer nor a waxer be.

I trudged to floor 3B to dutifully begin researching waxes and creams and lasers, when suddenly I awoke to the basic dilemma of widget tyranny. Issues such as shaving are minute in the larger picture, but they begin to feel overwhelming once we stop to ponder. So overwhelming, in fact, that we forget to use logic. By “we,” I mean me.

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So let’s back up. The best widget in any category is durable; non- or less-toxic to manufacture, use, and dispose of; effective and easy to maintain; affordable and easy to use; and as emissions-free as possible. In the case of becoming hair-free, we are distracted by our many “choices” — which, using these guidelines, are not choices at all.

Many of you gently suggested that straight razors are a no-go for all but a few brave souls. OK. Do creams, waxes, lasers, electric shavers with rechargeable batteries, recycled-plastic razors, or electrolysis beat our second choice — a permanent razor with replaceable blades — under the “best widget” criteria? No.

I don’t even need to look up depilatory creams to figure out whether they are toxic during manufacture, use, and disposal. Any literate person with a working nostril knows the answer to that. Laser removal and electrolysis machines — which require electricity to simply operate — cannot produce fewer greenhouse gases. Body sugaring may be the one alternative with any chance of standing up to the permanent razor.

In general, if you must de-hair, and you wish to be affirmed in your common sense, experts can give you manifold reasons to avoid cosmetics of all sorts. Read to your heart’s delight in the Environmental Working Group’s report on personal-care products, which brings me to my letter-generating stance of the day: opt out of the “beauty” industry as much as you can. When we buy creams and waxes, or go to salons full of noxious chemicals, we send the message that we like the idea of chemical-based personal-care products. Your money is better spent elsewhere.

Here, readers, is the most important part: when you shave your legs or other bits, don’t do it in the shower. Water heating accounts for 17 percent of the energy use in a U.S. home. Your shower is delivering 2 to 5 gallons of water per minute, and just 1.6 gallons of hot water generates a pound of greenhouse gases. Use a bucket, sink, or puddle in the tub instead. Global warming: when we heat our water, we heat the earth.


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