There's no right or wrong way to do things when it comes to grooming (and we fully embrace the au naturale look, too). When it comes to hair removal, waxing and shaving, tend to be the most common methods of choice, though they are vastly different in every other aspect. Waxing is a process that requires warm wax to remove the hair follicle from the root by mechanical force, while shaving involves a razor blade to trim the hair from the surface of the skin. When it comes to which method is better, that depends on several factors and which you deem more important than others. To help you decide, we reached out to dermatologists and a skincare expert for their advice and tips.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to learn whether waxing or shaving works best for you.
The Process of Waxing vs. Shaving
Waxing involves applying a cold or warm depilatory wax over unwanted hair and removing efficiently and safely. Whether you choose to use an at-home wax product or go to a professional, you’ll first need to grow your hair to roughly a quarter of an inch, which takes time and patience. If you choose to go to a salon for your wax, you’ll need to book an appointment in advance. Many people choose to forgo this method of hair removal to avoid the frustrating grow-out period. With shaving, it’s as simple as hopping in the shower whenever you need to or whenever best suits your schedule.
Shaving could take anywhere from a couple of minutes to 10 minutes, depending on the amount of hair you’re removing and where (i.e. just your underarms or your whole body). Waxing is also a fairly quick process, and a session could last up to 30 minutes based on the area. If you're waxing at home, factor in the time needed to heat the wax to the right consistency and the number of attempts to find the right method that works for you, if you're a first-timer.
The Benefits of Waxing vs. Shaving
“Waxing lasts longer over time because hair is being removed from the follicle whereas shaving just cuts it at the surface,” says Shays. “Waxing will leave you smoother longer as unwanted hairs become thinner and in some cases don’t grow back at all. Many people have noticed less irritation after waxing, especially decreased ingrown hairs and breakouts."
Nazarian says that both waxing and shaving have their own benefits, although shaving can be done any time you feel the need. She adds that shaving daily isn’t discouraged, but "it’s best not to use a shaver with too many blades—multiple blades can be too harsh on sensitive skin, especially if used daily. Two blades are just enough."
Which Areas Do Waxing and Shaving Work Best For?
Waxing is a method that can be done all over the body. However, Shays recommends avoiding the head or very coarse hair on the face.
The same goes for shaving, but take extra precautions when it comes to sensitive areas like the bikini line. "Avoid using heavily perfumed shaving creams as they can irritate these delicate skin spots. Unscented, moisturizing cleansers and non-soap cleansers are preferable. Although they don’t foam heavily, they will still offer a smooth, easy surface for the razor, and prevent over-drying or irritation," says Nazarian. She recommends Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar ($5) or hydrating gel cleansers, which will provide additional moisturizer to the skin without stripping natural oils.
How to Prep for Waxing vs. Shaving
There are several steps you can take to prepare your skin for a wax or shave, especially on sensitive areas. Shays recommends exfoliating gently with a dry brush or exfoliating wash or mitt and removing any deodorant from underarms and any lotions or oils from the body.
Waxing requires less preparation, but hair should be visible above skin level. “Trim bikini hair down if it is longer than an inch. Wax will not take up hair that was shaved a few days before,” says Shays. “Right before your appointment, take a warm shower or bath to soften the follicles.”
Take ibuprofen (200-400 mg) 30 minutes before waxing to try to decrease inflammation and help with the pain.
Shaving, on the other hand, is relatively painless when done correctly. Levin says if you have properly exfoliated the area, used a sharp razor and a softening shave cream, and followed up with a moisturizer, your chances of shaving nicks and razor burn are significantly decreased.
Nazarian agrees and says shaving towards the end of your shower or bath is best. “This gives your skin maximum time to soak in the warm water and allows hair to soften, making the shave closer, smoother, and less irritating.” Use a gentle, unscented gel or cleanser before shaving to decrease tension on skin or hair.
Are There Any Side Effects?
As with any beauty treatment, the possibility of side effects is imminent. Shays cautions that if you are taking prescription medications such as Accutane, antibiotics, or using prescription acne or anti-aging creams, a wax might remove some of the skin, leaving what looks like a shiny area or friction burn. In rare cases, people may have an allergic reaction or break out.
“Make sure that you are going to a professional who is trained in the art of waxing. If you’re in the hands of somebody who is rushing or not skilled, they could bruise your skin or break your hair,” she says.
"Side-effects are possible with both techniques—ingrown hairs, irritated skin, and razor-burn, with shaving and burns, erosions, and irritated skin with waxing. However, neither change the size or appearance of your pores," says Nazarian.
If you do experience irritation from either hair-removal method, Nazarian says the area can be treated “with a hydrocortisone 1% cream, gentle cleansers, and effective emollients such as Vaseline.”
If you notice painful red bumps after waxing or shaving that don’t resolve with over-the-counter calming creams or hydrocortisone, make sure you tell your dermatologist. "This condition may represent more seriously inflamed hair follicles and skin and might need a topical antibiotic or prescription-strength anti-inflammatory steroid cream," notes Nazarian.
Which Results Last Longer?
According to Levin, hair growth is variable and depends on a number of factors, including the area of removal. For instance, hair on the bikini and underarm may grow faster than the arms and legs, so it’s important to use similar areas when comparing waxing versus shaving.
Hair grows in cycles (growing, resting, and shedding), so you’re only removing a certain amount of hair at any given time. On average, a wax lasts around four weeks before regrowth appears. You can extend the time in between appointments by waxing consistently.
As far as shaving goes, doing so every day or every other day is necessary for completely stubble-free skin. People with lighter or thinner hair might be able to squeeze in another day or two before shaving again, but typically a couple of days is the max.
You can purchase a pack of disposable razors for a few bucks, or splurge on a good quality reusable razor for $10 (we're fans of the Billie razor). Add a can of shaving cream, which will last you many uses, for less than $5. Shaving is the more economical option upfront, but don’t forget to factor in how often you shave and the cost of blade refills.
An at-home wax kit can cost you upwards of $10, but you can usually get at least a few uses out of it. Just be careful to read the directions before applying or you could be spending more money to fix mistakes. The price of a professional wax appointment depends on the area of hair removal and your location, but these can be rather pricey, especially if you include the tip in your calculation.
"Expect Brazilian waxes to range anywhere from $35 to $100 and full leg waxing from $50 to $100," notes Shays.
The Final Takeaway
Overall, the better choice of the two methods is totally up to you and your personal preference. For some, the pain of waxing is enough to put up with all the tedious parts of shaving. For others, the idea of shaving every day is much too high-maintenance. There is no better or worse process—only what’s right for you.