Saudi Culture and Shaving

Since I did a post about men and beards, I think it is natural to follow on with a post about shaving. 


I’ll begin with traditions which most of the women follow.  Naturally women will shave the hair from their underarms and legs.  Additionally most will likely shave from their “private” areas as well which leaves them smooth and hair free as when they were born.  This tradition is followed on the belief that it enhances cleanliness.  Many Saudi women will also choose to remove the hair from their arms as well as any unsightly facial hairs.  The hair can be removed by use of a razor and shaving cream, use of hair-removing device, waxing or by a traditional method referred to hawala.  Hawala is similar to waxing but instead of applying heated strips of wax to the areas where hair is being removed, hawala is a spongy, waxy like substance which when applied and released will remove hair as well.  And lastly, some women may also choose permanent hair removal techniques such as hair removal via laser.  Saudi women take great pride in smooth skin and being well-groomed.  A new bride before her wedding will want to ensure that her body is smooth and soft as a baby with no unsightly hairs visible.


A Saudi man also follows traditions when it comes to hair removal.  A man may sport a beard and/or a mustache but he may also choose to shave or have the hair from his underarms removed.  Given the intense heat as well as the feeling of cleanliness this is not a bad practice at all.  And like the woman, a man may also elect to have the hair removed from his private areas.  Men who have more than one wife and intimate relations with these women will especially follow such a practice of removing hair from the private area.  To my knowledge, I am not aware of any traditions where Saudi men have chosen to remove the hair from their arms, legs or chest.


For further information about islam and shaving, here are some various links:

51 Responses

  1. I think Im one of those rare women that dont really spend a lot of time thinking about body hair…I do shave required “spots”…but thankfully dont have much to deal with…its all rather sparse. Anyhow…far as my hair on my head…Im strictly a wash and wear type girl…no muss and definitely no fuss. Just cant see how so much interest has been given to body hair and its removal. God apparently put it there for a reason…for sure in the hot summer we need to remove some areas for obvious reasons…but arm hair? and all the other areas people remove it…then spend the rest of the time complaining how much it hurts to do that…dont do it if it hurts that much..duh!…lol.

    ah the things women will do to look beautiful…havent got time for most of it…as I recall my ex husband had much the same complaint…but then again…SO!

  2. I always wondered why Saudi women would remove hair from their arms and even their private areas. I can’t help but make the connection between a hairless body and a baby. Could the hair removal be a way to suppress (rather than enhance) female sexuality?

  3. Marahm, from a male perspective, I can tell you personally I prefer it and encourage it with girlfriends (to some extent)… as to the reason you’ve linked in with why Arab women do it… no idea:)

  4. Oh, I thought the removal of pubic hair was done with sugar and honey paste or the Indian string that is just becoming popular here in the States. This is an interesting topic to me because I had read about it in Princess and wondered at how painful that must have been. I wasn’t aware that you had to do ALL the time. Er… ouch?! I usually use Veet (similar to Nair I think) even though it’s not supposed to be used down there but I am not sensitive to it so it’s easier than shaving for me. The only thing that bothered me was that I was so unused to having all pubic hair removed that I felt weird. It almost felt like I hadn’t hit puberty yet. Do Saudi leave a “landing strip” or is that against Islamic teachings? So it’s fitrah but not the same a ghusl?

    It does make sense though in a hot climate to be clean. In Thailand I was confused at first that people bathed twice a day. After the first day I TOTALLY understood why. Thailand is so humid that your sweat never seems to truly dry or if it does it leaves a filmy icky feeling. The only problem I had was I usually went from air con house to air con car to air con mall. Those were the days were I really didn’t feel “dirty” but by then it had become a habit to bathe morning and night. I know Thai people come to the States and don’t understand that people here usually only bathe once a day! Heheeheh!

    Is there a time frame for ghusl? In example, do you do it right after sexual activities or within an hour? I am trying to but as er… sensitive as I can here. Just kind of curious. I know this is a little off topic but I found that word and wondered what it meant. Perhaps another post? I also wondered how Saudis bathe since cleanliness is very important it seems? In Thailand it’s common for even the rich to have a large basin of water that is filled in the bathroom. The bathroom floor is tiled with a drain. We then use a small bowl to scoop cold water over the body and soap etc. Toilets are seperate as to keep the unclean from the clean. It’s similar to how the Japanese bathe except it’s cold water and we do not soak afterwards. Of course we have showers (I only used it in the winter since it had a water heater built in) but having experienced both nothing beats a nice cold Thai bath! I bet those in the hot heat of the desert can understand how lovely a cold cold shower/bath truly is.:)

  5. I’m rather confused about the removal of body hair in Islam. I just read on another blog that women aren’t supposed to pluck/remove eyebrow hairs because according to some of the commenters it is “changing God’s creation” which isn’t aloud in Islam. So why than is it required to remove armpit arms, leg hairs, pubic hairs, etc? Isn’t this also changing the creation?

