Waxing is unpleasant enough as it is, but deciding on which type of wax to use for hair removal can be just as painful. All waxes were not created equal, but they were created to remove hair in one capacity or another. It can just be a little confusing which kind to use for what. While traditional waxes can be decidedly split into either the soft or hard variety, things get a little more complicated from there. Where does sugaring fit into the equation? (Does it even count as wax?) Which type of wax should be used on the bikini area?
We got the scoop on all the forms of wax from esthetician and waxing wizard Jodi Shays and European Wax Center Education Manager Gina Petak. Shays says when it comes to choosing a wax type, "Use whatever wax you feel you could be more efficient with."
Ahead, we break down the different types of wax to use for hair removal.
Warm Soft Wax
Soft warm wax is cream or resin-based and used for strip waxing. It is gently warmed and applied in a thin layer over the skin. A cloth strip is pressed on and removed, taking the hairs with it. The spreadable wax is often used to cover larger areas like the legs and arms. While extremely efficient at picking up even fine hairs, soft wax sticks to the skin as well, so it should only be applied once per area.
"Cream-based warm waxes are more gentle on the skin," Shays explains. "A honey/resin-based warm wax is considered old school, it can be too hot and sticky, which will leave the skin irritated after. However, there are many skilled estheticians who can still deliver a great wax with a honey/resin-based wax." Shays does not recommend honey or resin-based products for sensitive skin. "It can be too hot, sticky, and abrasive."
For sensitive skin, look for a cream-based wax with titanium dioxide, which acts as a buffer between the wax and skin.
Warm Hard Wax
Hard wax is an effective option both for areas with thicker hair and fine, thin hair. The wax is applied warm and hardens as it cools. It's also known as strip-free wax because, in its hardened form, it acts as the strip itself. A small amount of pre-epilation oil typically goes on the skin after it’s cleansed to protect it from the wax. Shays explains that after warming the wax to a spreadable state, it "hardens to a flexible material that is pulled off by a 'lip' created by the provider."
Hard wax is applied in a thicker layer than soft wax, but also in the direction of hair growth—an important detail. "Pulling in the wrong direction of hair growth can cause hair to break and become ingrown," warns Petak. The wax grabs on to the hairs in a shrink-wrapping manner as it hardens rather than sticking to the skin like soft wax. This makes it more suitable for smaller, more sensitive areas like the lip, nose, underarms, and bikini area. When used on larger areas, like the legs, Shays explains it "can create breakage of hair towards the end of the pull."
Its gentle nature is great for those with sensitive skin but on the flip side, it's not strong enough to grab the hairs from the bulb, meaning you may have to go over a single area multiple times. "This will lead to irritation on the skin," Petak explains. Be sure to use a quality product when working with hard wax. "Cheaper varieties of hard wax can cool down to be brittle and not flexible," Shays says this creates a mess and an inefficient wax.
Like with soft wax, the hair needs to be long enough for the wax to grab. "We recommend hair be at least 1/4" long (about the size of a sprinkle)," Petak says. "It's a good idea to stop shaving at least five days prior."
Cold Soft Wax
Cold wax is either taken right out of the pot and applied directly to the skin, or comes prepared on a strip. This method is appealing to many because it eliminates the risk of burning your skin from wax that's too hot. Although it’s convenient, it’s firmer, and it can be tricky to get a thin layer on evenly. Shays says it's typically not as effective as warm wax and can leave hairs attached to the skin. Many also find cold wax more painful to remove than wax that's heated. Some even find it easier to slightly warm the wax before use to soften the formula for spreading.
Pre-Made Wax Strips
Pre waxed strips come with the right amount of cold soft wax already attached and are ready to use, no heating required. This method is the most user-friendly, mess-free option and is recommended for beginners. Not only are they easy to use, but there’s no chance of putting on too much product. And depending on how much hair you’re removing, a strip can often be used more than once per area.
It’s always recommended that wax strips be slightly ‘heated’ up a bit by rubbing them between your palms, which allows them to stick more to the hair. Cold strips require the least preparation and with less moving parts of the whole operation, this is by far the most convenient option for traveling. As with any cold wax, there is no risk of burning your skin. Shays suggests using pre-made strips for smaller areas because they aren't spreadable like warm wax.
Sugar wax is one of the oldest known waxing methods, originating in the Middle East. It's also one of the most natural and simple formulas, generally consisting of some combination of sugar, lemon, and hot water. "Sugaring is not a wax: It is form of depilatory, but doesn’t have the same base," Shays explains. Technically a wax or not, there's a reason this hair removal method has been around for centuries.
It's extremely gentle—for a wax—so it's ideal for sensitive and reactive skin. Sugar wax works a lot like hard wax by the way it grabs the hairs without sticking to the skin. This type of formula will allow multiple passes in one area without the irritation a soft wax would cause. Sugar wax can come as a sticky ball to be applied with the fingers or like a soft wax to be used with strips. Because it can be easily moved around, sugaring can remove hair from large or small areas of the body, however, it is most effective against fine to medium hair types.
Unlike a resin-based hard or soft wax, sugar wax is water-soluble which makes clean up much easier. This also results in fewer ingrown hairs because the product won't be stuck in open hair follicles, blocking hair regrowth.
Apply sugar wax opposite how you would traditional wax: against the grain, then removed with the grain.
Fruit wax is stripless like hard wax, only with the added skin benefits of fruit enzymes and extracts like papaya, strawberry, pomegranate, cranberry, and plum. The gentle wax nourishes the skin with antioxidants and vitamins as it removes hair, essentially doubling as skincare (a win in our book).
Fruit wax is generally a great option for those with sensitive skin because it won't cause bumps, rashes, or marks, but you'll want to make sure you're not allergic to any of the ingredients. As with any natural beauty product, you can expect to pay a little more for a fruit wax than a simple resin-based option.
Chocolate wax is tender on the skin and known as one of the least painful types of wax. It's hydrating and full of soothing and nourishing ingredients like almond oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil, glycerin, vitamin E, and other minerals. Cocoa itself is rich with antioxidants and adds acts as an emollient in the wax. The almond oil gives it anti-inflammatory properties—a benefit much appreciated while having hairs ripped out from their follicles.
Chocolate wax can be soft or hard, but it's always applied warm. It has a low melting point so it's unlikely to cause burns. The luxurious experience comes with a price tag to match but for many, the glowing skin and spa-like indulgence is more than worth it.