Let's start with this: Do not wax your chest hair. Not now, not yesterday, not ever. Unless, say, you are Michael Phelps, but we suspect even he let's his hair grow wild when he's not winning Olympic medals. Waxing chest hair reeks of many things, but the one you should primarily concern yourself with is the image of trying too hard. You are not a Calvin Klein model and you are not going to woo the 18-year-old in the string bikini away from her ripped 19-year-old date (who, incidentally, looks like a Calvin Klein model). You are a male primate who comes naturally stocked with varying degrees of fur. Accept it.
But there are instances when less is more, and body hair at the beach is one such case. So how do you take care of business without reverting your appearance to pre-pubescent days?
Don't Give in to Book Cover Envy
Of all the places your body sprouts hair, the back is probably the most universally despised. Back hair can age you, and move you several rungs down on the evolutionary ladder in the eyes of women. As such, you might consider removing it. If you do, tidy up the chest hair as well for a more balanced look (i.e. thin the forest, don't whack all the trees). Likewise, if you have a naturally bare chest but a rug down your back, you should pare it down.
A professional is probably your best bet to groom something you can't actually see. Trimming your own back can be done, but it ain't pretty, and frequently involves a post-trim trip to the chiropractor. "Your skin will be irritated and you will encourage ingrown hairs," cautions Noemi Grupenmager, Founder and CEO of Uni K Wax Centers.
If you do choose to give it a try, The Professional Mangroomer ($50, groominglounge.com) is the best tool on the market for reaching difficult-to-access spots, thanks to its extendable handle that helps your angle of approach. But because it's your backside, and you'll be trimming with a mirror, all your movements will be in reverse, which takes getting used to.
You'll also need a chest hair groomer, preferably one that includes both a trimmer and a shaver. The Sharper Image makes a a professional option that's waterproof ($80, sharperimage.com), useful if you like to do your thing in the shower. You'll also want a straight-edge razor for final detailing work, and at this point you should have hired someone.
The easier way to go for better and longer-lasting results is either a wax or Intense Pulsed Light treatment. "Our waxers go through an extensive training program that focuses on applying and removing wax on all parts of a man's body with little or no discomfort," Grupenmager says. "The benefit of waxing over shaving is that rather than cutting the hair off midway, you are removing it at the follicle, which weakens the hair so is grows back sparsely." A wax job also lasts four to eight weeks, compared with just a few days if you trim.
With IPL, professionals use a handheld device to direct pulses of light at hair follicles, disabling them from growing more hair. "The procedure take 30 minutes to an hour, and permanently reduces back hair," says Shizuka Bernstein, owner and master aesthetician at Shizuka New York Day Spa. "It works best on men with darker hair and lighter skin tone." It's not pain-free, but you're no worse off than getting a wax.
How Low Can You Go?
Hey, it's your hair. If you want to remove it all, no one's going to stop you. But generally speaking, guys who groom their body hair should draw the line where their bathing suit begins. Or, looking at it another way, trim any hair that creeps up over the top band of your underwear or swim trunks. "We give men a pair of underwear to put on for our services," Bernstein says. "We remove any hair that is visible outside those lines."
Of course, this advice applies most easily to men who prefer the traditional American style of swim trunks — basically, a water-friendly version of gym shorts. But if you're born in France, or just visiting, embracing the European Speedo culture comes with its own hardships, not the least of which is hair popping out of various places. If this is your swimsuit, these are your options: "The full Brazilian bikini wax is the most popular service for the male down there," Grupenmager says. "We also just introduced the boxers wax, with hair removed from the belly button down to your thumb when your hand is by your side, front and back."
As For the Rest of Your Body
Shaving your leg hair is like waxing your chest. If you are a champion swimmer or avid cyclist, and your posse of fellow bikers who strut around in spandex and compression suits won't look at you sideways, go for it. Otherwise, consider letting your hair coexist with your legs in peace, the way it has on men for centuries.
This doesn't mean that if you have legs hairier than King Kong, you need to simply accept it. For dark, thick leg hair, use your body trimmer, set on guard two to help thin things out.
The same philosophy — some hair, just less — applies to the shag beneath your armpits. Contrary to what you might think, women do not detest hairy underarms (at least on men… and, again, in France). But a thicket below your shoulder can be a breeding ground for stench during hot, humid summer days. So trim yours back to a half-inch, max. This can be accomplished via trimmer or, if it's really long, with scissors. Note: Not your kitchen scissors. Those dull blades will cause you pain. Try these top-shelf Roseline German Shears ($64, bodytoolz.com) are professional-quality cutters that won't pull at the hair while removing it.
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Another area to maintain: The nape of your neck. Although excessive hair here is actually less noticeable if you are bare-chested on the beach, throw on a t-shirt and observe whether any tufts creep over the top of your collar. If so, time for a trim. Similarly, you shouldn't see your chest hair over the collar of your work shirt.
Finally, that unpleasant bit of business: your backside. Most men have some hair below the belt, and it's hard to think of one good reason why you'd want to keep it. But your ability to remove it yourself it practically nonexistent, so any necessary cleanup means a trip to the professional salon, where women with gallons of hot wax await. Don't worry, they won't screw up. They do this all day, every day.