What Message Is TikTok’s Full-Face Shaving Trend Really Sending?

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
When I was younger, I was convinced that I chose to remove my body hair of my own free will. I told myself (and others) that I preferred it because having bald armpits, smooth legs and a hair-free bikini line made me feel cleaner and more attractive. I now recognise that I had internalised socially constructed beliefs about gender. I'd seen women expected to repress so much (from sexuality to opinions) and alter themselves (for example removing body hair and applying makeup in the workplace) to make their femininity palatable.
Over the years, campaigns have been fought to stop social media platforms censoring women's body hair. By 2015, armpit hair on female and trans femme bodies had become so visible that it was popular to dye it different colours. During lockdown, it was reported that more women were embracing their natural body hair, with the pandemic seeming to mark a shift in priorities when it came to self-care. These movements were powerful because they were dismantling the belief that body hair and femininity are mutually exclusive. 
Now, here we are in 2021 and at-home full-face shaving tutorials are trending highly on social media — in particular, dermaplaning. The practice consists of removing all the hair and dead skin cells from the surface of one's face using a sterile scalpel or blade. Google Trends reveals that worldwide searches for 'dermaplaning' peaked in March 2019 and March 2020, while the hashtag #dermaplaning has racked up 1.6 billion views on TikTok. #FaceShaving isn't too far behind at 91.8 million views. The technique isn't exactly new, however. In fact, a boom was reported over a decade ago in Japan, where it is known as kao sori.
@helin.dxski How I remove facial hair! Don’t let people scare you from doing it!!! :) #fyp #dermaplaning #shaving #shavingface ♬ Bongo cha-cha-cha - Remastered - Caterina Valente

When something like face shaving is normalised in viral trends, the concern is that it may morph into an obligation instead of a personal decision.

When I first encountered the face shaving trend, I wasn't sure how to feel about it. The part of me that longs for female facial hair to be normalised questioned whether it was a regressive step for body acceptance, setting new, impossible standards for women to live up to. As I watched young women shave their entire faces – including their foreheads – to remove vellus hair (otherwise known as 'peach fuzz'), it felt like an extreme measure for smooth skin. Many comments on TikTok videos echoed my thoughts. "Guys, don't give in, it's not worth it," wrote one user. Another simply commented: "Never."
Most of the women in my immediate circle had similar reactions. My friend Hannah told me: "I occasionally get my lips and brows threaded but this is overkill." Harriet felt like it was a whole new level and just another layer of maintenance. She described it as "an extension of the problematic white beauty standards that already dominate the industry" and suggest that dark hair isn't attractive. My 61-year-old mum (from whom I get my fair hair) explained that while her daily routine involves plucking the darker chin hairs that she feels self-conscious about, shaving her entire face would be "unnecessary" and a "huge faff". Peach fuzz isn't something she had ever felt the need to remove. Charlotte worried that face shaving videos promote the notion that "having normal hair on your skin that serves a purpose is a bad thing". She doesn't like the idea of her younger sister being exposed to such messaging.
If social media is anything to go by, though, women are removing facial hair in their droves. Ayse Suleyman, founder and clinical director of Skin Perfection, explains that her team began offering dermaplaning as a treatment around three years ago as it had "taken the internet by storm". According to Ayse, dermaplaning leaves the skin "clearer, softer, and brighter". She says: "Clients love the results because they are instant. Not only that but they find that their makeup sits on their skin better afterwards, as it doesn't cling to peach fuzz." Dermaplaning also enables skincare products to penetrate the skin deeper, Ayse says, potentially returning better results.

On TikTok there are videos captioned 'Reasons Why You Should Shave Your Face' or 'Here's The Thing, You Need To Dermaplane'. The language is insistent so it's no wonder that women feel pressured into shaving.

