Few things are as bittersweet as a wax appointment. The excitement of not having to shave or pluck for a couple of weeks is nearly overshadowed by the anticipation of the painful waxing process and the annoying breakouts that inevitably follow. The two glorious weeks of smooth, stubble-free skin would be amazing… if you didn't have to deal with the redness, irritation, ingrown hairs, and other breakouts that creep up during that time.
But chin up. We have good news for you: breakouts aren't just par for the course. On the contrary, as long as you're taking the proper precautions before and after a wax treatment, whether it's on your face or body, breakouts are totally avoidable. If you're like us and are willing to do anything to avoid the painfully annoying aftermath of hair removal, listen up. We gathered all the best waxing tips, including advice from the experts.
Keep reading for nine key steps to take before and after your wax appointment to prevent unwanted breakouts.
Meet the Expert
- Shelby Galvan is an expert esthetician.
- Anna Guanche, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and celebrity skincare expert.
Prepare With Proper Exfoliation
Not only does proper exfoliation improve dullness and restore a glowing complexion, but it also is necessary for removing a buildup of dead skin cells, dirt, debris, and bacteria that clog your pores. And what can happen when your pores are clogged? You guessed it: uncomfortable ingrown hairs and acne breakouts. "The day before your waxing appointment, use a product that gently exfoliates your skin. Exfoliation helps slough away dry flakes of skin, which makes your hair more easily accessible for waxing. A thorough washing with soap and towel is also helpful," says Guanche. We like the Fur Silk Scrub, ($54) if you're predisposed to getting those pesky bumps.
For upkeep in between waxing appointments, use a gentle chemical exfoliator like Shaveworks The Cool Fix. Though this cooling gel is meant to work instantly to soothe the skin following a waxing treatment or a close shave, it's the combination of glycolic acid (which promises to remove the dead skin on top) and salicylic acid (meant to clean deep inside the pores) that makes this exfoliating formula a must have for trying to keep pores clean and free of ingrown hairs, pimples, and other bumps.
Avoid using retinol products before any type of facial waxing, as it increases skin sensitivity.
Keep Your Hands Off
As tempting as it might be to see for yourself just how soft and smooth your hair-free skin might feel after a waxing treatment, resist the temptation and admire the area from afar—at least until it heals. Poking, prodding, and feeling the area immediately following a wax may only transfer the bacteria that are on your hands onto your skin, clog your pores, and cause breakouts. If smooth, breakout-free skin is what you're after, hands off.
Apply Baby Powder
Because moisture might prevent the wax from gripping the hair, a sprinkle of talc-free, corn starch powder may help absorb excess moisture in the area and ensure that the wax is able to stick to the stubble and remove the hair fully and properly. Not only that, but the powder may also help reduce contact irritation. For a talc-, fragrance-, and gluten-free option, try Ora's Amazing Herbal Baby Powder Vanilla Amber.
Quit Exercising—for a Little Bit
Okay, "quit" is a strong word, but Galvan says it's a good idea to plan your workouts accordingly and schedule them well before or after your waxing appointment. Reminder: sweating excessively may make the skin susceptible to breakouts, so plan that SoulCycle class in advance of a wax treatment. Though you might feel fine after a wax and might be itching to get back to the gym, the last thing you want after a fresh wax is to clog your opened pores with sweat from a heavy workout, potentially creating irritation from friction mixed with your sweat.
Avoid sexual activity for at least 24-48 hours after a bikini or Brazilian wax to try to prevent irritation and infection.
Avoid Tight Clothing
While tight clothing might not be an issue for a wax treatment on your face, brows, or upper lip, when getting a body wax, give your skin time to heal before covering it up in tight clothing or non-breathable fabrics. Guanche explains, "Tight clothing should be avoided because it can promote the formation of ingrown hairs and irritation. Tight clothing presses in the fine hairs that are attempting to regrow and curves them back into the skin, where they cause irritation You should avoid tight clothing for 48 hours after a wax."
Scratchy textiles or tight elastics might only rub the sensitive area, collect sweat and bacteria, and cause ingrown hairs, so stick with light, loose clothing until your tender skin heals. Nothing is worse than an ingrown hair along the bikini line, so for a bikini wax, be sure to bring or wear breathable cotton underwear, like Everlane's The High-Rise Bikini.
