Regardless of whether you're a first-timer or even a seasoned client, when it comes to waxing, you're guaranteed to have some questions. If you've never had your hair stripped from your body, you're bound to be equal parts curious and cautious about what to expect before booking your first appointment. If you're a waxing regular, you probably still wonder about the real rules and best practices for prep and post-wax maintenance.
Even though it's common practice, so much about the hair-removal practice is still shrouded in mystery. With so many conflicting dos and don'ts for waxing, it can be hard to sift through to find the facts. To get to the truth about waxing, we reached out to Noemi Grupenmager, the founder and CEO of Uni K Wax Centers. Here she's shared everything you've wanted to know about waxing but have been too afraid to ask.
Length Is Key
For the best waxing experience, Grupenmager emphasizes that the length of hair is key. This is especially important for first-timers, who in a way are going into the process blind. "For maximum results, it is ideal to grow hair out to at least one-eighth of an inch before going in for your first wax." Depending on where you're getting waxed, you can either trim hair the day before or shave far enough in advance so that hair grows to this optimum length for your appointment date. Once you've begun waxing, book your appointments in conjunction with your hair growth, typically every three-to-five weeks.
Know Which Ingredients to Avoid
Grupenmager says the biggest mistake she sees first-timers make is not knowing which ingredients to avoid. "It's extremely important to avoid applying retinol products to skin before facial waxing," she warns. While retinol is one of the best ingredients for smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, minimizing pores, and treating adult acne, Grupenmager notes that "because it's so pure, it's extremely potent and even applying a thin layer can make skin more sensitive and prone to redness and irritation." Retinol use increases skin sensitivity and makes skin more vulnerable to tearing during a waxing session. For this reason, Grupenmager advises to not wax brows, upper lip, or any other facial area while using products with retinol.
Never Shave Between Waxes
The biggest mistake Grupenmager sees even the most seasoned clients making is shaving between waxes. "This seems like a quick fix for stubble, but shaving only removes hair at skin level, so it reappears in one to four days, and over time the skin itself becomes coarse," she warns. The detriments of shaving are countless, especially if you're trying to reap the benefits of waxing. With regular waxing, hair may eventually become finer and grow more slowly, increasing your time between waxes and reducing the appearance of hair. If you shave between your appointments, "by continually cutting the hair, you are, in fact, stimulating its growth," notes Grupenmager, "encouraging the hair to grow back faster, thicker, coarser, and fuller, resulting in more hair growing from each pore." Furthermore, every time you shave your risk getting nicks, cuts, razor burn, and ingrown hairs, aggravating skin and increasing its risk of infection.
Moisturize and Exfoliate Often
How you take care of your skin before and after waxing has a tremendous impact on the results. Grupenmager says exfoliating and moisturizing are a must. "Keeping your skin moisturized will ensure healthy, hydrated skin," she says. Hydration is also key, especially in winter when hair is dry and may be more likely to break when waxing. Breakage causes hair "to grow back faster and thicker," Grupenmager notes, "so you want to keep skin hydrated and healthy at all times." Exfoliating is just as important. "By exfoliating with a gentle scrub like Uni K Wax Exfo Cream Ananda ($23), you are removing dead skin and helping to prevent ingrown hairs in the process," she advises. "If you do experience ingrown hairs, try Uni K Wax Roll-On ($22), a roll-on gel formulated with powerful exfoliants that enhance penetration for a quick response to those pesky bumps."
Do Your Homework
Before making an appointment for the first time or at a new place, it's pertinent to read reviews and do your homework to determine the right waxing formula for your skin and your needs. "There are several formulas out there but the most popular is the traditional wax removed with strips," says Grupenmager. "This system makes for a tedious, slow, and painful procedure." Another option is hard wax, which is synthetic and not ideal for all types of skin or all areas of the body. Grupenmager says the best formula is elastic wax, which does not require strips. She uses this formula at Uni K Wax Centers as it's ideal for sensitive skin and made of all-natural ingredients like pine tree and beeswax. "The elastic wax stretches, causing less of a pull to the skin, meaning a more comfortable hair removal experience," she says. "Because the elastic wax is applied at body temperature, it also allows the waxing professional to remove the hair faster."
All Waxes Are Not Created Equal
As detailed above, there are several wax options to consider and all are not created equal. Grupenmager is a proponent of the elastic wax due to its list of benefits. While hard waxes are offered at many spas, she warns that "hard waxes break and crack, making the wax difficult to remove and also reducing hair removal efficiency." Another major difference between the two that she notes is that while elastic wax is applied at body temperature, hard wax is applied hot, which can sometimes lead to burns if not done properly.
Timing Is Everything
Keeping the correct timing between waxes ensures the best results and can also help with planning for specific events. First, it's important that you maintain your routine waxing schedule year-round. Even if winter months have you worrying less about leg hair, if you take a hiatus while you're bundled up you'll be reversing your progress come spring and have to start all over again. Second, if you're scheduling waxing appointments to coincide with particular times you'll need to be hairless, Grupenmager has a recommended time frame. "If you're planning a winter or holiday getaway, it's best to come in for a waxing service as close to your trip as possible—ideally 2 to 3 days before leaving," she says, continuing that, "this ensures your skin will continue to look and feel great for your entire vacay as the grow-back period is typically between 4 to 8 weeks."
Don't Forget SPF
Your skin may be extra sensitive after a wax, so it's even more important that you make sure to lather up with sunscreen (something you should be practicing whether or not you're waxing). "Using sun protection is always recommended year-round, and it is especially important during the first 24 hours after waxing to avoid redness and irritation," says Grupenmager. Just because the sun isn't out, doesn't mean it's okay to skimp on the sunscreen. "People often forget about sunscreen in the winter, but your skin is just as vulnerable to a burn even when the temperatures drop."
Leave It to the Professionals
Though there are many at-home waxing kits on the market, Grupenmager says waxing is one treatment you must always leave to the professionals. "I believe that a wax should never be performed at home for many obvious reasons, including the risk of a severe burn," she says. "DIY wax is also not designed for sensitive skin," she continues, "and without a trained professional, you risk removing skin with the hair—in some cases even up to two layers of skin." Ouch!
Next up, check out the best tools for hair removal.
Yin S, Luo J, Qian A, et al. Retinoids activate the irritant receptor TRPV1 and produce sensory hypersensitivity. J Clin Invest. 2013;123(9):3941-3951. doi:10.1172/JCI66413
Cleveland Clinic. Shaving vs. waxing: what’s better for your skin?. Updated September 8, 2020.