Unfortunately, the side effects of waxing aren't always just hairlessness. Hair removal sometimes leaves its mark—and comes with the price of redness, breakouts, ingrown hairs, and more. But the easily-mitigated side effects of waxing shouldn't stop you from losing out on its benefits. Being educated about preventative treatment, and knowing how to get rid of problems when they arise, will turn waxing from a terrifying prospect into an exciting one.
We consulted three experts—dermatologist Dr. Marie Hayag, waxing specialist Rachael Gallo, and waxing expert Shay Sadrolashrafi—to learn more about the potential side effects of waxing and how to deal with them. Keep scrolling to find out more about the side effects of waxing and how to treat them.
Meet the Expert
- Rachael Gallo is a waxing specialist and was formerly the Director of Spa Operations at Exhale Spa.
- Marie Hayag, MD is an NYC board-certified dermatologist and founder of the dermatology clinic, Fifth Avenue Aesthetics.
- Shay Sadrolashrafi is a waxing expert and lead aesthetician for Wakse, an at-home body waxing brand.
Redness and Inflammation
Does waxing have you seeing red? You’re not alone, as some level of pink tends to come with the territory—especially if you're removing thick hair or have sensitive skin. "The heat [from the wax] will sometimes cause redness and inflammation which leads the blood vessels to dilate and more blood to flow into that area that’s being waxed," explains Sadrolashrafi. Although you may not be able to completely avoid it, there are some things you can do to lessen redness and leave your skin closer to how it looked before the wax.
How to Treat
One thing that can help is using an aloe-based serum, such as Wakse's Cactus H20 Post-Wax Serum, to calm the skin and placate inflammation or post-wax redness. If the area you had waxed is covered by clothing, opt for loose, comfortable items as friction will only further irritate an already aggravated patch of skin.
Congratulations! Your hair is gone, but now you're left with a pimple or two, or (yikes) even a breakout. Unfortunately, there's a chance this will happen even if you go to the best technician and you're not prone to acne.
"While waxing removes hair, it also takes some skin at the surface leaving your pores exposed. A pimple will form if the pore becomes infected with bacteria," says Dr. Hayag. Naturally, due diligence pre- and post-wax, including taking care of basic hygiene, is key.
How to Treat
Gallo recommends cleaning the skin post-body wax as well: "Cleanse the skin immediately after with a gentle foaming cleanser to remove any bacteria brought up through the follicle," she explains.
Before getting a wax, Dr. Hayag advises prepping the skin for what's ahead. "Preventing [pimples] in the first place is important. Make sure to exfoliate beforehand. Using a body wash with an exfoliant like salicylic acid can both prevent pimples and also treat them. Avoid picking at the pimples and wear loose clothing to avoid irritating your skin even more," she says. Try using a body wash such as Neutrogena's Body Clear Body Wash before waxing day.
These painful invaders can pop up after any kind of hair removal. Shaving is a major offender when it comes to ingrown hair, as is using an epilator, but waxing manages to make the list, too. "Sometimes after the hair has been removed, it regrows downwards instead of upwards and it doesn’t break the skin’s surface. Usually, this is more common in areas where [the] hair is thicker like the underarms or bikini line. It also occurs more frequently in people with curly hair," says Dr. Hayag.
How to Treat
The good news is that by prepping the skin correctly and taking care of it after your hair is gone, you can avoid these annoying bumps. "For treating ingrown hairs, I recommend exfoliating 24–48 hours prior to and after waxing and continuing this three times a week. Then follow up using a post-care serum," explains Sadrolashrafi.
Sometimes, you look at your freshly waxed skin a few hours after only to find bumps. They're not pimples, and they're not ingrown hairs—what are they? Turns out, the bumps you see immediately after waxing are quite similar to the bumps you see when dealing with razor burn. "Raised bumps are often caused because of our body's reaction to the hair follicle that’s being waxed and stress that occurs on skin," says Sadrolashrafi.
How to Treat
According to Gallo, whether the bumps require treatment will depend on their severity. She says bumps that appear without redness oftentimes last for two days and disappear afterward, so no need to fret about treating them. However, if you experience pain from these bumps, Dr. Hayag advises using two topical remedies, but proceed with caution when using a moisturizer.