  6. Anon, I agree with you that the topic can be confusing. I have also seen the instructions that women should not remove eyebrow hair but as you’ll see by the links I provided, the body hair is not only allowable to be removed but expected. My theory (and I am NOT) an expert is that this is allowable as it promotes cleanliness and hygiene whereas removal of eyebrow hair is viewed more as an act of vanity.

    Thanks for commenting and welcome to the blog.

  7. Threading is also an excellent way to remove hair.. and is used here in Saudi A LOT!

    delhi4cats… ‘My theory (and I am NOT) an expert is that this is allowable as it promotes cleanliness and hygiene whereas removal of eyebrow hair is viewed more as an act of vanity.’ That is the same way I figured it to be.

  8. OnigiriFB:
    About ghusl and sexual intercourse. After intercourse, the couple enter a state known as “junub” (spiritual uncleanliness I guess), in which they are not allowed to pray. So while they do not have to do ghusl immediately, they have to do it before they can pray.

    And Saudis have showers and tubs like everybody else:)

  9. Interesting. Many Saudis, and other Muslims I know, tend to remove or trim all body hair. I guess that is a good thing, body hair is a big issue for Middle Eastern people, even some of us Westerners.

  10. I understand how removal of underarm and pubic hair can help keep one clean, but arm hair is similar to eyebrow hair. One cannot remove arm hair for any other reason than vanity, just like eyebrow hair.

    As for changing Allah’s creation, I can’t buy that excuse for not plucking eyebrows. What about the profound changes we invite when we undergo surgery, especially the invasive surgery needed to achieve pregnancy? Is it not vain to “change Allah’s creation” in running after a reproduction of oneself? Wouldn’t the more pious approach be to look after orphans?

  11. While threading can be another option I find it exceedingly painful.

  12. Let me just say that halawa is, IMHO, the most painful way to remove hair! Regular wax is so much better. I can understand why, from a vanity perspective, some women opt to remove the arm and leg hair. Culturally speaking, a lot of women in the Arab world are pre-disposed to excessive hair. As for pubic hair, some doctors will tell you that it’s there to help cool “the region,” while others admit that pubic hair promotes bacteria growth. I agree w/ Coolred, to a degree, that hair is there for a purpose, but I’m also inclined to think that we have evolutionary leftovers that no longer serve a purpose.

    My husband buys “Nair for Men” and regularly takes off his chest, armpit, and shoulder hair. It works for me, but I often ask him if it’s uncomfortable as it regrows.

    Threading: I’m with you, Carol. It makes me cry.

  13. This topic is creating a lot of interesting discussion. For me I like to put these detailed religious issues into prospective. All the rules regarding hair fit in the category of guidelines as non of them fits into the category of Sin or Required by religion. A person that wants to follow Sunnah should be aware of them and follow, but it is not a requirement of Islam to follow everything in Sunnah. So here is the summary from my understanding about hair rules:

    – Head: women and men should keep their hair long as per Sunnah
    – Beard: Sunnah to grow
    – Mustache: Growing long ones is considered vane (i.e, makrooh or discouraged)
    – Eye brows: plucking is considered makrooh
    – Under arms: Sunnah to pluck or remove
    – Private areas: Sunnah to shave or remove
    – Arms legs, other body parts removal: considered vain or makrooh

    A person does not commit sin by taking any position on all the above, but may loose of the good deeds of following Sunnah. Personally, I make choices in this area that fit my life style and look for other ways to gain points. There are other areas that are worth more attention from good Muslims, like contributing to society and helping others.

  14. I like your summary, Saudi in US, and I applaud with your last sentence: “There are other areas that are worth more attention from good Muslims, like contributing to society and helping others.”

    The discussion is interesting, though, because all people have hair, and all people must decide how to take care of it, and how far their hair will enter into their interpretation of Islamic behavior.

