I've tried them, and I'm here to share my experience!
This is how I began eighteen years ago. Ah, thirteen...wanting to use Dad's razor and shave cream. Of course, I already had soft, smooth legs -- I just didn't realize it. I had no idea that young that shaving hair actually makes it thicker, courser, and darker. And so, shaving is a vicious cycle. You want smooth legs, so you shave. But then it just grows right back worse than before, and you have to shave it again the next morning. Ever hear of 5 o'clock shadow? Women who shave get that on their legs, too.
I didn't know any of this for years, so I just kept shaving, and shaving, and shaving. Years of nicks and cuts. Although, the worst was at first -- in my first few years of learning how to master shaving. (Beware, teens -- if you're not careful, you will shave skin off your ankle bones and knees!) I still have a few scars. But I thought this was the only way...so it was part of my daily routine.
Out of all the razors I've tried (everything from plain old Bic, to Venus, to my boyfriend's Mach 5), my favorite was always Daisy pink disposable razors (made by Gillette). They are very affordable, and despite their "disposable" status, they can be used many times. They are very sharp, but made well enough that I can shave quickly without cutting myself. Essentially, I get a very close shave for a great price.
After you have a great razor, the next vital item is a great shaving medium (gel, cream, etc.). There are tons of options out there, but the ones I always liked best were the gels. I've used, and liked, almost all scents and types of shave gels by Edge, Gillette, and Skintimate -- though my favorites are always the ones for sensitive skin. I've never tried Aveeno, but I hear they make a good one, too. I would have gone with an organic option (like Aubrey Organics), but I had not yet discovered the importance of organic-living back when I was shaving.
Now, if you have never shaved...good for you! Your leg hairs are probably soft, light, and not-so bothersome. If you have shaved, you know what if feels like to go to bed at night with sandpaper legs that poke each other because you went one day without shaving...and so you have to shave every day to keep stubble down, which is a royal pain. Are you sick and tired of shaving every day? Have you considered other options? Are there other options? Yes.....there are!
I've only done this once, at a "professional" salon. But once was enough for me -- because I spent like $50, and the girl did a crappy job! Not only did she rip my hair out SUPER fast (which didn't provide me a chance to breath off the pain between rippings), but she left tons of little hairs scattered all over my legs. She was supposed to tweeze any remaining hair...and she did tweeze a few...but then she said, "OK, you're done!" And when I got to my car (after paying $50), I noticed all the leftovers and spent the next 20 minutes tweezing them out myself.
You can buy waxing kits and do this yourself at home, too. I've never tried it because I heard it was very messy and hard to clean up, so I can't offer any advice on this one. But I can tell you about sugaring at home, which is very similar to waxing.
Have you heard of Nads? That's what I'm talking about. Sugaring is when you put a super-sticky substance on your legs (instead of wax), rub a cotton strip over it (just like you do with waxing), hold the skin taught, then RIP the cotton strip off really fast in the opposite direction of hair growth (just like with waxing). Opposite direction of hair growth simply means, if your hair grows pointing down, then you rip the cotton strip in an upward motion. On the contrary, when you apply the sticky substance (using a tongue depressor, or plastic spatula) you apply it in the direction of hair growth (if hair grows downward, apply it with a downward swipe). Recap: Apply sticky stuff in downward motion, rub on cotton strip, hold skin taught, and rip off fast in an upward motion.
I tried Nads. It worked great, but I always needed more cotton strips than they provided -- so I bought some similar cotton fabric at my local fabric store and cut it into strips. It worked just fine.
One day, while researching homemade beauty products, I encountered a recipe for "homemade Nads" (homemade sugaring substance). It was so easy to make: 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup honey, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice -- microwave for 1 minute, stir well, then 30 seconds more, stir well, and another 30 seconds, stir well (2 minutes total). Allow to cool enough so it won't burn you! But not enough that it gets so thick and sticky that you can't even apply it (if it cools that much, just re-heat it for another 20 seconds and stir). It will take a while to cool down...try 5-10 minutes, then test it.
Some tricks with sugaring are:
1) Find a good consistency (not runny, but not overly thick... just perfectly spreadable). It will be too runny if it's too hot, and it will be too thick if it's too cool.
2) Don't apply too much. You want a semi-thin layer, but not too thin, and definitely not too thick. If it's too thick, it won't rip out any hairs...you'll just rip off the cotton strip and leave a mess on your leg. And if it's too thin, you won't efficiently rip out many hairs. You will have to experiment at first to find the perfect balance, but you'll figure it out quickly.
3) Don't rip the strip off too fast after applying. In my experience, if you wait at least 10 seconds while firmly rubbing the strip on, it gives the substance a little time too cool down, which I think better grasps the hairs. For me, it's more effective this way. But don't wait too long, because if actually hardens, you may rip off a layer of skin.
Once I discovered sugaring, I did it for a while. But the downfalls are that it's very messy, time-consuming to prepare, very time-consuming to clean-up, and worst of all -- you have to allow your legs to get hairy again in order to sugar (because the hair needs to be long enough for the substance to grab on to, just like with waxing). The results of sugaring are by far better than shaving -- legs are smooth and hair-free for weeks! After you rip the hair out, it grows back much slower, softer, thinner, and lighter in color. But I didn't like having to let my legs get hairy in order to sugar again. That is why I was extremely happy to discover epilating.