A 2005 study found that 99.71% of a sample of 678 women had removed some body hair at some time in their lives. When it came to facial hair, however, age had a big impact on the results. Younger participants were significantly less likely to have removed facial hair than older participants. Yet face shaving is currently a huge trend on TikTok and according to the Business of Apps 2021 TikTok report, 63% of TikTok users are under the age of 30. 
Twenty-five-year-old YouTuber Miss Tiffany B was drawn to dermaplaning because she wanted to make content that lots of people would watch. In a video uploaded in May 2020, she tells viewers: "I was so surprised to see that there are so many women who have the same problem as me," referring to her excess facial hair. "I don't have any genetic disorder or hormonal imbalance that I'm aware of that gives me all of this hair on my face. I'm just a hairy person overall." Speaking to Refinery29 over Zoom from New York, she says: "I noticed these videos were getting millions of views and I was focusing on building my YouTube subscriber count. I got a professional dermaplaning facial, which was my first video to ever go viral. Then I started doing it at home by myself. Afterwards, your skin is really soft. It absorbs moisture so much more and you just glow."
For many women, the decision not to shave their face might feel like an easy one but others deal with excess facial hair from a young age. As a white, fair-haired, cis woman who only gets a handful of hairs that stand out on my face, I recognise that my low-maintenance approach to my facial hair is not a radical act but a relatively safe choice. Perhaps this is why the face shaving videos felt extreme to me. For others, facial hair removal can feel like the only comfortable decision, with the alternative usually resulting in unwanted negative attention.
According to the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), hirsutism (where women have thick, dark hair on the face and other areas of their body) affects approximately 5-10% of women in Western societies and is more common in those of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern descent. Monash University states that hirsutism impacts approximately 9% of Australian women. A 2010 study concluded that hirsutism (which is most commonly caused by the hormonal condition polycystic ovary syndrome — or PCOS — in premenopausal women) is associated with a decreased quality of life, a higher prevalence of anxiety disorder and lower self-esteem in adolescent females. BAD recommends shaving as a self-help treatment.
Healthy living coach Madi Wilson uses her social media platform to shed light on the reality of living with PCOS and hirsutism. "YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I SHAVE MY FACE EVERYDAY and that's ok," reads the caption below a photo of her holding up a razor to her face. "I've learned to accept that I have a lot of facial hair and that it's just a part of me, but it wasn't always easy," says Madi. "I was extremely self-conscious and it made me feel less than. I hid it from my partner for years and I didn’t tell friends because I was so ashamed. When I got diagnosed with PCOS, I saw it was a normal thing that so many people go through, but no one was talking about it." After Madi posted a picture of herself shaving her face, the DMs came flooding in. "So many people were thanking me for talking about it because it made them not feel so alone."
Madi isn't the only one. In her article "I Shave My Face Every Day, But Why Does That Bother You?", Refinery29's beauty editor Jacqueline (who is of Cypriot ethnicity and has PCOS) reveals that she had her first full facial wax at 13 and has shaved ever since. Jacqueline mentions that while many people may see face shaving as unessential or even pandering to perceived notions of femininity, for plenty of people it is a form of self-care and may make them feel ready to face the day. Similarly, in an article posted on Medium, game developer Olivia Hill talks about opting to have laser hair removal to combat extreme dysphoria: "For a trans woman, a five o'clock shadow is a reminder to the world that our bodies are not what we want them to be. I've been in situations where I've been at the office late. 8pm comes around, and I'm in a full dress and full beard. It's embarrassing. It's awkward. And it invites unwanted comments."
Miss Tiffany B tells me that she had doubts about posting her first face shaving video. "I was afraid, like, Do I really want to show that I have a moustache on YouTube? Do I want to show the whole world this?" When I asked if she had received any negative responses, she said: "Some people had their insults." When I questioned why she thinks face shaving videos get so many views, she compared them to pimple popping videos and other oddly satisfying clips.

Placing visibility on women and trans femmes who grow out their facial hair is the key to normalising it. However, highlighting those who shave their face also helps remove the stigma attached to the practice.