  15. Good points here. I think all too often Muslims get completely caught up in the minutae and miss the important things. Missing the forest for the trees.

    It is a bit absurd worrying about which bits and pieces of hair you must shave off when you have your young men and women blowing themselves up and your societies are a nightmare of injustice.

  16. Agree totally with Abu Sinan

    I use an epilator to rip the hairs out of my legs.
    But preferable to looking like a shire-horse.

  17. Shire horeses are cute…lol.

  18. AA Carol,

    Alhumdulillah, I don’t have alot of body hair! I prefer to shave the armpits but given a choice I would wax the legs and “private parts” just because it usually lasts about 4 weeks compared to 5-7 days with shaving and feeling like you need a scratch post when it starts growing back in! If you know what I mean!!! ; ) One of my good friends from Sudan waxed me one time with a lemon, water, sugar mix she boils first and then puts in the refrigerator to cool and it becomes like a ball of wax that you smear down the skin in one direction and “rip” back up the other direction. She is very good at manipulating the wax very quickly but its alot harder than she makes it look! It also hurt some and left my skin looking red for about a day. She also told me in Sudan, just before the wedding, the female has the hair removed from everywhere on the body! Thats right the front and back and all thats in between! Mosh’Allah most Africans don’t have alot of body hair. In pondering, I do sometimes wonder why Allah(swt) would not just remove it for us if thats the way it should be. I guess theres a reason for everything and its not for me to know. Hope all is well with you Carol and you’re taking it easy!!!

  19. Tina, I need someone to explain comments like “its not for me to know” as though you don’t have a right to question anything because God supposedly made it so. If we didn’t question anything we’d still be living in the dark ages. Tina, it’s ok to question…

  20. Although Arabs have traditionally used sheera (sugaring method of hair removal referred to as halawa in the post), it might be painful and tedious for the uninitiated and for unpracticed hands. Sheera is a natural hair removal concoction widely used in the Arab world based on sugar and lemon.

    The trend nowadays in Kuwait is toward laser hair removal although traditional hair removal methods are still widely in use (sheera, waxing).

    Threading is a wonderful way to give a clean, sharp look to eyebrows and to clean up unwanted facial hair (for men too)

    Why remove bodily hair?

    Nowadays with our air conditioned lives and regular showers, there is no real health reason to remove excess hair.

    However, smooth, exfoliated skin makes us feel good, it looks attractive, and improves intimate encounters for some.

    It is all a matter of taste and there are Muslims who actually find a hirsute male or female partner attractive and this depends on a couple’s preferences.

  21. Abu Dhabi, I was surprised to hear that your husband also chooses to remove the hair from his chest. This was something I wondered whether some men do or not but did not know.

    When it comes to the body and hair I just have a low tolerance for pain and although it means more frequent and using lotion and cremes for smoothness, I still prefer the traditional razor. I’ve tried the epi thingy and found that soooo painful for two days! No thanks.

    It is very interesting how Islam addresses the subject of shaving and hair and yet in many places of Europe one will return see European women with bushy armpits and hairy legs. There is not the same emphasis or importance placed on shaving. Honestly I find a lot of underarm hair on a woman to be very unsightly.

  22. Laser it all off.

    And threading is the only way to get the eyebrows to look right. If it hurts you, you need a an old timer who knows what she’s doing.

    And, ice.

    Camphor after, and rosewood cream for sensitive skin.

  23. Thanks for your advise Viking Daughter but I doubt I’ll ever do threading…I’ll just let my eyebrows allow to be “unique.” (LOL)

  24. My friend just went to do threading a few nights ago…now she has many many pimples all along her face and mouth…and is swollen etc…all that in the name of beauty…ouch! no thanks!

  25. Yuck! That does not sound like fun at all. I find waxing of the eyebrows to be painless and thankfully works for me.

    Due to my surgery I recently attempted to use one of the hair remover creams on my legs but that was a fiasco. Suffice to say me and hair remover creams must be like oil and water…

  26. Hi Carol,

    WHen my husband does do it, it’s more about comfort than any religious obligation. He’s got that course, curly hair that many of his countryman share. He takes it off more during the summer, and keeps a little trimmer to clean it up now and again. A friend’s Turkish husband did the same-armpits included-and he was not a hairy man.

  27. I am aware of a large number of men who chose to remove the hair from under their armpits and especially so in the summer.

