While waxing itself doesn't cause breakouts, bacteria that enters the open pores post-wax can. It's common to get pimples after a wax, whether it's tiny little bumps, whiteheads, or rather large monsters. Pimples after waxing are frustrating but nothing to stress about. Waxing can cause breakouts and irritation for a number of reasons: allergies to the wax itself, skin sensitivity, touching the area, or even getting a mild burn. "Waxing removes hair follicles from the root," Dr. Karan Lal, a double board-certified adult and pediatric dermatologist says. "This not only allows bacteria to enter the hair follicle but the trauma of waxing itself can cause inflammation." In addition, when you get a wax, some of your skin on the surface may get removed, meaning your pores are left exposed. Anything that touches the area during this time, including soothing agents, may cause pimples. Luckily, simple things like proper prep and post-wax care can minimize post-waxing breakouts, so you can have clear and smooth skin.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Karan Lal is a double board-certified adult and pediatric dermatologist, and a fellowship-trained cosmetic dermatologist based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
- Deidra Green is a Senior Manager in Field Training at European Wax Center, licensed makeup artist, and aesthetician.
- Shelby Galvan is an esthetician at one of L.A.’s favorite hair removal salons, Wax LA.
One thing you can do to prevent pimples is to get rid of dead skin cells. Simply use a gentle exfoliator—like a washcloth with warm water—prior to waxing to make sure makeup and oil are removed from your face.
Deidra Green, Senior Manager, Field Training at European Wax Center suggests using a film-free (meaning it rinses clean off the skin not leaving it coated in oil) exfoliant 24 to 48 hours before your wax. If you go to a salon or spa, a professional will use a pre-wax cleanser. If they don't, however, make sure to ask them to—or start looking for another provider.
Keeping all areas clean is important as well. If you're at home, scrub your hands and nails thoroughly with warm water and soap. Dr. Lal recommends using an antibacterial cleanser prior to your wax appointment to prevent infection.
Then, put on disposable gloves to keep things sanitary. When you make an appointment, it's important that the tech wears gloves (at least on the hand that's in contact with your skin). If you're getting a Brazilian, and they ask you to help hold the skin during the service, ask for a pair of gloves for yourself.
When it comes to waxing, the most important thing is to not double dip. Even if it's your own wax pot, you should only dip the applicator once and then throw it away. Using a fresh stick each time ensures that you don't introduce any bacteria into the product. If you go to the pros, it's even more important that the salon or spa practices this precaution. If you notice that the salon is dirty, you should cancel your appointment and find a new provider.
Using a tea tree-based wax can help prevent pimples, too. Tea tree has antiseptic properties frequently used in acne products. Those prone to breakouts after waxing may get fewer pimples if, along with other precautions, you use a wax that contains the essential oil from the native Australian plants.
If you're sensitive to wax, consider putting a thin layer of baby powder over the area about to be waxed. The powder will make it easier for the wax to grab your hairs while simultaneously absorbing excess oil and reducing contact irritation.
If you're at home, apply witch hazel with a cotton ball or square. Its antiseptic and soothing properties can help ward off infection. You can also try Finipil, which is specifically made to be used to kill acne-causing bacteria after hair removal. As always, it's important to not touch the area after waxing. While many people enjoy the smooth hair-free feeling, you're most susceptible to infection after removing the hair.
Shelby Galvan, an esthetician at Wax LA, says you want to avoid using products that have oil in them after a wax. “It’s best to moisturize with oil-free products that are all-natural and don’t contain synthetic oils,” she says, which can cause breakouts on the compromised skin. Instead, apply a skin-soothing ointment like hydrocortisone, aloe, or witch hazel to the area to try to help calm inflammation and reduce irritation.
After you've cleansed at home, you can lightly exfoliate the area again the next day, unless you're red or tender. "It's important that you wait at least a day or two for a more aggressive physical exfoliation post-wax because waxing itself is a form of exfoliation," Green says. Continuing to exfoliate regularly might help ward off pimples and ingrown hair in general. In the next two days, you'll want to stay away from pedicures if you had a leg wax, including saunas and whirlpools with any type of waxing. If you had body waxing, stick to a shower rather than a bath, which may irritate freshly waxed skin.
Additionally, "make sure to use warm water," Green says, "Hot showers can dehydrate skin. Also, remember your skin is freshly exfoliated from your wax so you won't want to use any harsh soaps or body washes that contain too many oils or leave a film."
She also recommends avoiding any type of exercise or activity that will make you sweat a lot the day of your service, and wearing loose clothing around the area you got waxed for a few days.
Consistent waxes can also help your skin react better to the hair removal process. Galvan says consistency is key, as breakouts post-wax can also occur simply from sensitive skin’s reaction to the wax. “Receiving a wax every four to six weeks to help the area adjust to it can help prevent a reactionary breakout. Any time longer than six weeks and you’re starting the process all over again. Take care of the skin prior to the wax by exfoliating and leave the area alone afterward,” and you should be good to go!
Witch hazel is harvested from the witch hazel plant in North America. It has many uses, including cleansing oily skin, treating minor wounds, treating acne, and removing makeup.
Thayers Witch Hazel Facial Toner
Witch hazel functions as a natural astringent which means it helps cleanse the skin and minimize oil. Swipe on the inflamed area to soothe skin after waxing.
EWC Treat Face and Body Exfoliating Gel
Remember what we said about gentle exfoliation? That's where this gel comes in. The non-abrasive, lightweight formula eats away at dead skin thanks to pineapple fruit extract and soothes skin with aloe and vitamin E. Pro tip: Gently massage into the affected area before hopping into the shower and then rinse off.
Amlactin Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion
Dr. Lal calls this his go-to moisturizer recommendation for after waxing. Formulated with 12% lactic acid, this lotion boosts cell turnover and acts as a natural humectant.
Consider Other Methods
If you're still breaking out after waxing, consider using another method that removes the entire hair from the follicle. Threading is wonderful for the face (especially the eyebrows) and hardly touches the skin. Sugaring is another method you can try, which is made up of natural ingredients. Other issues from waxing like ingrown hairs, pain, bumps, bruising, and more are also possible but can be avoided and treated.
Whatever you do, don't pop your pimples. This spreads the bacteria and can encourage even more pimples to appear. Instead, apply a tiny bit of tea tree oil or your favorite pimple-killing product to the outside area only.
How long do pimples after waxing last?
Usually, pimples clear up on their own. For the most part, they last anywhere from one day to two weeks.
What not to do after waxing?
Avoid taking hot showers, baths, or using saunas and hot tubs. Wait at least 24 hours before exercising as sweating can cause bacteria to get into the waxed area. To that end, make sure to wear loose-fitting clothing to allow air flow to the area.
Hammer KA. Treatment of acne with tea tree oil (melaleuca) products: a review of efficacy, tolerability and potential modes of action. Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2015;45(2):106-110. doi:10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2014.10.011
Thring TS, Hili P, Naughton DP. Antioxidant and potential anti-inflammatory activity of extracts and formulations of white tea, rose, and witch hazel on primary human dermal fibroblast cells. J Inflamm (Lond). 2011;8(1):27. doi:10.1186/1476-9255-8-27