This is my current FAVORITE method for hair removal. I had heard about it here-and-there, but wasn't really sure about it. Then one night, I was watching Late Night with Conan O'Brien and I heard guest Heidi Klum talking about epilating her legs with a Braun SoftPerfection epilator (I think she's a spokesmodel for it). I was interested, and I ended up buying one on eBay for like $50. (I have since learned that they sell on amazon.com for cheaper). I received it, I tried it, I LOVED it.
It hurt really bad the first few times (no different than waxing or sugaring). But the good thing about epilating is you can do it any time you want. You don't have to wait for your hair to get long! And it has the same effects as waxing and sugaring, where your hair stays gone for weeks! Basically, you epilate. Then maybe a week later, you epilate again...just to get any of the hairs that were too short to get the first time, which have now grown longer.
If you want to maintain your perfectly hair-free legs, you just epilate every week (or even every few days, if you'd like...it's really up to you). And the more you epilate, the less and less it hurts because you totally get used to it -- unlike waxing and sugaring, which you can only do every month, so you had a month to get not used to it.
Now, when I researched epilators (and I did...I did not just run out and buy the Braun Silk-Epil SoftPerfection epilator just because Heidi Klum uses it), I learned that some people have had bad experiences with epilators, such as getting loose skin stuck, or ripped off. There are some epilators that come with a "reverse" feature for this reason. My Braun Silk-Epil doesn't have that as a "feature," but it does simply move both directions manually (when you move it with your finger), so I'm not worried about getting anything stuck. I read that it's mostly common to get skin stuck when you have loose skin. I learned to avoid this by holding the skin taught, to get rid of flaps and wrinkly areas -- such as around the bikini area, or in the armpit. I would suggest that even if you think you don't have loose skin, still hold your skin taught...just in case.
I have never gotten anything stuck, but I have irritated my armpit by epilating when it was too hairy. What happened was, I used my boyfriend's electric hair buzzer to simply "buzz" my thick armpit hair short -- but that still left me with a thick patch of short hairs. Because I had so many hairs so close together, I should have shaved first -- because when you shave, not all of your hairs grow back at the same rate. So this way, I would have less hairs to epilate the first week, and then I could've epilated the rest of the hairs (the slower-growing hairs) as they continued to grow in the next week, and the next week after. So...shaving can still come in handy at times -- like when you are epilating for the first time, of perhaps neglected epilating for a month or two.
I have now used my epilator many times since I bought it nearly a year ago. Personally, I have not had any problems (except when I didn't pre-shave my bushy armpit that one time). I got used to the pain in one month, and can epilate in a matter of minutes. To mainting hair-free legs, armpits, and bikini area, I only need to epilate once a week. And if I forget? No problem, because the hairs now grow back so soft, thin, and light in color that even if I do have hair, you can't easily see it! It's awesome.
Depilatory Creams or Lotion
I have tried this, too -- but only Nair brand. You simply rub it on, wait 10 minutes, then wipe it off with a washcloth. And it works OK, but it burned, made me itch, left my skin irritated, and furthermore -- it only gets rid of surface-level hair, so you can still see little black dots where the hair shafts are. That alone should be reason enough. But the reason I refuse to use this stuff is the CHEMICAL SMELL...and thus, the chemicals. I feel toxic when I use this stuff. I've tried three kinds by Nair -- Nair regular depilatory lotion, Nair sensitive depilatory lotion, and Nair Pretty depilatory cream (which was supposed to be peach scented, and supposed to be gentler on skin). Well, they all stunk bad -- even the one with supposed peach scent -- and they all irritated.
Now, if you like the smell of chemicals and you don't mind them soaking into your body, then this might be worth a try. I knew a man who swore by depilatory lotion. Personally, it just isn't for me. The chemical smell, and knowing it's soaking into my body, is too much to handle.
Overall, I think epilating is the best option because:
It's super easy! Just plug in, and start epilating.
You can do it as often as you want to keep legs 100% hair-free (unlike waxing and sugaring), but
You don't have to do it every day! (unlike shaving)
Your hair stays gone for weeks! (unlike shaving)
One epilator costs as much as one professional waxing (cost effective)
One epilator costs as much as a nice razor with refills cartridges and a few bottles of shave gel (cost effective)
You don't have to worry about nicks and cuts! (unlike shaving)
You don't put chemicals on your body! (unlike depilatory lotions and creams)
After a few uses, epilating starts to become less-and-less painful (unlike waxing and sugaring)
It's quick! You can epilate in a matter of minutes, and usually no longer than 10 (unlike waxing and sugaring)
And there's practically no clean-up! (Unless you want to vacuum real fast, because the hairs get pulled out and fall to the ground). You should blow/brush the hairs off the epilator, and wipe it with an alcohol wipe to keep oils and bacteria off, but that only takes a minute.
With regular use (once a week), the epilator works just fine!
I hope this helps! Take care.