    I never thought about a man removing chest hair for comfort but as I mulled over Abu Dhabi’s comment, it made sense. Thanks for opening my eyes (and mind).

  28. I take it all off. lol. I am blond and my body hair comes blond, but it is as thick as any Arab’s.

    Off it goes. I did it before I met my wife and she was very happy she didnt have to train her American hubby on the practice.

  29. Opps……the last comment is mine. Time for “his and hers” laptops at home.

  30. LOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL…Abu Sinan, I am stilling laughing at that one. I’ve seen Manal’s photo up, so I thought that sounded weird. “I take it all off.” HA!

    Found a typo in my post: “coarse” not “course” Sheesh…I need to proof more.

  31. Too Funny AbuSinan, make sure to write a comment about how comfortable your new couch is, when Manal catches what you wrote on her behalf….

  32. LOL!!! You get a gold star Abu Sinan for giving me a belly laugh this morning.

  33. Abu Sinan: you really need to get your act together when usnig your poor wife’s computer!
    The awful things you have written under her name!!!!!

    I’m all for removing body hair; Men who look like half-orang-utans give me the creeps!
    (That includes beards.)

  34. That couldn’t be further from the truth Marahm. Both women AND men are required Islamically to remove the hairs from their underarms AND privates at least every 40 days (or as necessary before then).

    There are obvioius hygienic benefits but primary reason Muslims adhere to the practice is simply that, we’re Muslims (ones who submit to Allah) and we follow the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah.

    Word to the wise, there’s no need to sexualise everything or seek justification for predetermined notions of misogyny in the cultural or religious practice of Saudis. If you don’t know why something is, just ask or read the links bedu provided:)

    RE: “I always wondered why Saudi women would remove hair from their arms and even their private areas. I can’t help but make the connection between a hairless body and a baby. Could the hair removal be a way to suppress (rather than enhance) female sexuality?”

  35. “It is very interesting how Islam addresses the subject of shaving and hair …”

    That’s a train of thought that deserves a follow-up Bedu! But from your experience with Muslims, I’m sure you’ve noticed there’s religious guidance or direction as to the best way to do things in all facets of life. Islam isn’t a “religion” per se but the Arabic word is “deen” which at the very best can be understood to be a complete *system* of life.

    So you’ll notice there’s an Islam for everything, from the outward to the inwardly spiritual, from the aqeeqah (religious practice for newborns) to the janazah (funeral prayer), giving wealth to the poor to distributing inheritance, and from family life to political life. I’m sure, as in most Saudi homes, you have a garden hose-like implement attached to your toilet Bedu (you guessed it! because there’s an Islamic way to clean yourself upon relieving oneself).

    I’m sure you can think of many more examples, but Islam is an all-encompassing religion with guidelines helping one to lead a truly fulfilling life, alhamdulillah. Everyone’s adherence to these guidelines will differ, but that’s the point of life:)

  36. Welcome to the blog Muslimahbloggerer and thanks for your comments.

    I agree that Islam is a way of life as well as a form or religion and the many answers on how to live and what is expected are found in the Quran. Since the intent of my blog is to focus and respond on life,culture and traditions of KSA I do not write many posts specific to Islam, especially as there are numerous blogs and websites which will answer the questions and address this topic much better than I possibly could.

  37. i just recently got permanent. Originally I only planned on doing my underarms, but during my first visit I knew I wanted to do my bikini too because the procedure was quick and far less painful than I had expected. Shockingly, it only took about 15 minutes for both the underarm and the bikini areas together!

    The laser technician, Cleo, was extremely knowledgeable and explained everything I should expect. I was mostly confused on how the process worked, and she explained that the light of the Candela laser she was going to use targets the hair follicle pigment in its growth (anagen) stage and then it damages the hair shaft and root, causing subsequent regrowth to be finer and lighter. This process doesn’t actually remove the hair but instead, singes it. The singed (treated) hair falls out in one to two weeks. Since all hair grows in three stages, the targeted hair has some regrowth, but these hairs will be finer and lighter than before. She also instructed that, between treatments, I could only shave the areas being treated. This worried me, but as it turned out, I had so little regrowth after the first visit, shaving was perfectly adequate.

  38. Laser in Illnois, thanks for sharing and helping to explain the procedure of laser hair removal. You helped allay some of my own fears of an unknown procedure. Is there any pain or sensitivity after the procedures for you do remark it was less painful than expected? Is this an expensive procedure?

