We scrunch. We twist. We pull the skin on our faces or legs taut just so razors can whisk away the undesired hairs sprouting on the fertile landscape of our bodies. Yet many of us do these tasks with a sense of futility, of inevitable failure, because we believe this regular ritual of removal causes hair to grow back mightier than before—rising like a phoenix renewed but with even coarser, thicker or darker offerings.
That is simply not so. But there are several reasons that the myth continues to flourish. One is the limitation of human perception. “People are just not very good observers, but there’s just no science behind hair growing back thicker,” says Amy McMichael, chair of the Department of Dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Health. There’s also the power of coincidence. Indeed, pervasive myths—if a young boy shaves his mustache it will grow back thicker—are grounded in a kernel of truth: it might. But that’s because the shaving may overlap with the timing of natural hormonal fluctuations in his body that are developing his adult facial hair, not because of his hair removal. Body hair grows at different times and at different rates for everybody.