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. 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. 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, you can minimize post-wax breakouts so that you can have clear and smooth skin.
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. 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. 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 skin care 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 one of L.A.’s favorite hair removal salons, 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. 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, you'll want to avoid any type of exercise or activity that will make you sweat a lot the day of your service. Be sure to wear 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!
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 other favorite pimple-killing product to the outside area only.
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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