  39. Hair removal is not an issue within Islam. After all, the “martyrs” usually shave themselves before the go out and blow themselves up along with women and children. I guess it makes them feel more sexy.

  40. HI all I was hoping you could help me here. What are the definate taboos as far as hand or obscene gestures in KSA? I know this may be a silly question but I get asked this all the time. Bedu you may have posted the answers to this elsewhere if so I am sorry.

    Thank you all for your help.
    :-) Smokeybones

  41. Got here from the more recent comments. An interesting topic and one I learned alot from.
    Regarding laser hair removal, it should not be painful, but is easiest and most effective on dark coarse hair on fair skin. Newer lasers have been developed to handle dark hair on dark skin. It is done in multiple sessions and is probably roughly as expensive as electrolosis.

  42. I have heard or been taught that shaving and trimming pubic hair is appropriate not plucking. Furthermore, the Arabic translation was trimming and shaving…from what I was told.

    I am guessing continual plucking or waxing in that area might cause it to sag or lose sensitivity. Seriously I wonder how many severe saggers there are out there. Ripping wax off the leg is quite different from ripping it off down there. Trust me I tried it once and thought to myself, “Good Lord Almighty in Heaven Above…” I felt like I was pricking brain hairs…that is how far the pain traveled.

    Trimming and shaving are good and necessary hygienic practices IMO:-)

  43. smokey – saudis in particular have this unique way of pressing the thumb and two fingers together with a gesture that appears rude as if one is angry but actually indicates ” do not interrupt me.” In my experience at least, I’ve never seen anyone give a “third finger salute” here in Saudi in spite of some drivers getting pretty irate and laying on their horns.

    Sparky: Waxing in the most personal and sensitive area – could not imagine that!

  44. Cross cultural gestures are at least as fraught as verbal language!

    A “bikini wax” or a “brazilian wax” are least painful if
    done by an excellent esthetician on a relaxed client. Proper technique should not lead to sagging as the same hand support that reduces pain, and facilitates removal, should prevent pulling the skin.

    Now shaving the labia majora to newborn hairlessness, in my gynecological experience of examining Western converts, results in razor burn, prickly uncomfortable regrowth, and potentially infected ingrowths.

    once contemplated leaving medicine for life as a professional bikini beach bunny (and that’s all I’m saying):)

  45. Damn…if I tried waxing my nether regions I dare say Id be saying more than Good Lord!! (brain hairs…lol)

    A Bahraini friend of mine says that most Arabs believe most American women dont care too much about keeping “it” all nice and tidy the way Arab women do. She was quite shocked to realize we were into “personal” grooming just like them…lol.

    btw Im a trimmer myself…anything else is just way toooo irritating (ignore the extremely personal nature of this post…lol)

  46. Sparky, where is this blog going to? How do we get on these subjects?
    Anyway, I heard on the news that when some natural history museum in the Netherlands wanted a few lice, the kind which live ”down there”, and couldn’t get them! Apparently due to all the grooming, trimming and waxing, these particular lice have become extinct without anybody noticing!

  47. Ok…so we can apparently trim and wax a bug species out of exitence…but we throw every chemical known to man at our houses and those damn roaches just keep coming back. Nature is funny like that.

  48. Ehm you throw every chemical at men and the roaches keep coming back…
    Yeah, it’s nature.
    It’s because you are so irresitibly feisty, funny, and couragious!

  49. American Bedu- I thought I was doing what I was supposed to… (the right thing) by waxing it. I think I did one side and then was like how can I wash this gooey mess out. It ended up on a sticky mess.

    After that experience, I was like to hell with what anyone else said it was merely trimming and shaving from that moment on. Bad advice from evil sister in laws what can I say…I was young and naive.

    Chiara- I never experienced razor burn and infection. I have coochy spray. LOL Seriously though it is cleaner…IMO

    Aafke- Extinction of the crabs (aka. pubic lice)…see there is a purpose for everything

    coolred38- LOL yep brain hairs…lost quite a few of em in Saudi

  50. It just occurred to me here is a classic example of western openness – no shyness or fear or embarrassment in speaking about natural functions and processes. Yet I think the Eastern woman may be more reticent to engage in such a discussion since this is a topic viewed with great sensitivity and modesty.

  51. […] use of epilator islam:  I suspect it would be approved. […]

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