I came across an interesting question on an ostomy support forum, which I really hadn’t expected anyone to ask.
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Since I assume that ostomy nurses would discuss this with patients (I have to stop making assumptions), it was about something that I can certainly relate to and have challenges with myself: hair around the stoma!
UPDATE: This guide has been updated with new information on how I’ve been removing hair around my stoma. (Feb 2018)
I don’t expect the ladies out there to understand exactly what it feels like to have a hairy stomach and an ostomy, but if you’re a lady who gets waxed, you might be able to relate!
Hair that’s anywhere near an ostomy wafer is going to pull and hurt like a sonuvabitch when you remove that wafer, so it’s important to make sure that your skin is as hair-free as possible, and it helps to know the various ways to shave that hair off.
Why is hair such a big deal?
Well, for one, it can interfere with your wafer’s adhesive properties, which can lead to leaks and shorter wear times.
In addition to that, you may also develop ingrown hairs, which can set off another set of problems for you! In my own case, after about 3 days, I’ll notice hair coming through my wafer, and if I go a fourth day, it becomes a big deal.
In this article, I’ll give you some of the most common ways of shaving around the stoma, along with some tips you can use to mow down that hairy belly!
This is a common way to shave, but for an ostomate, it can create a few problems.
Ingrown hairs and skin irritation are two risks that can come about from a wet shave, although you can minimize ingrown hairs by shaving in the direction of your hair growth.
Shaving cream, gel or soap used to lather around the area can cause issues with your wafer not being able to stick onto your skin properly; if your wafer does manage to stick, you might have reduced wear time from it!
This option also requires more prep and supplies, which can not only make it inconvenient, but it adds a considerable amount of time to your appliance change.
Dry Shaving with a Razor
I’ve read that you can dry shave with a safety razor if stoma powder is applied to the skin first. As with the wet shave, there’s a risk of ingrown hairs and skin irritation.
Using stoma powder all over your skin can also create issues with your wafer sticking, so be sure to clean and dry your skin again before applying your wafer.
This is how I used to shave my skin, and I find it to be quick, easy and results in next to no irritation in most cases.
My appliance change usually went in the following order: remove wafer and pouch, shower, shave (around my stoma), put on a new appliance.
You can see the whole process (minus the shower…) in the video below. You can fast-forward to 7:50 for info on shaving:
Because of how an electric razor works, there’s minimal chance of getting ingrown hairs, and skin irritation is also kept to a minimum.
Unfortunately, after using this method for several years, I began to develop irritated hair follicles one summer, which forced me to use a different method of hair removal (tweezing and epilating).
Since you don’t have to use any foams or skin prep, you don’t tend to have issues with your wafer adhering to your skin.
The downside to this method is cost and maintenance of your razor.
Unfortunately, good razors aren’t cheap – and I’ve owned one for over 8 years and can still replace the foil and blades whenever they get dull.
Some newer models are self-cleaning and offer long battery times (which is great if you travel).
To be honest, I think the initial expense of a good electric razor will offset the cost of buying disposable razors or fancy, multi-use disposables.
You can also find electric razors that work when wet, which I’ve used with success on several occasions. Be cautious of the shaving gel/cream you use as they may leave residue on your skin.
One thing to note, though: If you are using oil to lubricate the blades or foil, be sure to clean your skin after shaving so that any residue can be washed off; the last thing you need is a lubricant to be on your skin before applying your wafer!
During the summer of 2016, I ran into a lot of skin irritation while using my electric razor (one that I’ve used for many years prior). This forced me to look into other options, and thought “what the heck,, let’s try tweezing!”.
I will say that tweezing all the hair around your stoma (and on the skin that your wafer will stick to) is painful and takes a while the first time. Not that I was keeping track, but I’m willing to bet that it took around 40 minutes to do this the first time.
The beauty of tweezing is that it removes hair from the root, which means they will take much longer to grow back vs. shaving.
Where I needed to shave with every appliance change (every third day), I can now go several appliance changes without having to worry about removing the hair around my stoma.
But I still do tweeze the odd hair with every appliance change, since hairs do grow back at different times and I’d rather it be totally free of hair.
After tweezing for just a few weeks, my skin looked better than ever – I’ve since continued tweezing and epilating for many months now!
Tweezers can also come in handy for getting the hairs that are really close to your stoma.