"Not only that," Miss Tiffany B added, "but a lot of women struggle with facial hair insecurity so seeing somebody else do it, or seeing somebody else dealing with the same issue that they have, makes them feel better." I asked her if she thinks content creators like this have generated a community. "Definitely," she replied — and she's right. On TikTok especially, thousands of women are removing facial fuzz, whether light and fluffy or thick and dark, and their motivation for doing so ranges from mental health reasons to how it looks and feels.
Though it may seem novel (and perhaps even surprising) thanks to viral apps like TikTok, facial hair removal has been practised for centuries across different cultures. What is new is seeing videos documenting the process of face shaving from start to finish on social media. Previous to discovering this TikTok trend, I can't think of a time when I would have seen a woman or trans femme shave their face. On the contrary, adverts of men shaving their faces are everywhere, from TV to billboards. A boy being taught to shave by his father is a modern-day rite of passage and is often depicted in films as a beautiful moment in their relationship. Meanwhile female facial hair removal has been entirely hidden from view until now. As a result, many of us have likely internalised the idea that shaving one's face is a 'masculine' act, which explains why some might find these videos jarring or even objectionable at first.
While watching face shaving videos, you might have thought, But who are you doing this for? If social media is anything to go by, the end goal is very rarely to appease men. Rather it is for self-care reasons or skincare benefits. At the same time, there is a concern that when something like face shaving is normalised via a viral trend, it may morph into an obligation instead of a personal decision. Breanne Fahs, professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University, recently wrote that it is "the pervasiveness and normalisation of body hair removal in the Western world" which has turned it into "a relatively universal expectation placed upon women". On TikTok there are countless videos captioned "Reasons Why You Should Shave Your Face" or "Here's The Thing, You Need To Dermaplane". The language is insistent so it's no wonder that women feel pressured into shaving. But trends come and go, and removing or not removing your hair should be a personal choice.
We have been told repeatedly that hair grows back darker and thicker after shaving, which only perpetuates the idea that it is not a 'feminine' act. This belief was one of the main reasons a lot of the women I spoke to thought dermaplaning was a bad idea. However, in almost every at-home tutorial I have seen, it is claimed that this is a myth. "You're trimming the top part of the hair so it may feel blunt when it's growing back, but it's not actually making the hair grow back thicker," Ayse confirms. So is face shaving safe to do at home? "I couldn't imagine doing dermaplaning on myself," Ayse says, "just because you have to hold the scalpel at a 45-degree angle to avoid any cuts or abrasions on the skin. It's a procedure that should be done by a skilled practitioner." She continues: "People doing it at home may not necessarily be aware that their skin might not actually be suitable for this procedure." That said, plenty of people are sold on DIY dermaplaning but experts advise against face shaving if you have active acne (it could further irritate breakouts and hyperpigmentation) or skin lesions, for instance.
Though the trend for face shaving shows no sign of slowing down, female facial hair still gets a lot of hate. Gender nonconforming writer, performer and public speaker ALOK often talks publicly about how their decision to be hairy and feminine makes them a target of constant abuse. They wrote on their blog: "There are hairy women & feminine people, there always have been & there always will be." They go on to say: "Trans feminine people should not have to remove our body hair in order to have our genders respected. Trans feminine people should not have to remove our body hair in order to be safe."
In a caption that accompanied a picture of her upper lip hair emphasised by mascara, Instagrammer and founder of #poresnotflaws, Joanna Kenny, wrote: "Why is it when some people are confronted with reality they respond like this?" The response in question was a string of vomiting emoji left by a follower. "I'm not hairy like a man, I am hairy like a HUMAN and I can't believe I'm having to defend that in 2021," wrote Joanna. She added: "Social media was and still is our opportunity to break free from a world that only defines things as either beautiful or ugly. You have a choice to conform or to confront." Madi echoes this when referring to face shaving: "You don't have to follow beauty standards, but if you prefer having a smooth face and enjoy the benefits, do it! Please don't be pressured, though. Do it for you and no one else."
Placing visibility on women and trans femmes who grow out their facial hair is the key to normalising it. However, highlighting those who shave their face also helps remove the stigma attached to the practice. Whether you'd try it yourself or not, social media's face shaving movement makes many people feel attractive and feminine. Each individual's decision to leave or tend to their facial hair can be shame-free and irrespective of gender. In 2021, where our differences are more apparent than ever, it is perfectly permissible that both views on female facial hair can coexist.

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