Rely on Skin-Soothing Ointments
Aloe vera is a naturally derived ingredient known for its soothing and moisturizing properties. The aloe plant's inner gel mucilage (the part that's used in skincare products) is made up of 99.5 percent water.
If you haven't experienced a wax treatment before, heads up: you might leave your appointment with raw, tender skin or feeling like you've just got a really bad sunburn in a really uncomfortable place. If that's the case, you don't have to suffer through it. So far we've told you a bunch of things you shouldn't do after a wax appointment, but one thing you absolutely should do? Apply a skin-soothing ointment like hydrocortisone, aloe, or witch hazel to the area to try to calm inflammation and reduce irritation that may lead to breakouts post-wax. Try this Seven Minerals Aloe Vera Gel with 100 percent pure aloe vera next time you're feeling the burn and need a little relief.
Skip the Steamy Baths
It's important to keep your freshly waxed area clean and free of sweat, bacteria, dirt, and debris. A nice, warm bath might sound like the perfect way to unwind after a stressful wax treatment, but you should avoid baths, hot tubs, pools, and any other kinds of public water that may harbor all kinds of bacteria until after the area has healed.
Another reason to stay away from the pool? Sun exposure to your freshly waxed skin is never a good idea because it may be more vulnerable to sun damage during this time. It's also a good idea to stay away from saunas and steam rooms while you're at it, to avoid sweat and extreme heat, which might exacerbate redness and inflammation of the skin, in addition to harboring breakout-causing bacteria.
Stick to Oil-Free Products
Thought you might have heard differently, Galvan argues that you want to avoid using products that have oil in them after a wax to steer clear of breakouts. “It’s best to moisturize with oil-free products that are all natural and don’t contain synthetic oils,” she says. And as tempting as it is to slather on the lotion and moisturizers, wait to apply any occlusive products until the skin has healed. If you feel the need to apply something to the affected area, stick with one of your skin-soothing ointments from before to try to help heal the area.
Once you're in the clear to start moisturizing again, use a light, soothing, natural formula, like this Fur Stubble Cream, meant to soften your hair as it grows back. With ingredients like olive extracts (meant to soften stubble) and tapioca starch (meant to moisturize), this hydrating body lotion is even safe enough to use on your bikini line and your face, targeting the worst kinds of breakouts, like ingrown hairs, itchy razor burn, and painful bumps, according to the brand.
Be Consistent With Your Wax Appointments
Last but not least, Galvan says consistency is key, as breakouts post-wax can also occur simply from your skin’s reaction to the wax, especially if your skin is sensitive. “Receiving a wax every four to six weeks to help the area adjust to it can help prevent a reactionary breakout," Galvan says. "Any time longer than six weeks and you’re starting the process all over again." In other words, you might have to train your skin by receiving regular wax treatments.
If you take care of the skin prior to a wax by exfoliating the area and leave your skin alone afterward, you may look forward to hair- and breakout-free skin for the entire two weeks following a wax treatment.
Is waxing painful?
Waxing is a very personal experience, and pain tolerance can not only vary from person to person, but also what areas you decide to wax. The more often and more regularly you wax, the less you may find it hurts over time. If you have a low pain threshold, try taking ibuprofen at least 30 minutes prior to your appointment.
How long does your hair need to be to wax?
Generally speaking, your hair should be about one-quarter to one-half inch long. Everyone's hair grows at different rates, but this may be about three to four weeks of growth post wax.
Will waxing make my hair grow back thicker?
No, neither shaving nor waxing will make your hair grow back thicker. The difference is that when you wax, your hair is pulled from the root, so you won't have the stubble you get when you shave.
How long will my wax last?
Your wax should last anywhere from three to four weeks, depending on the rate of your hair growth.
Cleveland Clinic. 5 ways to exfoliate your skin without irritation. Updated February 12, 2020.
Yin S, Luo J, Qian A, et al. Retinoids activate the irritant receptor TRPV1 and produce sensory hypersensitivity. J Clin Invest. 2013;123(9):3941-3951. doi:10.1172/JCI66413
Guo X, Mei N. Aloe vera: a review of toxicity and adverse clinical effects. J Environ Sci Health C Environ Carcinog Ecotoxicol Rev. 2016;34(2):77-96. doi:10.1080/10590501.2016.1166826