Historians say the practice of shaving dates back to about 30,000 B.C., when men first used sharpened rocks and flint blades to tame their beards. We sincerely doubt that women used the same methods back then, but nowadays men's and women's hair removal tools look a lot alike.
Just because a razor is marketed for men doesn't mean women can't or won't use it -- in fact, a survey published in British publication Which? magazine showed that two-thirds of women believe men's razors are equal to or superior to women's models. The grass is always greener on the other side, though -- we also found a fair number of men who admit to using razors marketed for women, like the top-rated Gillette Venus Embrace (Est. $9) .
Although there are many aesthetic differences between men's and women's shavers, most experts say that men's razors and electric shavers work just as well -- and sometimes better -- than those designed specifically for women. However, women's shavers are more likely to have ergonomic handles and pivoting heads to make maneuvering around knees and ankles more manageable.
We couldn't ask for better proof that, ultimately, the way a razor, shaver or epilator performs for you is much more important than any color scheme or marketing. Because of that, we've included a couple of men's razors -- the Gillette Mach3 Turbo and the Gillette Fusion ProGlide -- in this report because they're very popular with women. Regardless of who the razor is marketed for, we remain focused on woman-specific shaving concerns: finding the razors, shavers and epilators that remove hair cleanly without cutting you or pinching your skin, even when navigating the tricky curves around knees, calves and underarms or skirting your bikini line.
Women have many options for removing unwanted hair. Manual shaving with a refillable or disposable razor remains the most popular method. Women with sensitive skin may prefer to use an electric shaver, however, which reduces your risk of nicks, cuts and razor burns. Razors and shavers only remove surface hair -- if you'd like to go deeper, epilators use tiny, motorized tweezers to pluck hair at the root.
Epilating is slower than shaving, to the point that some women will only use epilators on small areas like the underarm and bikini line. For those who do epilate their legs, one common tactic is laying a towel out on the bed, then stretching out on the towel and watching television while you epilate. As you might imagine, the plucking process can be extremely painful and not everybody chooses to endure it. Those who do, however, say the long-lasting results (two to three weeks) are worth it, and that it gets less painful as your skin adapts and hair grows back finer (and not all at once).
We also discuss bikini-line shavers and trimmers, which are ultimately designed for the tricky angles and confined space of grooming -- or removing -- some or all of your pubic hair. Other hair removal options (not covered in this report) include waxing, electrolysis and laser hair removal.
When selecting the best razors, shavers, epilators and bikini trimmers, we depended heavily on user feedback from websites like Amazon.com, Target.com, Drugstore.com and CVS.com. Real women, using these hair removal tools in the real world, are the ultimate arbiters of just how well they hold up to everyday use. That said, some reviews are obviously fake, and others are the result of razors distributed by marketing companies. We make a point of screening out this sort of questionable review and will always let you know when we encounter them.
We also turn to expert, comparative tests in publications like ConsumerReports.org, Which? magazine and Choice magazine -- very similar publications in the U.K. and Australia, respectively -- which are also excellent sources of comparative trials with expert input. Women's magazines like Allure, Women's Health, Redbook and Real Simple round out our sources with their natural interest in this topic.
Finally, we found a few beauty-oriented websites -- including MakeupAlley.com and TotalBeauty.com -- to be useful sources of further feedback. Two About.com channels, hair removal and beauty, are also excellent sources for some individual product reviews, as well as tips and information about other types of hair removal.
Manufacturers continue to add features to razors, but there is no documented research to show that any of these have an effect on the quality of the shave. Several reviewers, for example, say that razors with more than three blades provide a diminishing rate of return, and one blogger says that razors from 1901 actually perform better than today's models.
We just can't stress this enough: How a razor or shaver feels on your skin, and how cleanly it removes your hair, both matter far more than any marketing gimmick. That's why we've narrowed down the choices to the models that give the cleanest shave and feel the best in your hand. But what works well for one person might not suit another -- especially when you take your personal combination of skin and hair types into account. So be forewarned that it may take a little experimentation to find the shaver that's perfect for you. It's well worth the effort.