Summer Skin Care

What the Heck Is an Epilator? Everything You Need to Know About the French-Girl Hair Removal Method

Kells McPhillips

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Photo: Getty Images/skynesher

I learned many things during the year I studied abroad in France. For example, the expression for missing someone in French is “Tu me manques,” which translates literally as “You are missing from me.” I always thought the turn of phrase was wildly poetic. But I didn’t really understand it on a visceral level until the French TSA confiscated my epilator on my way back to America. Suddenly, I wanted to scream “Tu me manques!” at my lightning fast hair removal tool in the middle of Charles de Gaulle Airport—no matter the sharp looks from my fellow travelers.

Just in case you’re new to epilators, the palm-sized devices (invented in the 1980s and popularized by the ’90s) look a whole lot like razors—except they’re electric and make a pretty terrible noise. After you’ve washed your body and exfoliated the desired area, you turn the gizmo on and slowly run it across your skin. Some people like to use baby powder and lotion as they do so, but it’s not “required” per se.

The easy nature of the razor glow-ups are perhaps why they’re a pretty big deal in The City of Lights. Eva Chen, head of fashion at Instagram, is a fan of them, too. Recently, she shared on one of her Instagram stories that she personally caught epilator fever in the UK—so it must just be an over the pond thing (for now).

Even though French girls and Chen alike love the hair removal tool, I—of course—needed dermatologist input. Cybele Fishman, MD, a New York-based dermatologist tells me that—like waxing or sugaring—epilating pulls hair straight from the root. This means that you get a smoother finish and your hair hair will stay away longer than it would if your shaved. However, using the device isn’t without consequences. “This is a method that is traumatic to the hair follicle, and folliculitis (aka, inflamed hair follicles) is common,” says Dr. Fisherman.

The process is also not so great for the overall health of your skin, adds dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD. “Epilating removes hair at the follicle, like tweezing or waxing,” she says. “The benefit is that the device can remove many hairs at once, even reaching short, tiny ones. However, it can cause discoloration for people of color with prolonged use and can be an uncomfortable, irritating process.”

If you decide to shave à la française, just make sure you’re giving your bod the necessary care once you’ve epilated away every last strand of hair. Lather up with lotions and potions that contain aloe, calendula, or chamomile, and do not (don’t do it!) epilate on sunburned skin. Your razor may be gathering dust, but hopefully your trusty epilator will never be “missing from you.”

If you’re, like, so over shaving, here are all your other hair removal options. Plus, how to get waxed without seeing stars

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