Open any medicine cabinet, and you'll find one, wedged between the antibiotic ointment and the adhesive bandages. Its simple form -- two levers fused at one end -- belies its profound usefulness. Its presence in archaeological sites dating from the 7th century B.C. indicates just how long humans have appreciated its practicality.
We're talking about tweezers, the tool of choice for removing unwanted hair on the face (or elsewhere) and reshaping eyebrows. Even as modern hair removal techniques, such as waxing and laser-assisted epilation, have grown in popularity, plucking remains a tried-and-true method for eliminating a few stray hairs. That makes a good pair of tweezers one of the most important additions to your cosmetic bag.
But what exactly makes a "good" pair of tweezers? Aren't they all the same? As it turns out, they're not. The $5 variety you can buy at the grocery store may be perfectly serviceable, but, as the old adage suggests, you get what you pay for. An array of tweezers -- varying greatly in quality and cost -- is available if you know where to look. And if you think using tweezers requires little more skill than grabbing and yanking, think again. Proper tweezing technique can help you look better and reduce pain and redness.
The five tips we've compiled on the following pages will help you buy and use tweezers more effectively. Let's start with the business end -- the tip.
The tip accounts for barely 10 percent of typical tweezers, yet it's the most important part of the instrument. Most come in one of three basic designs -- slanted, pointed and square. Slanted-tip tweezers are ideal for general tweezing. Hair removal specialists, more properly known as estheticians, recommend using slanted-tip tweezers for general eyebrow shaping. Pointed tweezers are better for fine, stubby and ingrown hairs because the ultrafine tips more easily locate and lift the hair. Square tips, with their larger gripping surface, make it possible to tweeze a large area more efficiently, although experts warn that this practice can cause ingrown hairs or scarring.
Another important consideration is the inside surface of the tip, which can be enhanced to increase gripping power. Some tweezers feature a serrated inside surface to increase friction. Others take advantage of diamond dust embedded in the steel. And a few come with gold-plated tips. Twenty-four karat gold, far softer than steel, increases the grip on fine hair.
The tweezer body extends from the tip to the opposite end, where the two arms are fused. In essence, each arm is a third-class lever using the fixed end as a fulcrum. As you squeeze the tweezer arms together, the force is transmitted to the tip. Your ability to maintain a good grip on a pair of tweezers, therefore, affects its function. Traditional tweezers offer a fairly small handle, perhaps a quarter-inch (0.6 centimeters) across. If you find it difficult to get a firm grip with such a design, consider using wide-grip tweezers, which feature large oval handles. The centers of the ovals are generally cut out for enhanced fingertip control.
You should also pay attention to the finish of your tweezers. Most are made of surgical stainless steel, which can become slippery against your skin. Tweezer manufacturers tackle this problem in different ways. Some use a matte finish or an epoxy coating. Others place nonslip rubber pads on the handles. And still others add serrations or drill holes to make the steel easier to grip.
Another option is a pair of tweezers with a scissor-style handle. They look a bit like lash curlers from one end, but they come equipped with square or slanted tweezer tips on the other. Much easier to manipulate than traditional tweezers, they are ideal for people with weak hands or painful joints.
Once you've picked tweezers with the right tip and a comfortable grip, it's time to get busy. But don't start plucking without some preparation. First, you want open pores so hairs can be more easily removed. Schedule your plucking sessions after a warm shower or bath, when your skin is relaxed and soft. Or, at the very least, place a hot washcloth on your face for a few minutes. You should also prepare the tweezers. Some beauty experts recommend placing tweezers in the freezer before you use them. The cold metal numbs the skin as you pluck, reducing pain.
Proper technique is extremely important. Use a spiral brush to shape your brow and get hairs into place. Next, use brow scissors to trim longer hairs, checking for equal balance and proportion as you work. Now you're ready to start plucking. Remember to use slanted-tip tweezers for longer, coarser hairs and pointed-tip tweezers for fine or ingrown hairs. Grab each hair at the root and pull smoothly in the direction of hair growth. Remember: Don't use tweezers to remove hair over large areas because it can cause ingrown hairs or scarring. And consider applying a soothing cream after tweezing to reduce redness and inflammation.
In addition to tweezers, effective hair removal requires two things -- good lighting and a good mirror. Many people invest in a vanity cosmetic mirror just for this purpose. A 10-inch (25-centimeter) tabletop mirror, with one side offering a regular view and the other a magnified view, is a good solution. You might also consider a lighted mirror, which comes with multiple settings to simulate evening, home, office and daytime environments.
Some tweezers come with their own built-in light and magnification. The beauty tool company Tweezerman, for example, offers a lighted slanted-tip tweezer that comes with an LED light powered by a replaceable battery unit. Simply click on the power switch, and the clear, white light illuminates even the finest hairs. The LumaTweeze brand adds a magnifier to the LED light for a complete tweezing package. To take advantage of the magnification, you rotate the lens 90 degrees so it's positioned in front of the tweezer tips. When you're done, you rotate the magnifier back into its resting position.
Finally, give some thought to the length of your tweezers. A pair with a shorter handle, say 3.5 to 3.75 inches (8.9 to 9.5 centimeters) long, means your fingers will be closer to the tip and in your line of vision. Tweezers with a longer handle, 4.5 inches (11.4 centimeters) long, keeps your fingers farther away from the action, affording you a better view.
You should treat a good pair of tweezers like a precision instrument. Many manufacturers hand-tool their products and guarantee their sharpness and alignment. Alignment refers to the position of one tip relative to the other. When tweezers are aligned at the factory, the tip centers come together precisely. This leads to more force being transmitted to the hair, which results in more effective, less painful plucking. If you drop a pair of tweezers, you can affect the alignment or damage the tip. So don't throw your tweezers carelessly into a drawer or medicine cabinet. And always place the protective cap back on the tips.
By the same token, you should also respect your own health and safety when tweezing. Tweezer tips are extremely sharp, so don't dig too vigorously in your mission to snag every stray hair. You should also keep tweezers away from children, who might accidentally injure themselves or others. And don't forget to clean your tweezers after each use. Wipe the tips clean with a disinfectant and make sure you dry the entire piece to prevent rusting.
One final thought: Consider keeping at least two pairs of tweezers -- one for hair removal and one for medical purposes. Many manufacturers offer specialty tweezers that can be handy additions to your first-aid kit. Splinter tweezers have extra-fine tips to grasp even tiny slivers. And tick tweezers feature short, wide handles for a firm, confident grip.
Keep reading for lots more links to skin care.
HowStuffWorks looks at eyebrow shapes throughout history and the celebrities who pioneered the looks from Marlene Dietrich to Cara Delevingne.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- "5 Steps to Beautiful Brows." (Sept. 16, 2009)http://www.tweezerman.com/pages/index.cfm?pg=49&topmenu=3&submenu=1
- Haines, Cynthia Dennison, Ed. "Cosmetic Procedures: Hair Removal." WebMD. April 1, 2005. (Sept. 16, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/cosmetic-procedures-hair-removal
- Jansen, Roel J., Hans F. W. Koens and Jaap Stoker. "Scenes from the Past: Carthaginian Pair of Tweezers." RadioGraphics. Jan. 2005. (Sept. 16, 2009)http://radiographics.rsna.org/content/25/1/209.full?ck=nckTweezerman.