How to Treat and Prevent Pimples After Waxing, According to Dermatologists

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While waxing doesn't cause breakouts, bacteria that enter the open pores post-wax can. It's common to get pimples after a wax, whether tiny little bumps, whiteheads, or rather large blemishes. Pimples after waxing are frustrating but nothing to stress about. Waxing can cause breakouts and irritation for several reasons: allergies to the wax, skin sensitivity, touching the area, or even getting a mild burn. "Waxing removes hair follicles from the root," says Dr. Karan Lal, a double board-certified adult and pediatric dermatologist. "This not only allows bacteria to enter the hair follicle, but the trauma of waxing can cause inflammation."

In addition, when you 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, giving you 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.
  • Dr. Hadley King, MD, FAAD, is a New York City-based dermatologist.
  • Deidra Green is a licensed esthetician for European Wax Center.
  • Shelby Galvan is an esthetician at one of L.A.’s favorite hair removal salons, Wax LA.

How to Prepare Your Skin to Prevent Breakouts

There are a few things you can do to prevent pimples in the prep phase before waxing:

  1. Use a gentle exfoliator days before waxing. "Regularly gently exfoliating the areas after waxing will help to buff away dead skin cells and avoid clogged pores and ingrown hairs," King explains. "The last exfoliation should be at least a day before the wax. And wait for a few days after waxing to restart to allow the skin to recover." King says to avoid exfoliating immediately before waxing to keep the skin barrier intact and to decrease the risk of irritation from the wax. She recommends using a gentle scrub or chemical exfoliator with glycolic acids and AHAs. "This decreases the chance that skin will cover where the hair is growing," King explains. 
  2. Keep all areas clean before waxing. Keeping all areas clean is important as well. If you're at home, thoroughly scrub your hands and nails with warm water and soap. Dr. Lal recommends using an antibacterial cleanser before your wax appointment to prevent infection.
  3. Use disposable gloves when touching your skin. Experts agree that 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.

Waxing Precautions

When it comes to waxing, the most important thing is not to double dip. Even if it's your wax pot, you should only dip the applicator once and throw it away. Using a fresh stick each time ensures you don't introduce bacteria into the product. If you go to the pros, it's even more important for the salon or spa to practice this precaution. If you notice 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.

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.

Post-Wax Care to Prevent Breakouts

Post-wax care is equally important to preventing breakouts and irritation. Here are some steps to follow to help minimize breakouts after a waxing service:

  1. Soothe the skin post-wax. "Applying cold packs and a moisturize post-wax is important," King says. "Avoid hot baths and showers." King says to support the skin barrier with moisturizers containing emollients or aloe vera for anti-inflammatory benefits. She also points to cica as a great ingredient for calming inflammation and recommends Avene's Cicalfate+ Restorative Protective Cream ($42). King also says that over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help if the skin is irritated post-wax.
  2. Use witch hazel. Apply witch hazel with a cotton ball or square if you're at home. 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 not to touch the area after waxing. While many people enjoy the smooth, hair-free feeling, you're most susceptible to infection after removing the hair.
  3. Avoid excessive sweating post-wax. Green recommends avoiding any 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.

What to Do If You’re Already Dealing With Waxing-Related Pimples 

Proper preparation and precautions are key if you're already dealing with pimples before waxing. According to King, you should avoid waxing if you have taken isotretinoin in the last six months. "Avoid retinoid and retinol creams for two to five days before waxing your face to avoid removing skin and hair. This doesn't apply to bikini waxes unless you're using retinol in that area," she explains." Days before your wax, use soothing, gently exfoliating toners to buff off dead skin and minimize irritation and avoid picking at pimples to reduce irritation and potential infection.

Final Takeaway

If you're still breaking out after waxing, consider using another method that removes the entire hair from the follicle. Also, make pre-and-post wax care part of your regular skincare routine to treat and avoid bumps, ingrowns, and bruising. Ultimately, pimples happen, especially after waxing, but rest assured that efficient treatment methods exist. If persistent blemishes, lesions, or pain occurs and persist, consult your board-certified dermatologist for the best treatment plan. 

Article Sources
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  1. Hammer KA. Treatment of acne with tea tree oil (melaleuca) products: a review of efficacy, tolerability and potential modes of actionInt J Antimicrob Agents. 2015;45(2):106-110. doi:10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2014.10.011

  2. 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 cellsJ Inflamm (Lond). 2011;8(1):27. doi:10.1186/1476-9255-8-27

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