"You could use cold compresses to soothe your skin afterward. Applying topical cortisone cream is a good way to reduce inflammation. Make sure that any moisturizers you use afterward don’t have any fragrances in them," she explains.
If the bumps don't go away after a few days, Sadrolashrafi says to consider applying aloe or tea tree oil on the bumps to decrease the likelihood of infection. Look to trying a body lotion such as The Body Shop's Tea Tree Night Lotion for Blemished Skin, which uses tea tree oil to help fade blemishes.
While the skin does get pulled on, and bruising on sensitive skin is normal, you shouldn't be turning black and blue after waxing. "[Bruising] can be common for sensitive skin. We hold the skin taught as we wax, and this can cause subcutaneous bleeding, which is bleeding under the skin that creates the bruise," says Gallo.
If the bruises are a result of a DIY waxing session, just be gentler with yourself next time. If you experience bruising after a professional wax service, don't return to that technician.
How to Treat
Unfortunately, bruising isn't easily remedied. Try a high-CBD cream like Lord Jones to help with the pain. Otherwise, Sadrolashrafi says to consider taking ibuprofen to mitigate the pain or applying a cold compress on the bruised skin. However, if the bruise isn't fading or is intensifying over the course of several days, he recommends going to a medical professional for help.
Burned or Removed Skin
If the waxing really hurt, your skin is extremely red, and it looks burned and scraped, it's not the end of the world—but it is a problem. "Burned and removed skin can be a result of the wax used being far too hot for the skin. Removed skin can also occur if the same area is waxed more than once," explains Dr. Hayag. Naturally, this particular issue tends to happen with at-home waxing more often than it does with pros.
Though heat is the most likely culprit behind post-wax burning and damage, if the heat of the wax wasn't the issue, you may need to do a little detective work. When dealing with the skin, there is always the possibility of an interaction with a medication you're taking or a skincare product you're using. You can also experience reactions associated with a medical condition.
"If you are using a retinol cream or taking medications, your skin can become thinner and prone to lifting during a wax. Ensure you always tell your therapist what medications and creams you are using," says Gallo.
How to Treat
It's important to know when you need to take extra precautions, and if you might need to avoid waxing in a certain zone or find a new hair removal method. "To treat the burned area, it’s important to apply an even layer of antiseptic cream like Neosporin for the next couple of days and to avoid any heat as much as possible until the affected area is healed," advises Sadrolashrafi.
Sharp pain may only be present while the hair is being removed, but can be hard to deal with, especially in delicate areas. Granted, your hair is being pulled from the root, but the discomfort should be short-lived and tolerable if you're relaxed and under the care of a professional. "Pain can be caused by muscle damage. Often[times] we may hold the muscle tight and use a fast motion to pull the wax from the skin," explains Gallo.
How to Treat
Whether you've gone to a professional salon or are saving money and went DIY, you can try to keep pain to a minimum by taking ibuprofen, wearing a loose-fitted outfit, and avoiding certain products. "Taking ibuprofen before waxing will reduce inflammation and help alleviate the pain both during and afterward. Wear loose clothing to prevent more irritation in the area," says Dr. Hayag.
Change in Skin Color
Perhaps your hair hasn’t grown back yet, but it almost looks like it has. Or, your skin looks darker, kind of like a sunspot is forming. If that's the case, you may have an increase in skin pigmentation. "This [change in skin color] is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It can be caused by the warmth of the wax or the pulling at the hairs. Sometimes just the irritation of the waxing causes discoloration," says Gallo.
How to Treat
The best thing you can do in this case is to let the hair grow back and see a dermatologist before you try to wax or shave the area again. Your doctor may recommend applying a product with ingredients that tackle hyperpigmentation. "Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation takes time and patience to treat. Products with hydroquinone can help [with] hyperpigmentation. Niacinamide and mandelic acid are also good ingredients to look for in a product to help fade hyperpigmentation," explains Dr. Hayag.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Hair removal: How to wax.
Khanna N, Chandramohan K, Khaitan BK, Singh MK. Post waxing folliculitis: A clinicopathological evaluation. Int J Dermatol. 2014;53(7):849-854. doi:10.1111/ijd.12056
Cleveland Clinic. Pigmentation: Abnormal pigmentation. Updated March 29, 2016.