One suggestion when getting a tweezer – buy the best quality one you can find so that hairs are gripped easily.
You can see how I use the epilator in the video below:
This option is like tweezing on steroids and not for the faint at heart!
Epilating is done by using a device called an epilator. An epilator has a rotating head with many little tweezers on it that spin quite fast to pull out hair as you glide it over your skin.
If you think tweezing hurts, imaging tweezing dozens of hairs at a time! That’s what an epilator does!
I would personally recommend using an epilator only if you don’t want to spend as much time tweezing each and every hair, but only after you’ve tested it on a patch of hair.
Because epilating can be more traumatic to the skin, it may cause you to have bumps or redness for many hours afterwards.
My routine is now to epilate and then pick up any stragglers with the tweezers. It only takes a few minutes to get a completely clean “shave” by using this method.
I’ve never tried this, nor do I have the desire to. I also don’t know of any ostomates who wax near their stoma, and I doubt that any stoma nurses would recommend it either.
You’ll likely want to avoid this one for hair-removal around your stoma.
Laser Hair Removal
Here’s an ostomate who was very gracious to provide this testimony about getting laser hair removal before his surgery:
So I was in-between one of my surgeries and decided to do Laser Hair removal. It is a long process. Each visit is very short and the sunburn like feeling dissipates within 24 hours.
However, it takes anywhere from 7-10 visits, 6 weeks apart. I was able to speed it up by doing 5 weeks apart and had 5 visits before it was time to for surgery.
Also… as the process lasts only about 15 min total from undressing, to prep, to redressing. So it goes very fast once laying down on the table. It will be uncomfortable with or without a bag on for about 12-24 hours. It feels like a mild sunburn.
My doc offered Aloe Gel, which we would speed up the drying by fanning. A hairdryer would speed this process up.Ted
There is a small study suggesting that laser hair removal is quite beneficial and reduced shaving from once a week to once every 6 weeks. The study can be found HERE and the conclusion was that:
The average hair reduction was 60% based on visual inspection. Shaving frequency reduced from once a week to once every 6 weeks.
I could see this (MAYBE) as being an option if you have several months to do it before your surgery, but if you’ve already got a stoma, I would imagine that it would be a challenge to get done by a professional.
An alternative could be home hair removal systems. I don’t have experience with one, but a friend and fellow ostomate, Margaret MacLennan, has a unit called the “Tria” and explains:
“The Tria uses a laser not unlike the big machines you find at a professional facility. When you turn it on, it asks you to “validate” your skin colour (because it only works on very light skin) as a safety precaution. When you place the dime-sized laser pointer on your skin it either beeps twice (zapping you on the second beep) or it beeps an angry noise letting you know it won’t treat that area of skin for a number of safety reasons like improper pigment. I haven’t need it around my stoma, but it’s helped reduce the amount of shaving on my Celtic-pale legs. It warns against using around your eyes or areas of “darker pigmentation” because the snap you feel when it destroys a follicle through heat will damage skin that’s too dark for the laser to distinguish between hair and skin. I purchased mine mostly to take advantage of a 3x loyalty points offer at Sephora, so plan your purchase with care — they run about $450.”
Costly, but it could be an option!
Depending on how much hair you’ve got, you may decide to just trim it with a pair of safety scissors. You won’t get a close “shave” using this method, so if your hair grows quickly, then this may not be a very useful option.
Like safety scissors, eyebrow scissors might be an option for at least trimming down the hair before going with something that gets close to the skin.
There are also liquids and creams that claim to help remove hair (“as seen on tv” products). Before you sacrifice your skin for the whole of humanity, do yourself a favor and ask your stoma nurse first.
- To cut hair that’s really close to the stoma, consider using a cotton swab and safety scissors: lift any hair using a rolling action away from your stoma with the cotton swab, then snip with the scissors. I use this technique to clean up any stray hair after using my electric razor.
- Use an adhesive remover to remove your appliance whenever hair is an issue.
- Avoid the use of creams, lotions, aftershave, and moisturizer, since these will negatively impact your wear time, and could lead to irritation under your wafer.
- If you’ve already used a skin product, always wash your skin to make sure that you’ve removed as much residue as possible.
- If you’ve got really long hair to take care of, trim what you can with the sideburns trimmer on an electric razor or use safety scissors before shaving close to the skin.
- Shave with each appliance change if your hair grows fast.