There are a number of things that male Korean celebrities and idols have in common. The chiselled jawline, the perfect nose bridge, seemingly poreless, porcelain skin, and disarming boyishness. To complete the package, they also tend to be devoid of facial hair, save for perfectly shaped eyebrows.
It’s not enough that these examples of contemporary male beauty possess the visual exuberance of a 21-year-old in his physical prime, they also have underarms so smooth and clear that they can be likened to vanilla ice cream. I mean, one can’t help but notice this when male members of K-pop groups opt to wear sleeveless outfits during their energetic dance performances.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m affected by these rather impossible standards—not only are those underarms hairless, they also look unbelievably smooth—I am however a fan of keeping things clean and groomed. And having hairless underarms does have its benefits. For one, it reduces the chance for the accumulation of bacteria. Hairy pits give bacteria something more to cling on to and thrive in, and subsequently cause that after-workout funk, or that end-of-day earthiness simply by living in a humid climate.
Hair has a tendency to retain moisture, which means hairy pits also often translate to visible wet underarm patches. And while sweating is normal and healthy, having perspiration seep through clothing isn’t exactly a good look. Depending on whether you’re for deodorants and antiperspirants (typically aluminium-based to temporarily block sweat pores) or their more natural alternatives, a hairless underarm also provides a smoother canvas that increases their efficiency.
I’ll have to confess that I am mildly obsessed with hair removal. After all, I have tried pretty much every at-home solution. Like most guys, I started out with the standard shaving routine. It’s fast and idiot-proof; I typically had zero issue or experienced any nick from using a Gillette razor. But the downside to shaving is the potential for ingrown hair. The constant scraping action of shaving can also lead to minor cuts to the skin and exacerbate hyperpigmentation, making skin appear darker—definitely not K-pop-star-approved.
Forget about hair-removing creams. My experience with them has never been positive. They either didn’t work as advertised or weren’t as effective as the razor. Then, there was the one time I decided to try out an at-home waxing kit in preparation for a marathon run. In the interest of reducing abrasion to the skin during the long-distance run (it happens around the underarm area too, especially after a bumpy shave), I laid out the components in the kit and read the instructions carefully before proceeding. Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t begin the experiment with a DIY-Boyzilian (the male variant of a Brazilian that involves removing hair from the front and back of the pubic region), because not only did I suffer from post-marathon abrasion, some skin was ripped off in the process.
“There’s almost ZERO downtime with waxing. I can (and I do) use my lunchtime on a work day to go to a waxing salon near the office, spend about an hour for a BOYZILIAN and underarm hair removal, and then head back to my desk without anyone knowing I just had my FOLLICLES STRIPPED OFF of me.”
As effective as self-waxing strips are, the quality of the pre-attached wax is nowhere near what professional salons use. And they’re messy and hard to manoeuvre on yourself—the strips need to be at the absolutely perfect angle to work. The risk of getting it wrong—clearly, in my case—is pretty high.
Professional waxing is probably the best temporary hair removal technique out there. There’s still some degree of pain involved unfortunately, but results typically last for a couple of weeks. After repeated visits, regrowth is generally slower and you may only need to go just once a month.
There’s almost zero downtime with waxing. I can (and I do) use my lunchtime on a work day to head to a waxing salon near the office, spend about an hour for a Boyzilian and underarm hair removal, and then head back to my desk without anyone knowing I just had follicles stripped off of me. All one has to avoid for the next couple of hours are exercising and showering with hot water, or anything else that could irritate the open pores of a waxed area.
While the usual waxing salon I frequent isn’t too shabby with its private rooms and sterile environment, a visit to STRIP’s Ion Orchard outlet proved to be a luxurious experience. There’s nothing clinical about its deep coloured walls and interior furnishings as well as the plush bed in the middle that all together resembles more of a private boudoir than a salon.
Homegrown brand STRIP has been at it for 21 years now and has expanded to eight other cities in the region. As part of its 21st-anniversary celebrations, a special STRIP Birthday Wax had been formulated especially for Boyzilian procedures. And like its name suggests, the wax smells like how a vanilla birthday cake would, which in hindsight, is perhaps not the kind of visuals one would want while getting hair removed from sensitive areas. But it smelt delicious and one can hardly complain to that.
“Do you see more guys getting waxed nowadays,” I asked my Waxpert (STRIP’s term for its wax specialists), ignoring my cardinal rule of never making conversation with the person you’re exposing your groin and crack to at the salon, all in the interest of journalism.
“Yes, of course!” she answered without skipping a beat, before asking me to take a deep breath and proceeding to yank a strip off. Surprisingly, the pain was minimal.
The pain element is inevitable—you’re essentially removing hair follicles right at the root. But experienced and well-trained specialists make quick work of it, which helps in reducing the pain whether it’s underarm hair removal or the more sensitive Boyzilian. Anything around the scrotum though, is bound to be the most painful owed to the fact that the skin is thin in that area. You might jerk from the swift motion or even yelp, but they’re all most definitely normal reactions that you don’t have to be embarrassed about. These wax specialists have probably seen it all.
You might be wondering at this point, why bother going through the pain? Especially when intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment is a pain-free option and lasts far longer. With IPL treatment, however, multiple sessions are required with results typically more visible after at least four sessions. Conversely, waxing is immediate, especially if you’re pressed for time and are not willing to wait for four months for smooth, hairless skin.
At the end of the day, it boils down to one’s personal choice, and I don’t just mean waxing versus IPL treatments.
Hair removal isn’t a necessity; it’s a preference. Having hairy pits doesn’t equate to being hyper-masculine nor does the lack of it means one is any less. For me, it’s not even about adhering to a new standard of male beauty; it’s about feeling more hygienic and knowing that I’m not the cause of a lone hair sticking on the rim of a urinal. Having said that, for the love of mankind, at least trim those bushes, bro.