Asking For A Friend: Is it bad to bleach my arm hair?

Bleach is just one way to lessen the appearance of dark hair, you may also want to consider laser removal or shaving.

Karen Hawthorne 4 minute read April 22, 2022
Woman's arm hair

On normal, healthy skin, bleaching should be painless with a possible mild tingling during the process. GETTY

Dear Asking For a Friend,

I am a pretty hairy woman – particularly when it comes to my arms. I have been dyeing this hair for years, but I have always worried about the health risks of using the bleach so often. Is it better for my health to just be hairy?

Signed, Hairy and Concerned


Dear Hairy and Concerned,

With the warm sunny season coming up, people often become even more conscious of body details like darker arm hair. I get it: you want to feel comfortable in sleeveless and short-sleeved clothing to make the most of the heat and relax on a patio.

Although bleach doesn’t eliminate body hair, it can make the hair appear almost invisible, so you’ll get that sought-after aesthetic of smooth, bare skin. It’s also quick, pain-free and inexpensive, although the product cost adds up over time.

But is it safe? Hair dyes use a cocktail of chemicals to alter hair colour, including the bleaching agent hydrogen peroxide. While researchers have looked at the long-term effects of hair dye use, including cancer risks, the findings have not been conclusive.

Interesting, too, to note that North Carolina State University has created a public chemical database of hair dye substances as a resource for developing safer hair colour products.

Turns out bleaching is safe

Dr. Lisa Kellett, dermatologist and founder of DLK on Avenue in Toronto, says that bleaching hair is a safe practice as long as you’ve purchased the product from a reputable drugstore or retailer — not from someone’s home basement salon — and follow the manufacturer directions for application.

“The biggest health concern would be irritation from using the product because they are usually hydrogen peroxide-based,” she says. “There could be redness or sensitivity, or, rarely, scarring or infection. If your skin is irritated and you scratch it, you could infect it with your hands.”

A good first step is to do a test patch on a small spot before applying the bleach to the full arm to check whether or not you experience any problems or unexpected results. Sometimes bleached hair on darker skin tones is more noticeable than your natural hair colour, or you might experience a temporary pigment change where the skin tone is lighter post-treatment.

Kellett also cautions that skin can be more prone to irritation if it’s been recently exfoliated or has a sunburn or windburn, so hold off on bleaching in these cases. However, on normal, healthy skin, bleaching should be painless with a possible mild tingling during the process.

What about laser hair removal?

In the skincare industry, laser hair removal is now the standard treatment because body hair can be removed permanently, Kellett says, adding that shaving is another option.

“If you don’t want to do [laser] and are concerned about irritation from a bleaching product, I’d recommend shaving,” she says. “You’re probably better off using a razor with lots of soap than you are using one of these products that could irritate your skin.”

And in case you are worried, shaving doesn’t make your hair grow back thicker, contrary to popular belief, but a dull blade can result in razor burn, ingrown hairs, nicks and cuts, so shave with care.

Kellett also notes that sometimes, an increase in body hair could signal a health concern, so be proactive about seeking medical care and advice.

“If you have excess body hair, it could indicate a hormonal issue. Then you should see a dermatologist for a proper diagnosis,” she says. “You may need blood work to rule out underlying systemic disease.”

Karen Hawthorne is a Toronto-based writer.
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